Higher Education Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande briefing media on his department's response to the Covid-19 pandemic at Ronnie Mamoepa Media Centre in Hatfield, Pretoria. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS
Higher Education Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande briefing media on his department's response to the Covid-19 pandemic at Ronnie Mamoepa Media Centre in Hatfield, Pretoria. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Students back university reopening plan

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published May 25, 2020

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Durban - Student leadership in universities in KwaZulu-Natal has welcomed the phased, risk-based strategy for the reopening of higher education institutions.

The strategy was announced by Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimande, over the weekend.

According to Nzimande, under level 3 lockdown, a maximum of 33% of students would be allowed back on campus and final-year students would be prioritised.

Nzimande stated that under each new level, 2 and 1, a further one third would be added, again with online teaching continuing for any students unable to return.

He said that students who did not have technology resources would have paper learning material delivered to them, based on each university’s assessment.

“The government is committed to ensuring all National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students have laptops, and this has already being rolled out in some areas,” he said.

According to Nzimande, each NSFAS-funded student would receive 10GB of daytime data and 20GB of night data, and this would be subsidised by the government for three months, starting in June.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary, Mnqobi Msezane, said that they were happy with the strategy.

Msezane said it was well-informed and fair, and some of the issues that they had been worried about had been properly addressed.

“The minister highlighted the ‘missing middle’ students, but he never said how they will assist them. As UKZN, we have several students from poor backgrounds who are funded by NSFAS.

“We also have students who do not have NSFAS who are doing postgraduate degrees, who were previously funded by NSFAS.

“Those students would also get R350 of social grant relief, and they need materials to study. They fall under the missing middle, but the minister has yet to address how they will ensure that they also get laptops and data,” he said.

Msezane said he was hopeful that the university would put in place safety measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission among students.

Durban University of Technology (DUT) SRC president Njabulo Sangweni said the minister’s approach was good enough, and that measures had been taken to ensure that social distancing was maintained.

“The strategy is proper, we can’t deny it. The 33% number is there to makes sure that there is no overcrowding. We also hope that returning students would take it upon themselves to behave and not spread the virus,” said Sangweni.

He said they were worried about the readiness of DUT as, according to him, no students had received data or laptops.

“Students are behind, thus we need a detailed recovery plan. We are happy that many students have registered

at the university and most have got their response from NSFAS, meaning they will be able to get laptops,” he said.

Sangweni added that they were going to push the institution to make sure that they disinfected residences, libraries and buildings for them to be ready for June1.

Mangosuthu University of Technology SRC president Codesa Gwala said they were going to meet today as student leadership to outline some of the issues raised by the minister.

University of Zululand student representatives could not be reached.

Belinda Bozzoli, the DA’s spokesperson on higher education, welcomed the announcement, saying they would keep a close eye on how the department supported and implemented these plans. She said a mammoth task lay ahead.

“We will be monitoring the return of students over the next few months to ensure that where there are shortfalls they are quickly addressed.

“We will also be looking carefully at the regulations that will follow this announcement by the minister to ensure that they are sensible and rational,” said Bozzoli.

The Mercury

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