DUT suspends on-campus registration after thousands of students cause potential Covid-19 super-spreader event
Durban - The Durban University of Technology has suspended all on-campus support for online registration after thousands of students descended on the institution on Tuesday to register in person following a slew of fake messages telling them that walk-in applications were open.
The influx of students to the Steve Biko campus – many of whom were not wearing face masks or practising physical distancing – saw more than one thousand students crammed in the Sports Centre building, raising fears it could lead to a Covid-19 super spreader event.
In a statement late on Tuesday night, the university called the influx of students an “invasion”.
“Following the violation of the Covid-19 guidelines as a result of the campus invasion by a large number of people this morning (Tuesday) and considering the related risks to health, safety and security, the University has decided to immediately suspend on-campus support for online registration. Thus, for the time being, all registration continues strictly online from whatever points registrants may choose,” a statement by the DUT management team said.
The students who went to the campus said they were urged to do so by social media messages that said DUT would be accepting walk-ins for a week starting on Tuesday.
The messages which the university said were hoaxes were fuelled by the university’s Student Representative Council members, who also circulated the messages.
According to students, the large turn-out was due to the trouble many first-year students were having with registering online which included, among other things, internet connection.
Sakhile Mngadi, an Ethekwini PR councillor who went to the campus yesterday, said the processes at the university had “clearly collapsed”, adding management was guilty of contravening of Covid-19 protocol by “assembling over 5 000 people indoors with no ventilation”.
“I attempted to liaise with security personnel to get clarity on the chaos and was told that management is meeting about it. But after 3 hours nothing had been done.”
He said the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation planned to escalate the matter the Higher Education ministry.
“This is absolute madness,” he said.
According to DUT, the University had been exploring strategies to deal with the challenge of the slow pace of registration of first time entering (FTEN) students, for various reasons including their challenges with our online registrations system.
“The number of returning students who have registered has been largely met and does not appear to be a problem at this stage.
“As part of the strategies to deal with this slow challenge with FTEN registrations, the University decided to decentralise the on-campus registration support, in order to assist those applicants who were struggling to complete their online registration
“Many of those who had required assistance with their online registration had either experienced internet access challenges at their homes or they had faced delays due to funding concerns. The on-campus support facilities were specifically implemented to assist this group of students, many of whom, were FTEN students,” a DUT statement said.
DUT said one of the strategies was about enlisting professionalised call centre services, in addition to their own faculty-based initiatives.
“Such a service would help to reach out to all students with firm offers, students on wait-lists and other qualifying students that could have approached them since registration started. Some call the latter group ‘walk-ins’. As a result of this, the University had also decided to extend the registration period for FTEN applicants to 9 April 2021”.
But the hoax social media messages caused panic and saw thousands of students, many from afar as Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, flock to the university.
“Many potential applicants arrived at our gates, expecting to be registered. These persons were not invited by the University to register, nor given any indication that they were to arrive at the University. All along, the University has been using a strict Covid-19 compliant system where those struggling with our online registration would report their experiences via the telephone, and, where necessary, be invited and granted permits. As a result, all our registration venues, including the Sports Centre, has been orderly and Covid-19 compliant,” DUT said.
The university said it remained committed to successfully registering FTEN students who received firm offers from DUT but this process could not be at the expense of the safety and security of staff and students and contraventions of the Covid-19 protocols.
“The University will contact all first-year applicants who received firm offers to study at DUT but, for whatever reason have not registered as yet. We will directly consult with this group of applicants and advise them accordingly. On-campus support for online registration was specifically for first-year students only.
“When on-campus, online registration support resumes, if it ever will, we will assist these applicants as best as we can. Qualifying, registered students who also qualify for accommodation, will be assisted as well. However, the University will not be providing accommodation to those who are not registered to study at DUT, particularly those who simply arrive at our gates and then expect to be accommodated in our residences, even though they may not be accepted into a programme of study.”