SOUTH AFRICAN Union of Students (SAUS) has raised safety concerns as 66% of university return to several campuses under Level 2 lockdown, particularly at several universities such as Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu, Sefako Makgatho and Mangosuthu University of Technology.
The students’ union said most of these historically disadvantaged universities were ill-prepared to receive thousands of students and posed a serious academic risk.
“We are in the process of doing oversight visits this week, particularly where universities are said to be at high risk,” said SAUS spokesperson Thabo Shingange.
“Some of these issues are around their structural inadequacies that come from the past. However, what we are saying as a union is that past injustices have to be balanced with elements of accountability. Twenty six years into democracy, why is the University of Fort Hare still plummeting into the ground? Why is Mangosuthu University of Technology still plummeting into the ground? We need to begin to speak to these particular things as a union.”
SAUS concerns come just a few days after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande identified six universities considered as high risk for students.
Nzimande said failure by these universities to adequately resume classes since March, poses a serious academic risk.
Nzimande identified the following universities:
- Mangosuthu University of Technology
- Vaal University of Technology
- Sefako Makgatho University
- University of Fort Hare
- Walter Sisulu University
- Central University of Technology
Nzimande said up to 66% of university students will be able to return to university campuses.
“According to the criteria developed, I am happy to report under Level 2 of the lockdown, it will be possible for us now to allow for up to a maximum of 66 percent of students to return to university campuses,” he said.
Nzimande added: “Some Universities have not adequately resumed academic teaching & learning for a significant proportion of their student populations since March when the recess period started.”
“This poses a serious risk. The Department is currently engaging with all Medium and High Risk institutions identified above to secure commitments and actions to lower risks and expedite operational capabilities to ensure successful completion of the 2020 Academic Year. Special support measures will be put in place to ensure academic activities resume at an accelerated pace at these universities.”
EFF Student Command spokesperson Xola Mehlomakhulu said the organization does not support the re-opening of some of these high risk universities without any scientifically proven knowledge of how they were going to respond to emergencies.
“This could potentially be another spike or spread of the virus,” said Mehlomakhulu.
“We don’t condone the return of students back to campuses without sufficient measures. I think that should be the prioritization of the students.”
Nzimande said universities need to strike the right balance between the imperative of enabling all institutions to complete the requirements for the 2020 academic year in order to give all students a fair chance, and the need to ensure the start of the 2021 academic year in ways that do not render the system unmanageable or impairing the principle of equity of access across the system.
“For this reason, I have met with both the COVID-19 Ministerial Task Team and Vice-Chancellors in the last week to impress upon the principle to agree on a fixed period within which all institutions must complete the current academic year and a fixed period of starting dates for the opening of the 2021 academic year,” said Nzimande.
(COMPILED BY INSIDE EDUCATION STAFF