Fort Hare and WSU high risk for Covid-19 transmission, says Blade

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande
Higher education minister Blade Nzimande
Image: Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

Two Eastern Cape universities are at high risk for Covid-19 transmission, the department of higher education & training’s latest status report on the readiness and operational indicators of universities shows.

Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and the University of Fort Hare (UFH) were declared high-risk institutions by minister Blade Nzimande during a media briefing on Wednesday.

WSU and UFH are among six universities singled out by him.

The others are Central University of Technology, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Sefako Makgatho University and Vaal University of Technology.

Nzimande said the status reports from university institutions were submitted to the department on a “fortnightly basis”. 

“According to the latest report, some universities have not adequately resumed academic teaching and learning for a significant proportion of their student populations since March, when the recess period started,” Nzimande said.

Responding to WSU being high-risk, spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said: “Unfortunately minister Nzimande didn’t indicate in his speech what his considerations were to make that determination for WSU in particular.”

Tukwayo said all universities would receive a detailed report on Nzimande’s statement.

“WSU cannot comment until it understands the deficiencies that led to the categorisation,” Tukwayo said.

When asked for the reasons UFH was deemed high-risk, university spokesperson Tandi Mapukata referred the Dispatch to the department of higher education & training.

During his briefing, Nzimande announced that up to 66% of students could return to campus in September.

Tukwayo said this week WSU in Mthatha, Butterworth and Buffalo City “welcomed selected final-year and postgraduate students who are observing the mandatory 10-day isolation period” before accessing shared spaces on campus.

After September we will have 66% of the student population on campus.

“WSU will start phasing in the return of first-year students in September,” Tukwayo said.

Mapukata said at UFH “only 33% of the students who are still at home will return. The first group of 33% returned when the country reached level 3 of the lockdown”. 

“After September we will have 66% of the student population on campus,” Mapukata said.  

Mapukata said the university was inviting the next cohort to return in “a carefully staggered fashion from September 1". 

Rhodes University spokesperson Velisile Bukula said university management would meet to discuss the return of the next cohort of students to campus, among other issues.

Bukula said the university would announce the decision taken from the meeting.

Nzimande said the department had requested universities to submit updated plans for the 66% return by August 25.

Students who could return to campus under level 2 included all groups that had been prioritised to return in level 3 but could not return and students in all years of study who required laboratory and technical equipment to complete the academic year.

Students who required practical placements and workplace-based learning to complete the academic year and first-year students in all undergraduate programmes could also return, he said.


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