Rhodes University moves to bring back more students on campus

Ronn Mager and Siyasanga Nkuna from Residential Operations at Rhodes University collect hand sanitiser from the Pharmacy Faculty to start preparations for the next group of returning students
Ronn Mager and Siyasanga Nkuna from Residential Operations at Rhodes University collect hand sanitiser from the Pharmacy Faculty to start preparations for the next group of returning students

More Rhodes University students are to be invited to return to campus, following an announcement by government to move the country to Alert Level 2 of its Risk-Adjusted Strategy to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, said the University placed a high priority on the safety, health and wellbeing of students, staff and the surrounding community.

“The decision and approach to allowing more students back on campus will be carefully balanced with important contextual factors. In particular, due consideration will be given to the capacity of health care services in the Makana local municipality to deal with any potential upsurge in Covid-19 infection cases,” he said.

The University’s capacity to accommodate students in the residence systems within the applicable restrictions, social justice and a commitment to save lives while saving the academic year are among the key factors the University will be taking into account.

In line with the directives of the Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET), the University’s broad approach gives priority to: 

  • first year students
  • students who rely on printed study materials and students whose social environments may not be conducive to optimum learning.
  • students identified by their departments as requiring access to facilities (i.e. laboratories, technical equipment and studios) for connectivity and/or to conduct experiments.
  • post-graduate students for whom online resources are not adequate to aid their progress.

All returning students will undergo a 10-day quarantine period in a secluded residence. During this period, contact with the students who are already in residences will be prohibited. All students will be required to wear a face mask in public places and practise safe physical distancing. The University will take disciplinary action against any person who fails to abide by all the rules, regulations and protocols that have been put in place to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all students, staff and the local community.

A general alcohol ban remains in force across campus and social gatherings are strictly forbidden.

Return to campus, however, does not mean an immediate return to in-contact or face-to-face teaching. Students will utilise student Wi-Fi to participate in on-line teaching and learning while progression to blended teaching is phased in as the risk subsides.

Return to campus will be by invitation only. No student without a permit will be allowed on campus. The institution will not be able to invite back every student in the categories prioritised by the DHET, since that would exceed the quota permitted by the Level 2 regulations.

The University encourages all students who can participate meaningfully and productively in the remote learning programme from home to remain and continue to use the online system.

Whilst 48 cases of staff members and six students who contracted Covid-19 since the start of lock-down were reported, the situation on campus has been under control. All six students and the majority of staff members made full recovery. No case of staff to student transmission has been reported.

Various protocols in relation to daily operations include strict adherence to physical distancing, wearing of mask on campus, daily screening and restriction of access. The University also reviewed its regulations including the Student Disciplinary Code, to tighten controls intended to mitigate the risk of transmission and spread of the virus.

Rhodes University is one of 12 public universities that the Department of Higher Education and Training has deemed to be low-risk, given its state of readiness and operational indicators to offer remote multimodal teaching and learning and preparedness to manage the pandemic on campus.

“The fantastic outcomes of the dispensations and work of the teams that we set up to manage the unprecedented situation on our campus can never be taken lightly. We cannot lower our guard at this stage. If we do, we run the real risk of reversing the tremendous gains made in the reduction of viral infections achieved at a huge economic and personal cost. Each decision we make and every action we take is a delicate balancing act between the needs of our students and staff, and those of the surrounding community in Makhanda and the successful completion of our academic year,” Dr Mabizela said.

The University is gearing to scale up its mental health care services even more. Multiple pathways to mental wellness are being introduced. Counselling training is to be offered to academic staff and mental health might be incorporated into the curriculum in the near future.

** International students, for whom travelling is still restricted, are being supported through online resources, and will be accommodated upon their return in dedicated catch-up sessions.