A multidisciplinary investigation team that includes members from the World Health Organization, the Department of Health and the National Health Laboratory Service has been assembled to manage and contain Covid-19 outbreaks in the tertiary education sector.
According to the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande this would be done by identifying student contacts and assisting them with early isolation and quarantine to minimise further spread of infection.
He was concerned with recent outbreaks in institutions in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Nzimande made the announcement on Thursday, while updating on the post-school education and training sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The inevitable reality of the Covid pandemic and its associated mortality continues to loom around the sector, warranting continuous strengthening of systems, controls, and management of the pandemic in the sector,” he said.
Nzimande also announced that the start of the 2021 academic year for technical and vocational education and training colleges would be delayed by 3 weeks, with campuses now opening on January 25, 2021.
“The situation is as a result of having the 2020 examinations continuing until the 11th of December 2020, with the colleges closing on 15th December 2020. The marking, moderation and results processing will thus go into January 2021, affecting the usual release of the results. However, I must indicate that this arrangement is carefully considered and will not affect the 2021 academic year,” he explained.
RESIDENCES, FEES AND NSFAS
Tertiary institutions are considering residential fee rebates, owing to non-occupation of some residences by students, over a period of time.
Nzimande also said his department was working towards a policy framework on the regulation of university fees. However, he said the process would not be completed for the 2021 academic year, owing to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
His department has proposed a further fee compact to public universities to ensure fee increases are kept at affordable levels, while also ensuring that universities are able to remain sustainable.
“I have written to all university councils with a proposal for a CPI-linked fee increase for 2021. This would be 4.7% on tuition fees and 6.7% on accommodation fees, in line with previous years. I am awaiting the response of university councils on this matter,” he said.
With regard to the modelling of possible costs for the extended 2020 academic year in relation to National Student Financial Aid Scheme- (NSFAS-) funded students the Minister said his department had noted that, given the difficult fiscal situation in the country, no additional funding was provided to NSFAS to support the payment of additional extended year allowances.
He urged NSFAS to identify funds to support the extended academic year, within the existing allocations to the entity, keeping in mind the significant increase in the number of university students qualifying for NSFAS funding in 2020.
Meanwhile, the tender for the laptop project has been approved and awarded to five bidders, which will work with NSFAS and other institutions to deliver laptops to students.
“NSFAS has communicated the award to the successful service providers on 2 November 2020 and is in the process of completing the contractual arrangements with all successful service providers, following which the details of the final mutually agreed guidelines will be communicated with all institutions,” Nzimande said.