The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, says all public institutions of higher learning will go on early recess as of Wednesday until 15 April.
About 2.5 million students at universities and TVET colleges across the country will be affected. The decision will however not affect postgraduate students.
Nzimande met with stakeholders including labour unions, students’ representatives and representatives from various universities, in Pretoria, on Tuesday.
He has appealed to private institutions of higher learning to also suspend academic activities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nzimande briefed the media following talks with role players in the higher learning sector. This is part of consultations on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on measures to combat the COVID-19 epidemic.
Nzimande has advised institutions to make use of the online methods in order to minimise the disruption of academic activities.
“Of course some of the institutional activities will continue during this period which is postgraduate and research work. In order words it is not a shutdown, it is a recess. Which means the suspension of academic activities for undergraduate and TVET students. But we’ve agreed on the use of digital and online methodologies for learning that might need to be put in place to support the learning program at a later stage,” says Nzimande.
Nzimande says they’re more worried about the 12 000 South African students studying abroad including China. He says they’re working closely with the South African embassies in those countries to gather information about the affected students.
“We also estimate that there are 1 500 students in China and we working with Dirco to put together a database on all students studying abroad who have registered with our foreign missions abroad. All embassies are asked to help us. But also we do not have students who are infected that we are aware of,” says Nzimande.
According to the Minister, several other measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. This includes setting up a special COVID-19 team as well as a research unit comprising medical experts among others.
“The Department of Science and Innovation has already established a research team which is made up of a numerous experts like medical doctors and so on, to look at scientific needed to combat the pandemic. We are also working with the NICD,” says Nzimande.
Nzimande has dismissed as fake news reports of a Wits University student infected by the virus.
“The one that the Minister of Health is checking at Wits is that it could be a hoax. And the media must watch that very carefully because that’s the problem we are having. If we have to work together only the Department of Health should make all the announcements that are related to coronavirus,” says Nzimande.
In the meantime, first semester exams for TVET students may also be postponed. Institutions of higher learning have been urged to put on hold graduation ceremonies as well as postponing all international trips where necessary until a thorough assessment on COVID-19 pandemic is done.