Developing the framework for returning to UCT

29 May 2020 | From Kgethi

Dear students and colleagues

I know you may have questions about how the University of Cape Town (UCT) will reopen after the President’s announcement that the country will be moving to Alert Level 3 from 1 June 2020. We are developing a framework for the safe return of staff and students in a co-ordinated and phased manner, in line with the guidelines provided by Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande and President Cyril Ramaphosa over the weekend. This framework is based on our foremost commitment to protect the health and safety of all our staff and students.

I want to start by repeating President Ramaphosa’s caution: that if you can work or study from home, you should do so to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The move to Alert Level 3 does not signal an automatic return to campus for us. We have been warned that tragically the COVID-19 outbreak could still get worse as we proceed into winter. The number of reported positive cases in the Western Cape is still high. As we move into Level 3 of the national lockdown framework, we need to be even more vigilant and continue following basic protective and defensive practices to mitigate against the impact of the pandemic on our personal and working lives. This is the reason for UCT’s approach to a planned, co-ordinated and phased manner to reopen UCT to staff and students. We want our students and staff to be an integral part of ensuring that we complete the academic year, while protecting everyone’s health and safety.

Under national Alert Level 3, depending on a tertiary institution’s capacity, no more than a maximum of 33 percent of students will be allowed to return to campus and residences. This is on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

A maximum of one-third of students set by the DHET is not a prescription. It is a guide to be considered in combination with governmental directives and institutional health and safety obligations. Therefore the number of returning students may have to be set at a level below the guideline of a maximum of one-third of the student body. The plan for a gradual and phased return of students, as health and safety conditions allow, does not at this point in any way mean that the current emergency remote teaching programme will stop. UCT will continue with remote teaching until the end of Term 3. The phased return to campus of some staff and students does not mean the resumption of contact teaching.

We will notify the groups of students who will be invited to return, and what date you can be back on campus. If you are a student and you do not receive notice from UCT to return, please remain at home and continue to study or work as you were doing before.

With regards to returning to residence, UCT students will receive an offer to return to residence. Accommodation in residence will be based on the number of students that we can safely accommodate under strict COVID-19 regulations. Students that are invited to return will be required to adhere to the need for quarantine on arrival and to practice strict social distancing. We will notify the groups of students who will be invited to return, and what date they can be back on campus. If you are a student and you do not receive an invitation from UCT to return, please remain at home and continue to study or work as you were doing before.

Senior executives and managers in all the faculties and departments are also preparing plans for the potential return of staff members who are able to work in various sites across campus. Further communication on researchers returning to university activities will also follow. If you are a staff member, your line manager will be in touch with you. There are also important engagements that we still want to have with staff groups and representatives.

Meanwhile, colleagues in the Properties and Services Department are ensuring that our facilities are prepared for the return of students and staff and this will take some considerable time still. We are working hard to ensure that all the requisite health screening, cleaning, sanitising and personal protection equipment that is needed is in place before we allow any further returns to campus. More details will follow over the next few weeks, but with the work still needed and precautions we want to put in place, we estimate that the earliest we could begin to see some staff or students returning to campus will be 1 July 2020. My colleagues and I will communicate further details over the next few weeks.

Developing this framework requires hard work and attention to detail. Thank you to colleagues who are working to organise the phased return to campus, led by Chief Operating Officer, Dr Reno Morar.

Lockdown and unlocking through the various alert levels has not been easy and the COVID-19 crisis is not over yet. We may have to go through these various levels of lockdown in a number of cycles still. This is a time to be patient and stay strong. Thank you for the compassion that you are showing to each other and yourselves. I am confident that if we continue to work together we can help each other and our nation to overcome the pandemic and its effects.

With kind regards,

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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