The University of Cape Town (UCT) will be issuing a very limited number of invitations to undergraduate and postgraduate students to return to residence. This is happening in a phased approach, which is already under way and will continue during July and August 2020. These invitations will be sent only to limited groups of students to enable them to complete the 2020 academic year.
This invitation is separate from the return of researchers, postdoctoral fellows and postgraduates to campus that was announced on 17 June by Professor Sue Harrison, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation.
The Minister of Higher Education and Training has advised that one-third of university students may return to universities, however we are limiting that proportion because of the soaring rate of new COVID-19 infections, especially in the Western Cape. Our first priority is always to protect the lives and well-being of students and staff, and we hope to do so by keeping a stricter limit on the number of returning students in this phase.
Many of you have written to me, the Vice-Chancellor, your deans and your lecturers about the hazards of studying under very difficult conditions at home. So we have prioritised students whose living conditions do not allow them to participate meaningfully in remote teaching and learning. In determining which students will receive invitations to return, we have committed to an approach that prioritises both the socioeconomic need and the academic benefit of being in res for each student; is consistent across the faculties and based on measurable data; and aligns with public health considerations and our collective responsibility as a university to ensure the safety of students and staff members. Our aim is to be fair and transparent in selecting students to receive these invitations and to be able to provide a strong basis for each decision.
This cohort of returning students will continue with online learning and research in residence. Students in private accommodation must communicate with their lessors to establish whether they may return to that accommodation to continue remote learning and whether the accommodation is in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. Students returning to private accommodation will not receive a letter of invitation from the university and will need to complete a Form 6 sworn affidavit, which is published in Government Gazette 43364, to enable their travel.
Invitations to return to UCT residences in August will include details about the strict public health conditions each student must agree to before coming back, to reduce the chance of infection. This is how we expect you to fulfil your joint responsibility to yourself, to each other, to UCT and to South Africa – because any infection that comes on campus can also be carried off campus, into buses, taxis, shops and people’s homes.
Students will need to agree to be self-reliant for living under lockdown; adhere to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period; wash or sanitise hands regularly; use a mask over the nose and mouth at all times when leaving your room; cough and sneeze into your elbow; maintain a physical distance of 1.5m from others; clean up after using public spaces; and not visit each other in rooms and apartments. These steps are all necessary public health practices to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Students who have co-morbidities or are in mid-trimester pregnancy will need to undergo more detailed health screening for risk assessment. The most important priority is your health.
Invitations, including a permit for intra-provincial travel, will be issued via email. If you do not receive an invitation to return, you will not be allowed to do so. This is for your own health and safety. We know that many of you find it hard to study away from UCT. We know you miss your friends, and we miss you too. But the risk of bringing people into res too quickly is simply not justified. Every student, in res or at home, will still have virtual access to UCT facilities such as the library, Student Wellness Service and faculty support.
Whether you receive an invitation to return or not, please remember that we are all in this crisis together. We all share a joint responsibility for helping each other to avoid becoming infected, as well as for showing compassion for those who do test positive, and those who are in greatest danger from the virus. We can stay connected virtually, as I know many of you are doing, through online groups and virtual meetings.
Thank you for showing your care in this way. Please also take a moment to encourage the staff members at UCT who continue to work hard on your behalf. They are part of your community too. For now, all my colleagues at UCT and I stand together with you, even though we have to stay apart.
With kind regards
Professor Loretta Feris
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Transformation
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