Responding to Level 2 COVID-19 regulations

31 August 2020 | From Kgethi
 

Dear colleagues and students

As the University of Cape Town (UCT) continues with the second semester, I want to thank you for so ably adapting to remote teaching, learning and working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The understanding, flexibility and ingenuity you have shown has allowed us to deliver the vast majority of our academic programmes and many of our support services remotely and a small number on campus. All of this during a particularly difficult time as many of us have had to confront economic hardship, sickness and sometimes the death of loved ones. Our appreciation for your ongoing commitment cannot be overstated.

As outlined by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, under national alert Level 2, depending on a tertiary institution’s capacity, no more than a maximum of 66 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).

While the official rate of COVID-19 infections has slowed, the coronavirus is still very much with us and we must remain vigilant. Our priorities at UCT are to protect the lives and well-being of our community, to conclude the academic year, to adhere to all government protocols and to take all reasonable steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

We have developed a framework for identifying which students and staff may return in a phased approach, and this is being implemented by invitation only, after the necessary health assessments have been concluded and after formal authorisations have been granted. Very strict monitoring, social distancing and other health regulations will be in place for those returning. No other student or staff member, apart from those identified, will be able to return.


Returning students

Our key intention is to assist those that are returning to remain safe and healthy on campus and in residences.

  • Some students have been invited back on the basis of vulnerability, such as difficult home circumstances, socio-economic disadvantage or particular barriers to academic progress. These students will continue remote learning in residence with easier access to online resources.
  • Final-year medical students have returned to residence.
  • Students registered in performing arts courses, and students needing to undertake practical blocks, will be invited, in phases, to return to residences or academic spaces, in alignment with the amended UCT calendar.
  • Selected postgraduate researchers who need to use on-campus facilities to complete their research projects, and where this can be accommodated appropriately, will be invited to return in two tranches.

With the change to Level 2 restrictions, we may now invite more students by name back to campus. All returning students must undergo a 10-day self-quarantine period when they return to their residences.

Campus services during this time will be limited: dining halls will remain closed, Jammie Shuttle services will be limited, all but one of the computer labs remain closed and UCT Libraries will operate as a virtual library service for the rest of the academic year.


Returning staff

Staff at UCT have been asked to continue working from home where possible. This approach remains our default position. All departments have identified those staff members whose work requires them to be on campus. These staff members have been granted access to campus on condition that they undergo a daily health assessment and adhere to strict protocols. Allowing the majority of UCT staff to continue working from home will ensure that we minimise the significant risk that COVID-19 presents.


Remote teaching and learning

While implementing emergency remote teaching has not been easy, we have learnt from our successes and challenges. We have introduced technical innovations to support remote teaching and learning; the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching has enhanced Vula, the university’s online collaboration and learning system; we have updated existing guides for remote teaching and created new ones; and over 2 500 academics signed up for remote teaching webinars between March and July.

The student survey in July showed that while students have overwhelmingly missed in-person contact, many have come to value the greater flexibility provided by online learning. Insights into student experiences are allowing us to review lessons for the future. We are looking into how we can conduct assessment for some invigilated exams and how to provide data access and electricity for some students at home.

On behalf of the executive, I want to thank you all for ensuring that we completed the first semester safely, and for going the extra mile to create and support new ways of teaching and learning.

We would like to hear about your experiences of emergency remote teaching from a strict teaching and learning perspective, including insights into your personal experiences of this way of working. The survey is addressed to all academic staff and to professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff working in academic units. I encourage you to complete the survey.

Complete the UCT Staff Experience Survey for Term 2, 2020.


Frequently asked questions

I urge you to read the series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) we have developed to make it easier for you to access the information you need. It is critical that you understand the issues related to COVID-19 and UCT’s approach to the pandemic.

These FAQs include, among others, information about:

  • the approach to marks and assessments
  • remote teaching and learning
  • the updated 2020 academic calendar
  • a range of faculty contacts
  • accessing counselling and support
  • the phased return to campus
  • UCT’s response to COVID-19.

We will continue to update the FAQs as new information becomes available. Please make contact with your university departments and faculties if you need more information.

This has been a challenging period for everyone, and I want to encourage you to ask for help if you need it. Students can reach out to UCT’s Student Wellness Service, which offers online and telephonic counselling and support. Staff can contact ICAS support for counselling by calling 080 111 3945 toll-free, sending a please-call-me to *134*905# or emailing uct@icas.co.za.

Thank you for playing your part to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our campus. Together we will emerge from this crisis stronger and more capable of moving into an era of change.

Regardless of where you are, please remember to wear your masks when you’re in public, maintain social distancing and wash your hands regularly.

We wish you and your families strength and good health.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Vice-Chancellor


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