15 June 2020
We are delighted that Stellenbosch University (SU) is able to invite some of our students back to campus. It may however be a prolonged process to have everyone back who would like to return. Under the national attempt to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, our campus life and academic functions will be quite different to what we have been accustomed to.
Higher education institutions are permitted to invite a maximum of 33% of their students back to their campuses under the Alert Level 3 Regulations issued in terms of the National State of Disaster. Substantial progress has been made over the past weeks to prepare our campus facilities (including residences) for the phased return of these students.
We have also managed to determine which modules and programmes necessitate the return of students for on-campus work to provide them with the opportunity to successfully complete the academic year. This process entailed close collaboration with our faculties, based on the categories of students outlined in the “Directions for criteria to return to public university and private higher education institution campuses as part of a risk-adjusted strategy for a phased-in return from level 3” (hereafter referred to as the “Directions”) of 8 June 2020.
SU will again purchase data bundles from MTN, Vodacom, Telkom* and Cell C in South Africa for students for July 2020 (excluding international students, Faculty of Military Science students, students still in residences, short course students and postdoctoral fellows). All students have to take note of the following: to qualify for the July data bundle, you have to confirm your mobile telephone number on your personal details page (update your contact details here) once again. To confirm, you must click on the Update Information button at the bottom of the page and check that the notice reflects the date on which you updated. Only the mobile telephone numbers that students confirmed during the period from 15 May up until 8:00 on 22 June 2020 will be forwarded to the mobile network operators for data bundles to be loaded. An application to verify your data bundle status will be available on the student support page at the end of June 2020.
The data will be uploaded on 1 July 2020 and be valid for the month. We acknowledge that some students’ June data bundles were activated on 27 May 2020. These students will therefore have three days without free data before the new data bundle is loaded. We do, however, have to synchronise the future loading of data bundles between all the mobile network operators to enable us to track more accurately whether students received their data bundles on a specific date. Please also note that SUNLearn is zero-rated but you need a positive balance on your cell phone data account to access SUNLearn although it will not be used.
IMPORTANT: If your mobile telephone number is not confirmed exactly as indicated above, you will not receive a data bundle for July 2020 and no exceptions can be made.
* Please note that if Telkom-R is indicated on your cell phone, the Telkom bundles might be loaded slightly later. Click here for details with regard to data bundles for students during lockdown.
As mentioned in the previous communique, no further correspondence will be entered into with regard to the June data bundles. All students have the advantage that SUNLearn data is zero-rated. Please follow the instructions for the July data bundles precisely.
Students prioritised for return
Faculties have prioritised students who should return during the first phase: those who still need to do compulsory academic work on campus in order to graduate in 2020; students who need to complete practical work in campus laboratories or prescribed clinical work, or need access to specialised software or research materials available on campus only; students who must comply with requirements for on-campus work set by professional bodies; and postgraduate students who require access to laboratories or technical equipment. These students will receive individualised invitations to return to campus as of next week.
The good news is that all the faculty priorities for undergraduate and postgraduate students can be met while remaining within the 33% total student headcount as regulated by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
It should be noted that the directions from the DHET, Department of Co-operative Governance and the Department of Employment and Labour for our campus facilities are quite substantial. It will take some time to prepare venues and put measures in place to facilitate physical distancing for returning students and staff. As we take the safety of our students and staff seriously, we need time to ensure that all these requirements are properly implemented in campus facilities before students may return.
After the above categories of students have been taken into account, there remains a number of available places that can be offered to students who face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments – without exceeding the prescribed 33%. These students, for example those who are struggling to study due to circumstances at home, may apply to return to their residence where they will be able to continue with online learning. Written motivations should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 22 June 2020 for consideration by a central committee.
All students identified – those returning for academic reasons and those who return to residences for a better studying environment – will only be able to return on invitation and on the specific dates that will be communicated. Students who do not form part of the first 33% cohort may not return to campus.
- Students who fall within the 33 % will receive a personalised e-mail from the Registrar inviting them to return to campus.
- All of the students invited will have to respond to the invitation by completing an online form, and either accepting or declining the invitation.
- All returning students will have to sign a Code of Conduct to comply with the requirements as set out in the DHET Directions.
- On completion of the online form and accepting the Code of Conduct, the returning student will receive a certificate to travel to the campus aligned to the Alert Level 3 Regulations.
- The invitation will also contain links to important information on isolation and other health-related protocols that will apply on their return, as well as what to expect in terms of their academic offering once back on campus.
- It is expected that the indicated selection of postgraduate students may be able to resume on-campus work from 1 July 2020, and the selected undergraduate students to start academic activities on our campuses from the start of the second semester on 27 July 2020.
- Students will be required to do a daily self-check before leaving their place of residence in the morning and shall be requested to disclose the outcome of their self-check before entering SU campus facilities. Higher Health has developed a mobile tool – HealthCheck – as a daily health screening and monitoring tool that will be used as SU’s screening tool.
Please note that students studying on the Tygerberg campus will receive their invitations and instructions for their return via the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Students in residences
- Students who are included in the 33% and who may return and who also have a place in university accommodation will also be invited to return to their residences if the residence capacity allows. Students will be given the opportunity to indicate whether they will return to their residence or not by completing the online form.
- Students returning to residences will be required to self-isolate for 14 days or a period prescribed from time to time by Campus Health Services, and will not be able to move around freely even in the residence.
- If a student declines to return to residence, the option to cancel the residence place will be provided. No cancellation fee will be applicable. Please note that, if a student cancels a residence place, the cancellation will also apply for 2021 as the place will be allocated to a newcomer. Students will only be able to register on the waiting list that will open in February 2021 to be considered for placement in residence in 2021. Alternatively, a student may opt to keep the place in residence for 2020 on the resumption of payment of residence fees.
- Residence students who returned home before the March/April recess, will all receive a rebate on their residence fees as of 26 March 2020 midnight (the start of the national lockdown) and their residence accounts will only be reactivated on the required date of their return to residence. All residence cancellations that were made since 26 March 2020 will also be backdated to 26 March 2020 for these students to qualify for the rebate.
Students in private rented accommodation
The Directions allow for “students who live in private rented accommodation close to campuses to return, but their access to campus must be restricted to keep the campus population to one-third of the capacity, consistent with Level 3 risk for spread of the infection”. Students in this group who are not part of the 33% identified to return to campus for academic purposes, will not be issued with a certificate by the University that would enable them to travel. However, they do have access to their proof of registration via the Student Portal and, should the owners of the rental accommodation be willing to issue them with an invitation to return to their private accommodation, the University will have no objection, bearing in mind that these students will not have access to campus facilities unless they have been invited back as part of the first 33% of returning students. Students who return to their private accommodation, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days as prescribed by the Department of Health, and will not be able to move about freely. Stellenbosch and surrounding areas remain a hotspot of infections.
Academic functions during the term and for examination periods
At its most recent meeting Senate approved certain measures to uniformly regulate some academic functions during term and examination periods.
- It is accepted that much of students' learning in the second semester will still have to occur by means of remote online teaching. Where all students who have been invited back for laboratory sessions or other practical work are back on campus, the default teaching will be in-class and face-to-face. However, the restrictions on student numbers per venue; the shortage of large enough venues; the number of possible sessions per week; and the limits on how many times an academic staff member can repeat a lecture may still necessitate online teaching only.
- Senate also accepted that while SA government regulations restrict travel of international students, face-to-face academic offerings shall continue for some students, while international students who cannot attend will be served with online academic support where practicable, or be given extensions to produce academic outputs where possible.
- As for assessments, Senate accepted that each examination must allow sufficient time for students to produce their outputs online.
- Furthermore, Senate decided to grant all students a fixed 30-minute period to submit their hand-written or typed assessment outputs online after an assessment’s writing time has expired (except for online quizzes where students type in their answers as they go).
- Senate confirmed that where students have exam schedule clashes, lecturers may offer students to write two exams back-to-to back under certain conditions, or students may opt to take the second exam opportunity.
- Students who fail to submit their output during the first exam opportunity for whatever reason, will have access to the second exam opportunity.
I would like to once again wish all our students well with their assessments and look forward to continuing our academic offering to all our students, whether online or in face-to-face mode towards successfully completing the 2020 academic year.
Prof Stan du Plessis