Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
Plans for returning to campus
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking
Published: 06/10/2021

​​​​​Dear colleagues and students

Allow me to bring you up to speed on the decisions taken at the latest meeting of our Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC), which took place on Monday 4 October 2021, and where we also welcomed the newly elected Students’ Representative Council Chair, Ms Viwe Kobokana, for the first time.

Our most important decisions include that Stellenbosch University (SU) intends returning to face-to-face teaching and learning next year, COVID-19 permitting, and that we are also recalling staff to campus in a phased way. This will be done in such a manner that risks continue to be managed and regulations and health protocols continue to be followed.

Please read on for more on these and other issues.

State of the pandemic

In her customary briefing to the ICBC, Prof Juliet Pulliam of SACEMA (the South African Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis), warned that even though we have exited the third wave, a resurgence of infections remains a possibility.

Therefore, one of her key messages was that “SU should continue to facilitate vaccination of students and staff, and encourage behaviours that reduce transmission, such as masks, distancing, hand-washing, and self-isolation when sick”.


According to a report by the Senior Director of SU’s Campus Health Service, Dr Pierre Viviers, there has been a good uptake of services at SU’s vaccination centre at the Lentelus sports grounds in Hammanshand Road, Stellenbosch. Nearly 5 000 staff, students and members of the public have been vaccinated at the facility since it opened on 10 August 2021.

On our Tygerberg campus, 637 staff members and 2 219 students have been vaccinated – many of them as part of the Sisonke programme for healthcare workers earlier this year. We have these exact figures available because staff and students had to register on the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences’ online portal. These numbers exclude those who were vaccinated by the health facilities where they work.

Dr Viviers also shared a most illuminating slide comparing the number of COVID cases among students on the Stellenbosch and Tygerberg campuses (see below​​). It clearly shows the beneficial impact of a high vaccination rate on a particular community.

On our Tygerberg campus, 71% of undergraduates have been vaccinated to date, and student leaders are aiming for 100%. Registering on SU’s online portal was not a requirement on our Stellenbosch campus, as it did not form part of the Sisonke programme. And while accurate data is being kept at our Lentelus facility, only a relatively small portion of our Stellenbosch staff members and students have been served there. Although many members of our Stellenbosch campus community have been making use of other vaccination facilities as well, the vaccination rate here has probably not reached Tygerberg’s level yet.

That is why the graph for Tygerberg is flattened out, while the graph for Stellenbosch shows spikes in the number of COVID cases, Dr Viviers explained.

So, I again want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccines are safe, they save lives, and they clearly work. Getting the jab is the responsible thing to do. Click here for the SU vaccination statement.

Vaccination policy/rule

The ICBC took note of the mandate that the SU Council provided to management last week to work towards the urgent development of a policy/rule on COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff for the 2022 academic year, paying due regard to consultation and risk management.

The ICBC received feedback that the risk assessment required in terms of a directive promulgated in June was nearly complete, after which a policy/rule would be formulated and submitted for approval. Last week, Council decided that its Executive Committee would consider the matter as soon as possible.


Just over four weeks of classes remain for the year. The ICBC decided that assessments for the rest of 2021 would take place in sit-down, invigilated mode, as was the case earlier this year. However, a few exceptions will apply because in some programmes, this assessment mode will not be practical, while in others, arrangements for online assessments have already been made and communicated. Faculties and the Registrar’s office will communicate the necessary details to staff and students.


The ICBC confirmed that the graduation ceremonies from 13 to 16 December would proceed in hybrid mode, as communicated at the end of August. Undergraduate, honours and master’s degree ceremonies will take place online, supplemented by small in-person ceremonies for the awarding of doctoral and honorary degrees, as well as the Chancellor’s medal and awards.

The ICBC has noted the progress made as reflected in the fact that South Africa moved from adjusted alert level 2 to level 1 last week, but although the size of permissible gatherings has been increased, it would still not enable full-scale graduation ceremonies in face-to-face mode.

However, the ICBC did note the suggestions from the student body for more personal and celebratory elements to be included in the ceremonies, and we will try our utmost to do so.

Mode of teaching and learning in 2022

SU intends returning to face-to-face teaching and learning next year, in line with our status as a leading residential university.

The academic year will start on 14 February 2022, which is later than usual because matric results are only expected to be released by 21 January at the earliest. Click here for next year’s term and exam dates at SU.

Emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment (ERTLA) got us through the most stringent COVID-19 lockdown levels last year, and when these were sufficiently eased this year, we were able to augment online classes with contact sessions (ARTLA). Now we are looking to go further, depending, of course, on the status of the pandemic and COVID-19 regulations at the time.

The higher the number of fully vaccinated people on our campuses, the better our chances of getting back to the full on-campus experience. This is why it is an institutional priority for the University that all its staff and students get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Click here for more on our vaccination campaign.

Plans for recalling staff to campus

The ICBC took an important decision regarding the phased return of staff members to their on-campus workplaces.

This decision is premised on the fact that SU is a residential university. The engagement of students and staff in a myriad of activities on our campuses is an integral part of the fabric of this institution. The COVID pandemic has ripped into this fabric and disrupted the vibrant and diverse nature of our institution. We need to gather the pieces and start the process of stitching together this colourful tapestry.

In March 2020, various measures were taken to deal with the pandemic. One of the most significant measures for staff was that those employees who could do so, started working from home as a necessary intervention – as prescribed in national COVID regulations – to deal with the health crisis.

As from 1 October 2021, the country has moved down to lockdown level 1 thanks to lower COVID-19 infection rates reported nationwide. Following input from our Medical Advisory Committee as well as the workstream for staff, the ICBC has decided that environments should start the process of having staff return to perform their duties from their campus workplaces. The aim is to have all staff back on campus come the new year.

The ICBC recognises that various factors prevent a complete return of all staff at this time. These include the fact that the year is close to the end, that staff might need to make personal arrangements, and that a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections is possible. Most importantly, not all staff have been vaccinated at this stage. As you know, a risk assessment is being competed, and this will guide the University’s vaccination policy/rule.

In the remaining two months of this year, these issues must be attended to so that the full re-integration of staff is in place come the new year.

The ICBC affirms that in the meantime, the current working arrangements are to continue. This entails that staff work either remotely from home or in hybrid fashion (i.e. remotely and physically, interchangeably), as approved by the dean of a faculty or the head of a PASS (professional and administrative support services) division.

In our previous ICBC communication, we provided reasons for a return to campus. These still stand:

  1. Tasks that require physical presence
  2. Tasks that need to be done to advance higher levels of engagement with colleagues and with the priorities at hand
  3. Physical presence on campuses to facilitate spontaneous interaction and exchange of ideas that facilitate innovation, and that cannot be achieved in case of remote-only work
  4. To prevent estrangement from campuses as primary spaces of work in the context of residential universities
  5. To strengthen cohesion and cooperation among staff, especially with regard to the induction of new staff and students.

The necessary health and safety protocols will be strictly enforced. These include daily health screenings, the wearing of masks, sanitising and physical distancing. To comply with physical distancing requirements, environments may roster staff to come to the office on different days or at different times. Additional measures will apply for employees who are older than 60 and/or suffer from comorbidities.

These measures will be reviewed should the situation on our campuses change or the country again be moved to another risk level.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to combat COVID-19 and create a safe environment for staff and students on our campuses. Click here for more information on getting vaccinated at the University’s own site in Stellenbosch, and here for more on vaccination sites that may be closer to your home.

Forward together

The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, but we are pushing back – both as individuals and as an institution. That makes me proud and fills me with hope.

Every time we adhere to COVID-19 protocols, we curtail the disease – even more so when we receive the vaccine. Every time we carry out our duties or carry on with our studies despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, we are helping one another overcome what is certainly the biggest test of our time.

So, a big thank you to every member of the University community for your contribution. Step by step, we are indeed “building back better”.

Let’s stay safe and look out for one another.

Prof Wim de Villiers
Rector and Vice-Chancellor,
and acting chair: ICBC