The new set of circumstances resulting from the lock-down directive by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday evening has increased the complexity of Stellenbosch University’s objective to ensure that our students can complete the 2020 academic year.
Further to the President’s announcement I joined the other Vice-Chancellors in an online meeting of Universities South Africa (USAf) on Tuesday to discuss the practical implications of the lockdown for each university and TVET college in our country. The Stellenbosch University (SU) Rectorate met yesterday and I would like to share the following decisions and information:Lock-down and continuity
· The university system is committed to the completion of the 2020 academic year. SU’s overall aim is to ensure that our students should not lose an academic semester or a year.
· Due to the many uncertainties and unknowns we cannot predict what will happen to the COVID-19 trajectory over the next weeks. For that reason the higher education sector considered both the short- and medium-term scenarios and decided to make Monday 20 April 2020 the projected start of the second term. In practical terms, this implies that the SU recess for students has been extended to three weeks.
· For Stellenbosch University lock-down means that all but a few campus buildings will be inaccessible until the lock-down has been officially lifted by the President. Special arrangements will be made for essential services such as IT support and campus security. The library facilities will be closed, but an online service is available. For now, the Neelsie Student Centre will remain open due to the Post Office which is regarded as an essential service, but strict access control will be enforced. The Spar, pharmacy, ATMs and some banks will also be open for restricted business hours (08:00 – 18:00 on weekdays, and until 13:00 on Saturdays).Staff arrangements
· During this period academic staff, as well as professional and administrative staff will continue working from home as announced before and set out in the staff protocol.
· For staff members there will not be a recess period. Academic staff will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with online teaching via webinars and to adapt their teaching materials to be fully online by 20 April.
· Lecturers are required to ensure a minimum presence on SUNLearn for each module. The minimum presence on SUNLearn
for each module should include clear and weekly guidance to students on how they could continue with their learning. Module frameworks, links to student support structures and weekly learning material should be clearly organised on the SUNLearn module page. In addition to textbooks, learning material can be supplemented with low-tech, low bandwidth options on SUNLearn. This includes text-based notes, audio notes/narrations, data-friendly (i.e. size-reduced) PowerPoint files and formative activities that can be downloaded and completed 'offline' (e.g. exercises with guiding questions and model answers). Asynchronous (i.e. self-paced) communication channels should be set up and include both the lecturer's email address and a SUNLearn discussion forum where students can post their own questions and comments. Lecturers are encouraged to regularly use the SUNLearn announcement forum to post summarised messages to all students, in order to communicate with larger cohorts. No hand-ins or assessments may be required from students before the formal commencement of the second term on 20 April 2020.Students
· The March recess has been extended for an additional two weeks for students. The second term will now start on Monday 20 April 2020. As we are unsure whether contact teaching will resume on that day, SU shall be ready to implement online teaching for undergraduate, honours’ and taught masters’ students as a substitute for contact teaching and learning.
· No student assessments are envisaged before May 2020, and it is possible that the June exams may also be conducted online. As the three-week winter recess for students had to be rescheduled for March/April, it is possible that the second term could extend later into June to make up for lost teaching time. SU management will provide clarity as soon as possible.
· Students have received a survey to help SU determine their level of readiness for online learning activities, including access by means of personal devices and internet connectivity. We urge students to complete this survey by 12:00 on Monday 30 March 2020 as a matter of urgency. Online learning is a joint responsibility between the University and each student. We will ensure that the relevant platforms and learning materials are available, and will engage with mobile service providers for zero-rated data to give our students access to higher education domains. It is the responsibility of each student to arrange access to a suitable device, at least a smart phone, by 20 April.Research and postgraduate studies
Research projects and postgraduate studies requiring any human interaction or laboratory-based analyses pose a particular challenge during the lock-down period, whilst research that can be conducted online should not be negatively affected. The Division for Research Development is paying particular attention to individual situations. Enquiries should be directed to Dr Therina Theron (firstname.lastname@example.org
). The Research Position Statement distributed on Sunday has since been updated after the lockdown regulations were announced. The new version will be uploaded to the COVID-19 webpage today.University residences
· A total of about 500 students who have had no other option, remain in University residences. The University will support these students with the minimum of services allowed by national regulation on lockdown. The same strict guidelines during the lock-down will apply at SU residences as for all South African households.
We understand that our students are concerned about the drastic changes on campus, to their student experience and the academic year. We have tremendous empathy for everyone who may not be able to proceed with their academic activities as we would have liked to ensure.
SU’s staff will keep on doing everything within our control to keep the academic programme going and give students access to quality learning opportunities. This requires difficult decisions and hard work to get the multitude of new arrangements in place. The same can-do attitude and dedication will be required from our students. Let’s tackle this challenge together and write a good-news story for you to tell for generations to come.
Given the current levels of change in our environment, any of the above measures and decisions may have to be reconsidered and adapted. Consult the COVID-19 webpage
regularly for updates.
Please take care and look after your health. Practice good hygiene and adhere to the lock-down measures.
With best wishes
Prof Wim de Villiers
Rector and Vice-Chancellor