Communication from the Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC) of Stellenbosch University on 19 January 2021.
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Dear students and staff
The Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC) of Stellenbosch University (SU) held an extraordinary meeting on 18 January 2021 to urgently consider the way forward this year in light of recent amendments to the national coronavirus regulations. Feedback on the most important decisions follows below.
In the main, three sets of issues informed our deliberations – the input of our Medical Advisory Committee, government regulations as announced by the President as well as the Department and Minister responsible for higher education, and the goals of our university.
Let me start with the latter. As was the case last year, our overarching goals for 2021 are to complete the academic year successfully and to ensure the sustainability of the University, while at the same time prioritising the health and safety of our staff and students.
Which brings me to the current situation regarding COVID-19. There is still great concern about the pandemic in the country, which is currently experiencing a resurgence of infections in a second wave. There are hopeful signs that the rate might be slowing in some areas, but it is too early to make a definitive call. The development of vaccines is positive, but we are still some way off from these becoming widely available in South Africa. It is therefore crucial that we remain vigilant and act responsibly – both as individuals and as an institution.
This much is required of us by the regulations – both at a national level and the specific guidance provided in our sector. Higher education institutions have been given leeway to manage their own situation within the constraints of national regulations.
It is within this context that SU announced towards the end of last year that we would be going ahead with an additional assessment opportunity from 18 January to 5 February 2021, confident that we have the necessary health protocols in place.
In the meantime, the country was moved back to Level 3 regulations. Faculties were subsequently asked to consider which A4 exams could be moved online, and they did so for about a third of these assessments. The rest will still take place in person on campus, with strict adherence to regulations and protocols.
For instance, we have made certain that none of the sit-down assessments will require more than 50 persons to be in a specific room, and venues were carefully selected to allow for sufficient physical distancing. Please click here for the COVID-19 protocol for A4 invigilated examinations. And students can check their personalised A4 assessment schedule here.
Learning and teaching format for the first semester of 2021
We will also be following a hybrid approach of combining learning-and-teaching modes – with a mixture of both face-to-face and online components – in the coming academic year, which is set to commence on 15 March 2021. Most undergraduate programmes will begin on that day, although some postgraduate programmes have already kicked off and others will start in the coming weeks.
Please click here for registration dates and related information.
We will be inviting all students to campus for higher education in hybrid mode, taking the form of augmented emergency remote teaching and learning (ERTLA) in the first semester. There are two elements to this.
Firstly, unlike last year, when we switched to ERTLA online when contact tuition was suspended, we plan to have face-to-face sessions this year to the fullest extent possible within the constraints of COVID-19 (smaller classes in suitable venues).
Secondly, because it will not always be possible to accommodate all students in a specific venue at the same time, we intend utilising technology to augment classroom-based learning and teaching. This will include live streaming lectures from some venues.
Each academic programme will decide on the appropriate blend of face-to-face and online learning and teaching activities, depending on such factors as the size of the group and the outcomes that have to be achieved.
An extensive programme of installing the necessary equipment for hybrid learning in a large number of venues across campus will be rolled out over the next six weeks to enable lectures to be live streamed. We intend making the technology easy to use, and to provide extensive training and support to lecturers.
Data and devices
As we did last year, we will be making loan laptops and mobile data available to students who need it to access the internet for online learning and assessments.
For laptops, students should email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your request is granted, the loan amount will be loaded on your student account, and refunded when the laptop is returned in good condition.
Data has already been provided to students currently writing A4 exams. Now the focus shifts to postgraduate students. Faculties have been requested to identify those in taught programmes, so that they can receive data. M- and D-students working on their dissertation or thesis should submit a request for data via their supervisor to their dean.
Onboarding and Welcoming programmes
An exciting new Onboarding Programme will be rolled out online to provisionally accepted first-year students from the beginning of February. This will orient them to SU and help them prepare for their studies and the unique student experience awaiting them on our campuses, starting with our signature annual Welcoming Programme once they get here.
Newcomer first-year students admitted to SU (after the release of matric results on 22 February) will be invited to arrive on campus between 2 and 4 March. Some components of the subsequent Welcoming Programme will be conducted online in order to avoid large gatherings, but we anticipate that elements in compliance with COVID-19 regulations will continue in person. We will do our utmost to make our new students' introduction campus life very special and memorable, as always.
Responsible behaviour on and off campus
We look forward to our campuses buzzing again with students and staff engaged in learning and teaching as well as research activities soon, but the Department of Higher Education and Training has placed a “complete ban on all social gatherings at all institutions" in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease. We will be complying with this measure, and will also require our students coming to campus and residences to agree to a code of conduct, including not participating in risky off-campus activities.
Residences and private accommodation
Some of our student residences are currently being used to accommodate students who applied to stay there for the A4 examinations. Residence placements for 2021 were completed by the end of last year on the premise that we will invite all our students to campus for hybrid learning and teaching as explained above.
- Students in senior living spaces will be taking up their places from 21 February (postgraduate students starting earlier should email email@example.com with proof from their academic department to request an earlier entry date).
- Newcomer first-year students will be moving in between 2 and 4 March, with some house committee members and mentors arriving a few days before.
- All other senior students in undergraduate residences will start moving in from 9 March onwards.
As we bring our students to our respective campuses and fill our residences to full capacity, we will be requiring strict adhere to all COVID-19 protocols.
Let me confirm what I said at the end of November last year (click here) – students who need to arrange accommodation near campus for the 2021 academic year should not delay, as some form of contact sessions within a hybrid learning and teaching model is envisaged for most undergraduate modules.
Staff returning to campus or continuing to work remotely
Under the amended Level 3 regulations in place until 15 February, all staff who can work from home should continue doing so, unless it is essential for the institution that they return to campus. That decision should be taken within each environment, in consultation with line managers, and in terms of approved workplace plans. (Click here for applicable protocols and procedures.) This arrangement will be revised when circumstances change.
Our graduation ceremonies scheduled for 29 March to 1 April will again take place in a hybrid format, following the same approach as in December 2020. That is, a number of small face-to-face ceremonies for PhD graduands and the recipients of honorary doctorates, with faculty-specific online ceremonies for the remainder of the categories. Detailed information will be shared in due course.
Success beckons again
Colleagues and students, we find ourselves in extraordinary times, to which we have to adapt. We coped very well in 2020, and I have no doubt that we will succeed again in 2021 if we work together as a team. In recent years, we overcame many disruptions and challenges – none greater than the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic last year. We are better prepared this year, and I am confident that we will face the challenges that this year will undoubtedly bring with equal aplomb.
Please take care and be safe,
Prof Stan du Plessis