UCT to welcome back more students

An empty UCT.

UCT is preparing to welcome back more students in a phased approach, in line with its amended academic calendar.

This comes as the country moved to level 2 of lockdown and regulations had been further eased. Universities such as UCT will be allowed to have a maximum of 66% of students 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.

UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, said students registered in performing arts courses, those needing to undertake practical blocks, and selected postgraduate researchers would be invited in phases to return to residences or academic spaces.

She said they had developed a framework for identifying which students and staff may return after the necessary health assessments had been concluded and after formal authorisations had been granted. For those returning, she said, very strict monitoring, social distancing and other health regulations would be in place.

“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,” said Professor Phakeng.

All returning students, which include vulnerable students with difficult home circumstances, socio-economic disadvantage or particular barriers to academic progress, performing arts students and selected postgraduate researchers, will undergo a 10-day self-quarantine period when they return to their residences.

UCT Student Representative Council (SRC) spokesperson, Declan Dyer, said they welcomed this decision but called for a serious prioritisation of vulnerable students, who are in urgent need of this return.

“While we note that some vulnerable students have already been returned, the manner in which the university is identifying students is wholly flawed and in need of revision: vulnerable students are falling through the cracks,” he said.

Mr Dyer said they were also
concerned about the measures in place in residences and said they had been barred from conducting oversight
visits.

“We have been inundated with student complaints regarding the poor quality, and often stale food that is served to students during the isolation period.

“We have called for an urgent review as this is compromising student well-being,” he said.

Campus services 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.

Professor Phakeng said staff members were continuing to work from home where possible.

All departments had identified staff members whose work required them to be on campus and these had been granted access on condition that they undergo a daily health assessment and adhere to strict protocols.