These are the first groups of students who will be allowed back to UCT

UCT is set to allow certain groups of students to return to campus.
UCT is set to allow certain groups of students to return to campus.
Image: UCT Student @UCTStudent via Twitter

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is set to allow three groups of students on its campus in a bid to save the 2020 academic year.

These are: final-year medical students, academically vulnerable students and those needing to access campus labs to complete their 2020 studies.

The announcement was made public on Tuesday after a special online assembly held last week. During the assembly, deputy vice-chancellor for transformation and student affairs Prof Loretta Feris announced the three groups.

The assembly was chaired by vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng.

The institution said it would follow a principled, four-phase approach to students’ return to campus. The return of students has been planned as follows:

  • phase 1 — final-year medical students;
  • phase 2 — vulnerable students;
  • phase 3 — students who need to be on campus to complete the academic year; and
  • phase 4 — the return of all other students to campus (circumstances permitting).

The approach considers current state regulations governing health and safety, risk management, and equity and fairness.

“For instance, we need to ensure we can continue practising social distancing, which means that we can’t use all the beds in residences. We also need to have screening and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and students to return under sanitary conditions. The medical students will need to have a period of quarantine,” said Feris.

All decisions regarding the phased return would be underpinned by equity and fairness, considering the deepening of inequality as a result of the pandemic, she said.  

The institution said conversations about the return of other final-year health sciences students was ongoing.

Feris said plans to house the returning students at their residences had already commenced.

“The department of student affairs has identified the residences we can use. They have also put a screening protocol in place, PPEs have been procured and an appropriate staffing plan is in place and will be consulted on with labour unions.” 

While the criteria for students to be considered vulnerable has not been clear, the university said these were students whose circumstances did not allow them to learn remotely.

“Once the national regulatory framework permits UCT to do so, the intention is to return these students to residence — not for face-to-face learning, but to continue remote learning in residence, with tutorial support. But we need to identify these students,” said Feris.

A task team had been established to develop the criteria, she added.

“We need to understand what vulnerability means in reference not only to a student’s ability to learn remotely because of issues such as connectivity, but also because of their socio-economic circumstances. A small task team that includes colleagues in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching is busy developing these criteria. This is ongoing.”  

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