The University of the Free State (UFS) and the Central University of Technology (CUT) have taken several drastic measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and asked students to leave campuses by the end of the week.
The move followed an announcement by Higher Education, Science and Technology minister Blade Nzimande that all institutions of higher education will have an early recess, starting on Wednesday.
UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Francis Petersen told a media briefing on Wednesday that while the university was taking strong measures to ensure both staff and the students were safe from the disease, they welcomed the minister’s directive for an early recess in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is important for us all to know that this is not business as usual and that different thinking is required,” said Petersen.
“Responsible citizenship is one of the crucial elements the world has increasingly been experiencing for the past few weeks. This is why we must act out our responsibility towards one another by focusing on ways in which social distancing can be achieved – especially during this low-risk period that South Africa is still experiencing,” added the Vice Chancellor.
The university decided on Monday 16, to suspend the academic programme and also for students to vacate the residences by today.
He said special measures will be taken for international students who are denied by their countries to return home.
Students from disadvantaged families will also be assisted to get home.
Petersen indicated the university’s Employee Task Team that was established on Monday considered different options for the continuation of university operations during the recess period.
He cited university staff members who have children at school and pre-school were allowed to work from home.
According to Petersen for the period 23 March to 13 April, the number of staff members present on all three campuses will be reduced to a minimum and staff members may be allowed to work from home where practically possible.
The university has made arrangements to accommodate those staff members who are performing services which cannot be done from home (such as cleaning, gardening, maintenance, sports, flexibly and reasonably. Similar arrangements will be made with office-based support services staff.
“The decision for employees to work from home is based on the premise that all employees are deemed to be at work from 23 March 2020 to 13 April 2020. This requires staff members to be available and contactable by line managers at all times during the university’s normal working hours. I am comfortable that these measures will alleviate the concerns from our staff regarding the spreading of COVID-19 and the risk to themselves without compromising university operations,” noted Peterson.
Graduation ceremonies and other events have also been cancelled until further notice.
CUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Henk de Jager announced that students will have their lectures online.
“The academic activities for all students will commence online from Monday, 30 March 2020 until Tuesday, 14 April 2020. Lecturers will engage with students via eThuto, and students should please access the learning platform regularly,” said De Jager.
“This is an attempt to be proactive and to ensure that we use the extended recess time effectively, due to the uncertainty related to the rest of the 2020 academic year. We are aware that some of our students may not have online access. Telkom has already declared zero-rated data, which means that Telkom users can access eThuto via www.cut.ac.za for free. Attempts are ongoing to bring the other data companies on board soonest,” added the Vice-Chancellor.
The university has also postponed graduation ceremonies and other events which were to take place towards the end of the month.
All staff members will work flexible hours, or where possible from home until April 14.