Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS/NTSWE MOKOENA
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS/NTSWE MOKOENA

All higher education institutions are to go into early recess from Wednesday to help curb the spread of Covid-19, higher education, science & technology minister Blade Nzimande announced on Tuesday afternoon.

They will reopen after the Easter weekend, on April 15.

As of Monday, SA had 62 imported cases of Covid-19, and two possible cases of local transmission that had yet to be confirmed. While the number of cases in SA is relatively small compared to many hard-hit countries, the government has moved rapidly in the past few days to try to contain the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which has whipped about the world since it emerged in China three months ago.

By Tuesday it had sickened 185,067 people, and killed 7,330 in 155 countries and regions, according to the Johns Hopkins Tracker.

“This is not a shutdown. It’s an early recess, which in the main means the suspension of academic activities and lectures,” said Nzimande.

The decision primarily affects undergraduates and students studying for diplomas and certificates. Postgraduate and research work would continue at many institutions, he said. Several higher education institutions had already brought forward their Easter break, closed residences, and replaced traditional lectures with online teaching, he said.   

Nzimande’s announcement comes on the heels of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national emergency on Sunday, and the introduction of wide-ranging restrictions on travel and gatherings and the closure of schools.

SA has 26 universities, 50 technical and vocational education training (TVET) colleges, as well as private higher education institutions, with more than two-million students.

Nzimande met university vice-chancellors and TVET college principals on Tuesday morning, where they agreed that each institution would make its own decisions about how best to manage student accommodation, leave arrangements for staff, and teaching modalities after the Easter break.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) said it was reducing the number of personnel working at its offices and putting more resources into its online and social media platforms for dealing with student queries.

“Nsfas is cognisant of the fact that students may be concerned that the current pandemic will affect the allocation of their funding. We can firmly confirm that NSFAS is implementing measures to ensure that payments and processing of applications is not affected,” NSFAS administrator Randall Carolissen said.

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