Higher education & training Minister Blade Nzimande says under level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences. Picture: GCIS
Higher education & training Minister Blade Nzimande says under level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences. Picture: GCIS

The government is making good on its promise to provide higher education learners with laptops with a potentially lucrative contract to supply the devices likely to be issued before the end of this week.

Higher education institutions have developed their “detailed strategies” for remote teaching and learning to cater for all lockdown levels, he said. The procurement of the devices dovetails with the department’s efforts of ensuring no student is left behind in its bid to save the academic year after the Covid-19 pandemic caused all schools, colleges and universities to be closed at the beginning of March.

Since then the department has been encouraging institutions to provide data to students and lecture remotely.

“I can confirm that by the end of this week, we will be commencing with the central procurement of these devices, particularly laptops, through an open tender system given the nature and the value of the procurement,” higher education minister Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday.

Nzimande said they had agreed with the National Treasury to follow proper procedures, even if this could result in delays, so as to properly account for spending.

The minister did not specify the value of the contract or how many laptops will be procured, but there are hundreds of thousands of students registered at universities and technical and vocational education and training colleges across the country.

“Interested parties will further get information from the National Treasury on the requirements for bidding,” said Nzimande.

In April, the University of Fort Hare provided 12,000 laptops to help students forced to study remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a media briefing in Pretoria, Nzimande said they are finalising a verification process to see which National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students have already acquired the devices to avoid issuing more than one device per student.

“I will make further pronouncements as soon as service provider/s have been appointed and give clear timelines for the commencement of the distribution of outstanding gadgets to all our institutions as per the NSFAS guidelines,” said Nzimande.

The government was working on long-term solutions to support the digital transmission needs of the post-school education and training sector through the launch of a locally procured communications satellite.

Nzimande said the project, which requires R5bn, was necessary because satellite technology plays a key role in closing the digital divide, “largely by bringing distance learning to schools, regardless of geographic location”.

“The project will break even within six years, giving the country data sovereignty, generating profits and much-needed income to the national fiscus and GDP.”

Nzimande said the sector remained committed to resuming academic activities. Under level 4 lockdown, the government allowed for the controlled return of final-year students in programmes requiring clinical training, starting with medicine (MBChB) and then all other programmes, such as nursing, dental, and veterinary sciences, among others.

Nzimande said under level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences, on condition they can be safely accommodated and supported “in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the department”.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za