Out of necessity, SA universities moved to an online teaching and learning model due to the Covid-19 lockdown of the country. The lockdown was initially announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa for a period of 21 days, commencing on March 27.

The initial lockdown was expected to end on April 16, but was extended, initially to end April and thereafter a few more times. A phased approach, with five levels of progressively less stringent limitations to economic activity, followed the initial hard lockdown.

The public, civil society, businesses, educational institutions and the like had to make fast and unprecedented adjustments to adapt to lockdown conditions. One example is SA universities introducing online learning in record time as staff and students were not permitted on campus.

This was born out of necessity, as universities’ academic year would otherwise have been wasted, with no teaching and learning taking place. A wasted academic year would have resulted in a serious bottleneck in the higher education space as a new crop of students joins universities each year. Owing to adjustments out of necessity, universities moved to online teaching, learning and evaluation.

In 2015 and 2016, teaching and learning at SA universities were interrupted by #FeesMustFall protests. Students protested under this banner for free university education.

The argument that nothing in life is free was seemingly wasted on the protesters. The simple economic principle is that the cost of anything that is free to any individual or group is paid for by another individual or group.

Protesting students usurped the right to decide that no students could attend any classes or participate in other academic activities. To restate: protesting students disrupted classes of students who exercised the choice not to protest, but rather elected to continue with their academic programmes. It is not clear on what grounds protesting students reached the incorrect conclusion that their rights superseded the rights of all other students and society in general.

Student protesters achieved their objective of disrupting teaching mainly by means of intimidation, campus gate barricades and class disruptions, with scared academics, staff and students often fleeing from such incidents.

The move to online teaching, learning and evaluation at universities has put a stop to the use of such tactics. In the next instance of student protests with concomitant disruption of teaching and learning, academic programmes will simply follow the Covid-19 template and move online.

• Rossouw is interim head of the Wits Business School.

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