The number of final year students at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) make up 36% of the total student population, which is posing a problem for the plan to phase in 33% of students under Level 3 of the lockdown.
This is according to feedback Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande received from the institution’s management during his visit to the Ga-Rankuwa campus, to assess its state of readiness for the return of students.
TUT vice-chancellor Professor Lourens van Staden presented and outlined the institution’s state of readiness to the minister and officials from his department.
“We thought it was important to come into this institution to see how they are managing. One of the challenges we have identified is that we have said that students brought back first must be final years; well, over and above the very first group [was] clinical training students.
Online learning ready
“At Level 3, then we must bring back a total of 1/3, which is starting priority with final year students. The one challenge already is that final year students at TUT are 36% of the total number,” Nzimande said.
The institution is the largest contact institution in the country, with at least 64,000 students and 11 learning sites in five provinces.
Nzimande said the department would be working with TUT to mitigate the challenge of the returning student population.
TUT also presented its preparedness to implement online learning to assist those students still at home because of the lockdown.
Nzimande said the department expects the institution to be able to do physical delivery of learning material to students without any access to online platforms.
He said the institution indicated its readiness to deliver material to students not able to learn through online platforms.
“I must say that I was quite impressed because that has been one thing that has been of concern to me [is] ‘how are our universities dealing with the fact that many of the students [access learning material]’?” he said.
Ninety percent of TUT students are from rural areas, the minister added.
TUT said it had planned to start phasing the first 1/3 of students on 20 July and the next 1/3 in August, with the final 1/3 in September.
Nzimande said all the plans in place were dependent on the epidemiology of the virus, and that it may change at any time.
Van Staden said the institution had strong quality assurance mechanisms to look at the implementation of its plans.
Students will be able to call an independent auditing company to raise their concerns, and can link with psychologists and counsellors should they need assistance.
TUT has also repurposed a laboratory, where chemical engineering students are now producing hand sanitisers and surface disinfectants to be distributed to all campuses.
Hand sanitisers will be available at certain stations for students to fill up their bottles.
The number of students allowed in lecture halls has also been scaled down, and they will be expected to sit a seat apart from each other.
One of the lecture halls Nzimande visited usually accommodates 120 students, but will now take 45 in order for physical distancing to be adhered to.
“On the whole, I am very impressed with the work being done under the leadership of the vice-chancellor and his senior management team, who are already back at work,” said Nzimande.
Van Staden said it was also facing challenges with the distribution of paper-based material to its students in SADC regions and international countries.