Completing the 2020 academic year in 2021

Introduction

The University has extensive plans and protocols in place for all the core academic and operational areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. This high-level plan represents a succinct summary of the University’s planning to indicate our plans to complete the 2020 academic year by 27 February 2021.

In providing the high-level plan, the progress made in 2020 will be outlined, followed by information on the restarting of the university’s operations, return of students to the residences and campus, the resumption of online learning and teaching and assessment, as well as the management of on campus academic activities, including exams in 2021.

Progress made in 2020

Mandela Uni conceptualised and adopted a “flexible, blended pathways approach” to complete the 2020 academic year. The pathways ranged from students learning online remotely to some students being able to return at various lockdown levels to do mainly experiential learning in contact sessions while content was largely taught online.

Academics and students were prepared for online LT and assessment, psychosocial and academic support was provided across a range of electronic and in-person platforms, students were provided with 30GB of data each month from the restart of LT in May to December, and NSFAS and some missing-middle students were given the opportunity to access laptops via a loan scheme. By the end of the year less than 5% of our students did not have a laptop (whereas in May, only 65% to 70% of our students had access to a laptop).

We adjusted our 2020 academic calendar. The 1st semester ended in September, and the 2nd semester started on 28 September. The academic year will conclude on 27 February 2021.

The University successfully:

  • Implemented a multi-stakeholder Coronavirus Task Team, chaired by the DVC: People and Operations, that meets weekly and is tasked with the development and implementation of COVID-19 preventative and mitigation measures, interventions, and troubleshooting.
  • Encouraged staff who could work remotely and students who could study online remotely to do so as this enabled us to reduce the number of staff and students on campus.
  • Developed an electronic system to invite students to return to campus, accept the conditions for this, and access an e-permit. We continued to use this system after we reached lockdown level 1 as this assisted us to control the number of students that were likely to access campus. To date, 53% of our students accepted the conditions and returned to campus.
  • Prepared on and off-campus student residences for the return of students to PE and George and various health and safety protocols were put in place for students to comply with. All students had to self-isolate for 10 to 14 days when they returned to campus.
  • Engaged service providers such as student transport providers and contractors to ensure that they align their operations with the university’s health and safety protocols.
  • Provided returning staff and students with PPEs (two cloth masks and bottle of hand sanitiser, as well as a face shield where required), and implemented the process of screening, training, and quarantining them as required.
  • Counselling and wellness interventions continued to be implemented to support both students and staff and to help them cope with anxiety and emotional distress.
  • Launched an awareness campaign as staff and students returned to campus and throughout the year. The campaign centred on a combination of raising awareness regarding hygiene measures, screening, distancing, and masking up as preventing the spread of and contracting the virus depends on each person taking control and being responsible for their own well-being. To this end, a training video is available on our coronavirus webpage (https://www.mandela.ac.za/News-and-Events/Coronavirus-Information/Returning-to-Campus); digital posters and flyers have been developed; printed posters are displayed in venues and buildings; and a comprehensive handbook for staff and students is available.
  • Put in place and implemented a return-to-campus protocol, which includes:
    • NMU COVID 19 Compliance Guideline
    • Guideline for university health services for COVID 19
    • Risk Assessment SARS Cov - 2 for screening centre and health services centre
    • Guideline Screening Procedure for COVID 19
    • NMU COVID 19 Workplace preparedness Document
    • Steps to follow in cases of COVID 19 suspicion
    • Workstation COVID 19 screening tool (Hard Copy)
    • Online App COVID 19 Screening
    • COVID 19 Triage protocol (process to follow with PUI and positive cases)
    • Return to campus assessment after COVID 19 infection
    • Certificate of fitness post COVID 19 infection for healthcare workers
    • Guidelines Fitness to return to work with comorbidities
    • Emotional and psychological support for staff and students
    • Training – videos and scripts on COVID 19 preventative measure
    • Guideline COVID 19 screening questionnaire for healthcare workers
    • Screening stations at all university entrances and all healthcare facilities
    • Guideline cluster and outbreak management
    • Guideline infection, prevention and control COVID 19
    • NMU Travel Protocol and E - Travel Register
    • Guideline cleaning schedule for health facilities
  • In terms of contact LT activities:
    • Protocols for contact sessions were developed related to the size of the groups of students, procedures for preparing and cleaning venues, etc. Our academics worked closely with our SHE colleagues to monitor and refine these protocols.
    • Contact assessments and exams were successfully piloted by implementing and refining the Higher Health protocols.
  • The hard work and dedication of lecturers and students paid off in that our 1st semester success rate was 78.95%, which is slightly higher than the 2019 semester 1 success rate of 78.86%. In addition, 757 UG and 454 PG students graduated in virtual ceremonies on 17 and 18 December 2020.
  • We learned a great deal about managing cluster outbreaks and quarantining residences when Port Elizabeth saw a surge in COVID-19 infections in October and November in particular. While this enabled us to have conversations with students related to social solidarity and the impact of risky behaviours on others and completing the academic year, we also sharpened our disciplinary procedures and health protocols. In addition, we discovered that when residences are in quarantine, not only contact but also online learning was impacted on negatively. The reason for the latter is that as not all students have a laptop, many still used computers in general computer labs in residences and on campus. However, when a residence was in quarantine, they could not access the computer labs and so online LT was a challenge. Consequently, we have purchased more laptops and we will also be placing about 200 unused desktops in rooms in residences for students who do not have their own device. This should ensure that online LT and assessments are not hindered by cluster outbreaks in January and February 2021 as most students will have access to a device.

Completing the 2020 Academic Year

12% of our students have complete the 2020 academic year to date.

About 85% to 88% of our UG students, and some PG students need to complete the second semester in January and February 2021.

As we move to conclude the 2020 academic year:

  • We plan to remain agile, adaptable, and flexible in the face of the second wave of the virus.
  • We will continue to implement and adapt as needed the protocols that we put in place in 2020, as outlined in the previous section, to mitigate risks related to the health of staff and students, return to campus, on and off campus residences, contact LT and exams, and so on. We will also draw on the significant lessons that we learned related to the management of cluster outbreaks of the virus among students and staff.
  • We will continue to encourage staff who can work remotely to do so to reduce the number of staff on campus. All staff must produce an e-permit if they wish to return to campus and will be screened by our health staff and will also be expected to use the health screening app daily.
  • We will continue to encourage students who can study and complete assessments online remotely to do so as this enables us to reduce the number of students on campus and in our residences. About 53% of our students are likely to return to campus, but many of these will learn online in their rooms or in general computer labs. e-permits issued to students who returned to campus during lockdown levels 3, 2 or 1 remain valid and students need to show them when they return to res and campus. Further students who wish to return to campus, will follow the normal process to request to return, accept the conditions to return and access an e-permit electronically.

In terms of the high-level learning and teaching plan, key aspects are:

  • We will continue to use a blended approach in that:
    • Content will be taught online and some assessments will be electronic in nature. To this end, all students will continue to be provided with 30GB of data in January and February and the Nelson Mandela University site is zero-rated. In addition, the students who return to campus can access the university’s Wi-Fi.
    • It will only be some experiential learning, studio work, and clinical training as well as a reduced number of exams that will be contact in nature. All the necessary COVID-19 protocols will be adhered to and no venue will have more than 50% capacity to a maximum of 50 students.
  • LT activities will largely take the form of assessments, limited exams, experiential learning, and clinical training as most of the teaching was concluded in December 2020.
  • LT activities resume on 11 January 2021, with students checking into their residences on 10 January 2021.
  • As the residence students must self-isolate for 10 days before they can come onto campus, we will stagger the implementation of on campus experiential learning and assessments, with groups of students who are not living in res starting first, followed by groups of res students. This approach also enables us to manage the numbers of students in contact sessions on campus.
  • Contact examinations will only start in the latter part of January. We will review all the health and other protocols to ensure that these examinations can be safely conducted. In addition, students who cannot appear in-person for exams will be accommodated via online assessments which includes e-proctoring. We have also strengthened our e-assessments in general to minimise cheating by implementing e-monitoring software for the first time in January and February. Academics will receive training in the use of this software in January and will be supported by our LT Collab and ICT Services teams.
  • If there are cluster outbreaks, we will be able to switch to largely completing the remainder of the academic year and assessments online as students have access to a device and data.                        
  • We will need to manage various groups of students, including international students, who are progressing on different pathways and will finish at different times in the lead up to the end of the academic year on 27 February. To this end we have implemented a student-tracking system called RADAR, to enable us to ascertain which assessments and modules each student still needs to complete.
  • Counselling, coaching and academic support services remain in place for students to access online, telephonically or in-person.                   
  • M & D research students are being accommodated via an adjusted hand in date for theses as well as the fact that they can continue working on their research in January and February and may even complete their studies before re-registration needs to be considered in March.