Level 1: Update


As the second semester begins in line with the revised academic calendar and the new flexible blended learning approach due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the University has undertaken a thorough risk assessment of its capacity to operate under the recently announced Alert Level 1.

As such, on its ongoing quest to save lives while saving the 2020 academic year, the University  is still encouraging remote learning and working for students and staff, respectively, to continue as far as possible. This is a safer option, in line with efforts to keep numbers on campus as manageable and COVID-19 compliant as possible.

It has, among other challenges, limitations in terms of space for practicing the requisite COVID-19 prevention measures as up to only 250 people are allowed in an indoor venue, in which the same social distancing rules still apply.

A letter sharing all such realities and offering assurance and guidance on the way forward has been sent  to all Mandela University students from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, Professor Cheryl Foxcroft.

Risk assessment

During the risk assessment by a multi-stakeholder team, the institution sought and continues to seek additional opportunities for improving its assistance to students in completing their studies. This will include the opening of additional general labs and its library facilities in line with COVID-19 compliance regulations.

Same Return to Campus Processes apply

All return-to-campus processes introduced to date, including  access to campus to staff and students who have been notified to return, will  continue. Therefore, all staff and students should continue to operate as before unless notified of changes directly from your line manager or lecturers.

Status update

               Student numbers

As at 7 October, 17 342 Mandela University students had been notified to return to campus, of whom 14 385, or 83%, accepted the terms and conditions to do so.

With 29 307 registered students at the University this year, those who have agreed to return to date make up 49% of the entire student body. Invitations to students whose qualifications entail the need for lab or studio work, experiential work or critical mask-to-mask contact, or who need to access on campus computer labs and other facilities, are still ongoing.

               Residence numbers 

The majority of students who have been notified to return are living in private or accredited off-campus accommodation. Communal living remains a high-risk environment for the spread of the virus.

High-risk areas

Therefore, additional protocols to manage the possibility of “cluster” outbreaks will be among the risk assessment needs to be implemented, over and above the present protocols of contact tracing and isolating these individuals and COVID-19-positive students.

To date, the University has had 12 positive student cases, with two active cases at present, after weeks of having no new reported cases. One student is currently isolating at home, and another is in an isolation facility. We wish these students a speedy recovery.   

The close proximity of a residence environment with the sharing of kitchens and bathrooms is another reason that staff and students are urged to take responsibility for their own health and wellness by continuing to mask-up, practice physical distancing and wash hands or sanitise.

The COVID-19 self-screening app was developed to support the University to this end. All staff and students are expected to use it https://webapps.mandela.ac.za/screening as the results also serve as an access tool to campus and certain venues.

For assistance in the correct protocols to follow, see attachments or visit the Return to Campus webpage.

Flexible blended learning, phased approach

The University has adopted a flexible, blended learning approach to accommodate the different needs of students, whether they are studying entirely remotely or initially relied on posted study materials and are now adapting to online learning after being invited back onto campus or having acquired a loan laptop.

The University has made a concerted effort to contact every student with the help of the SRC, other student leaders, lecturers and administrative staff from the faculties. Although some pathway 2B students are still in the process of completing semester 1, at present the majority of the University’s students have completed the first semester and have started the second, , using, where possible, a blended learning and continuous assessment approach.

Some 107 students have de-registered to date, which is on par with the number from previous years.

Plans are in place to support the return of up to 178 international students, who went home to their respective countries when the Lockdown conditions were introduced in March.

Academic year ahead

The remainder of the academic year, which, for many, will only end in February 2021, has been divided into phases, each phase building on the lessons learned and gains made from the previous phase. The first phase, for example, will use the learnings of exams taking place this week as a pilot in hosting other limited contact tests and exams going forward. The final phase will take place in January and February 2021 with revision, some experiential learning and WIL, end of module assessments, some exams and re-exam opportunities.

Risk Assessment Processes

Safety remains the overriding priority in all decision-making, and hence the need to carefully consider the University’s ability to safely accommodate an increasing number of students on campus while still complying with COVID-19 regulations as per the institution’s context.

The assessments are ongoing, and include, but is not limited to:

  • Contact tests and exams
  • Venue occupancy levels
  • Ventilation levels
  • Entering campus (health and PPE protocols)
  • Access to libraries
  • Additional labs and Wi-Fi hotspots on campus, and
  • Provision of data

It will also re-assess its present controls in terms of COVID-19 compliance on and off campus, its access arrangements and transport protocols.

Remain vigilant 

While the country has moved to a less restrictive level, our particular context and environment does not easily allow for this. In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, we should, at all times, remember that a second wave of virus remains a possibility. An outbreak of the virus among the increasing number of staff and students on campus could lead to the University’s closure if not well managed, cancelling all the gains to date, but more critically putting lives at risk.

Please continue to remain vigilant. Do not drop your guard and become complacent. Continue to practice the changed behaviour towards the end goal of saving lives and saving the academic year.

Coronavirus Task Team