02 September 2020 | Story Lacea Loader | Photo Charl Devenish
Deputy Minister visit
From the left are: Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Buti Manamela; Prof Prakash Naidoo, Vice-Rector: Operations at the UFS; and Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, Chief Executive Officer of Higher Health.

“The work that the University of the Free State (UFS) is doing to ensure that students get the necessary support is quite impressive. The university is saving the academic year to save lives.” These were the words of the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Buti Manamela, during a visit to the university’s Bloemfontein Campus on 31 August 2020.

The visit was part of the Deputy Minister’s visit to higher education institutions in Bloemfontein to assess the academic state of readiness and to monitor the safety protocols for the phased re-opening of campuses during Level 2 of the national lockdown.

The delegation, which also consisted of representatives from Higher Health led by the Chief Executive Officer Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, attended a briefing session in the Council Chambers before visiting various venues on campus. In his opening and welcoming remarks, Prof Prakash Naidoo, Vice-Rector: Operations, said that the safety, health, and well-being of staff and students remain the university’s priority. “Extensive planning has gone into making sure that the university complies with the national COVID-19 protocols and regulations and that our campuses are safe and ready for the return of students. Sufficient hygiene measures are in place, as well as adaptions to ensure physical distancing. The wearing of masks, physical distancing, and hand sanitising remain compulsory on all the campuses,” said Prof Naidoo.

“A Special Executive Group (SEG) was already established by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, at the beginning of March 2020. The SEG meets weekly to discuss and decide on the university’s response to COVID-19 as this pandemic develops over time. Consisting of eight task teams, the SEG is the decision-making entity that responds rapidly and in a coordinated manner to combat the threats to business continuity. One of the task teams is specifically looking at the wellness of our students and staff to make sure that this important aspect is taken care of,” said Prof Naidoo.

During a presentation of the university’s Multimodal Teaching and Learning Plan for the completion of the 2020 academic year, Prof Francois Strydom, Senior Director: Centre for Teaching and Learning, said that the university has an evidence-based approach towards remote multimodal teaching, learning, and assessment. “For instance, our vulnerable students were identified early in the lockdown, and 16 strategies were put in place to ensure that no student is left behind. 99,95% of our students were active on Blackboard. We are developing plans for the 0,05% of students who were not able to participate in learning, so that they can continue their learning journey with the UFS,” said Prof Strydom.

In his closing remarks, Deputy Minister Manamela commended the university management on the initiatives to save the academic year. He also indicated his appreciation for the informative session and encouraged the university to keep on motivating students and staff to be attentive to their behaviour and to remain careful about their health and well-being.

The programme was concluded with a visit to a number of venues on campus, including the examination venues, the Health and Wellness Clinic, the Pathogen Research Laboratory of the Division of Virology and a student housing unit.

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