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29 May 2020

Dear Students

I hope that my message finds you well, healthy, and safe. I also hope that you have settled into the online learning environment, that you are regularly in contact with your lecturers, and that you are engaging with your friends and support systems on campus.

Since my last message to you, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that our country will move to Level 3 of the national lockdown on 1 June 2020. Subsequently, Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, announced specific measures for the post-school education sector in response to the COVID-19 epidemic under Level 3, in order to re-integrate staff and students on campus.

Over the past few weeks, a tremendous amount of work has been done to ensure the continuation of the Academic Project and to prepare our campuses for the return of staff and students, ensuring that it is aligned with national directives and protocols. This was no small task and I am immensely proud of what the university has achieved so far.

Under Level 4 of the national lockdown, only final-year students in the MB ChB programme were allowed to return to campus as per the national directive. At the time, it was not possible to allow any other students back on our campuses. Aligned with the national directives, we will now proceed with the return of staff and students to campus based on a phased approach, the principle of social/physical distancing, as well as the fact that a maximum of 33% of the university’s staff and student population may be allowed on campus during Level 3 of the national lockdown as per the national directive. Only academic and support staff involved in the academic programme for students returning to campus, will be allowed on campus from 1 June 2020, while the rest of the staff will continue working from home.

The phased in-approach for the return of students is as follows:

1. Student cohort who will be returning to campus:

The next cohort of students who will be returning to campus is final-year students in Nursing and the Allied Health Sciences. These students will receive letters from the Faculty of Health Sciences in due course to enable their return to campus in the first week of June 2020. Thereafter, all Health Sciences students with a clinical rotation component, will be expected to arrive in the second week of June 2020. Other cohorts of students who will receive permits to return to campus before the end of June 2020, are undergraduate and postgraduate students in programmes where laboratory and practical work is needed, as well as students in honours and postgraduate diploma programmes.

The re-integration process will also focus on final-year students registered in programmes associated with a professional body, and students in exit-level modules to be completed in 2020, as well as students who need a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) component in order to complete their qualification. These students will be expected to arrive on campus during the first week of July 2020.

The final return date will be communicated to each individual student by the respective faculties.

Data has shown that there is a small number of students who are not active on Blackboard and/or who have not received an electronic device from the UFS. These students have been identified and will be invited to return to campus by the end of June 2020 for further online learning. In the case of the Qwaqwa Campus, faculties have identified approximately 3 000 students in this category – printed material will be sent to their home addresses. Students with disabilities in all the mentioned categories, as well as those identified as challenged, have been prioritised and will be contacted by the Centre for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS).

Students who do not fall into one of the categories mentioned above, will continue studying online as per the academic calendar.

The full re-integration of students is dependent on national directives on the lifting of the lockdown levels.

2. International students:
International students who are returning to campus will be screened and quarantined in identified government facilities as per the national regulation. Students who cross inter-provincial borders and those who reside in hotspots as stipulated in the national regulations, must adhere to the university’s screening protocols and complete the COVID-19 online screening questionnaire ( on a daily basis before accessing the campus. If such students show symptoms of COVID-19, they must self-isolate and be tested.

3. Students in residences:
In Level 3 of the national lockdown, students identified as per the academic programmes, may move back into residences where applicable. The residence heads will communicate to those students who may return. Only students who have a permit to enter the campus, and a confirmation to return to the residence will be granted access to the residences. These students must adhere to the compulsory daily screening protocols.

4. Campus readiness:
I want to assure our returning students that your safety, health, and well-being remain our first priority. Tremendous efforts were made to prepare the campuses. This includes the disinfection and deep cleaning (where necessary) of open areas and the hygienic preparation of the campuses. Similarly, lecture halls are also being hygienically prepared to ensure social/physical distancing.

5. Access to campus:
Strict access protocols will be maintained at the campus entrances during Level 3 of the national lockdown. Only staff and students authorised to return to the campuses and issued with authorisation letters from the university’s Department of Human Resources will be granted access to the campuses. The wearing of masks is compulsory when entering the campuses and proof of screening must be provided by completing the COVID-19 online screening questionnaire. These measures will help ensure that it is safe for staff and students to return to our campuses.

The safety, health, and well-being of staff and students and saving lives remain the university’s priority to limit the possibility of spreading COVID-19 on the campus. This is why I believe that the re-integration plan set out above is in the best interest of the entire university community.

During the past two months, more than 1 000 staff members have been trained so far in the university’s remote online strategy and are continuously assisting with improving the learning experience of all our students. Students are encouraged to engage with their lecturers on academic problems or to take it up within the relevant faculty structures so that we can find solutions for you. I want to encourage you to continuously consult the #UFSLearnOn material for
guidance. You can also visit the Digital Life Portal (under the Student Toolbox) on the KovsieLife website.

Just as much as your academic success is important to us, so is your mental health. Make use of the information contained in the #WellnessWarriors campaign of our Department of Student Counselling and Development, which is aimed at encouraging health and well-being among students.

Continuously monitor the university’s official communication platforms to stay up to date with developments. It remains important for our students to be informed about matters of concern to them.

I wish you all the best with your studies.

Best regards

Prof Francis Petersen
Rector and Vice-Chancellor, University of the Free State

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