South Africa’s higher education, science and innovation minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, has directed institutions of higher learning in the country to “shift exclusively to online learning for all students”.

This meant that universities would not officially close, “but all face-to-face teaching and examinations must halt for the next two-week period”, said the minister.

Nzimande’s directive follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the country would tighten its lockdown, moving to an Adjusted Level 4 of the country’s measures to deal with Covid-19. South Africa is in the third wave of the pandemic.

Student residences would “remain open, as it is also not safe for students to travel back home at this time and it is necessary for students to retain access to campus and residence-based wifi”, said Nzimande.

The department has procured some 170 000 laptops to be distributed to state-funded students so as to facilitate online learning. The department was in the process of finalising negotiations with the relevant mobile network operators for the zero-rating of data for both students and staff to facilitate e-learning, said Nzimande.

The minister also announced that a strategy was being developed to ensure access to vaccination for all higher education staff, including academia, management, frontline staff at student residences, cleaning, security and other support staff.

Meanwhile Wits Journalism will continue offering several of its courses online, including popular skills courses.  The department has been reconfigured its teaching methods in the light of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Block-release format (two weeks full-time) courses that were offered face-to-face during the mid-year break, will now be offered on a blended basis.