Why Universities cannot resume contact classes for all its students

Posted on February 24, 2022

Dear UP student

We have received a number of queries regarding the reopening of contact classes for some students. Most of them relate to why the University is still continuing with online classes and the criteria that were used by faculties to decide on the programmes and lectures where students would return for in-person classes.

As a start, it is important to remember that all Universities are having to restrict contact sessions. The national regulations create a legal framework within which we all must operate. If any institution returns to 100% capacity of lecture venues without adhering to the 1.5 metre physical distancing rule (i.e. 1.5 metres between class attendees), it is in violation of the regulations and could create a basis for criminal liability. The regulations are not the same as for schools where the physical distancing rule no longer applies.

As one of the largest contact universities in the country, the University of Pretoria has additional challenges that need consideration. Some of our programmes have close to one thousand students, which makes it impossible to accommodate them in a class setting without violating the regulations. Unfortunately, we do not have enough venues available to accommodate all students in a safe manner and without breaking the rules. For this reason, faculties have prioritised programmes where the nature of the discipline requires contact classes, for example, in Health and Veterinary Sciences, and in cases of tutorials where practical and laboratory work are required. There could also be other instances as has been indicated by the different faculties.   

In terms of questions regarding fees for online programmes versus contact classes, it is important to remember that tuition fees cover the cost of the infrastructure that is provided for teaching and research and which requires maintenance. The University has and still is incurring costs related to online teaching and learning, including the purchase of online programmes and licences, and laptops for students. Furthermore, tuition fees are also used to partly fund, among other things, salary costs for academic and professional staff who work tirelessly to ensure that the University continues to offer quality education (currently, in very demanding circumstances).

The University has spent a huge amount of time and effort to develop plans that are optimal in the current situation.  While the circumstances are not ideal, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure we provide students with a quality education and the support and assistance which this requires.  

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