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Reopening South Africa’s Universities

What students and staff can expect as South Africa’s higher education institutions reopen their lecture venues and campuses.

Resource details:

Publication title: Directions: Criteria to return to public university and private higher education campuses as part of a phased-in return from Level 3 under Coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown

Author(s): Department of Higher Education and Training 

Publication date: 8 June 2020

What the directives are about:

The higher education and training department outlines the phased reopening of South Africa’s public and private institutions for higher education and the arrangements they are required to make before reopening. Students and staff who are able to work remotely are encouraged to do so. 

Key take-aways from the directives:

Institution readiness:

  • Individuals returning to higher education campuses must ensure that they have received the relevant communication and clearance from their institutions to return. It is their responsibility to obtain the necessary permits prior to travelling to their campuses. 
  • Institutions have to prepare campus readiness plans that comply with the minimum health, safety and social distancing requirements of the department of employment and labour. 
  • Higher education institutions should earmark appropriate facilities for isolation and quarantine of symptomatic or COVID-19-positive staff or students. They have to widely publicise the facilities along with the protocol staff and students have to follow in the event of such cases. 
  • Institutions should establish a COVID-19 response task team.   
  • Individuals entering higher education institution campuses have to be screened daily for COVID-19. 
  • The National Institute of Communicable Diseases, as well as the national and provincial health departments will support higher education institutions with COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
  • Institutions must provide hand sanitisers at the entrances of all facilities in use. Surfaces should be cleaned and sanitised regularly. 
  • High risk areas such as libraries should be regularly monitored and cleaned. 
  • Class sizes are restricted to 50 people to make it possible for physical distancing to be implemented. 

Campus risk adjustment levels:

  • Campus reopening risk adjustment strategy level 4
    • Final year students in programmes which require clinical training can return. 
    • These include students in dental science and surgery programmes, medicine and surgery, nursing and veterinary science programmes. 
  • Campus reopening risk adjustment strategy level 3
    • 33% of the student population can return to campus. 
    • This includes final year students pegged to graduate in May 2020, students in all years of study which require clinical training and postgraduate students who need access to technical equipment.
  • Campus reopening risk adjustment strategy level 2
    • 66% of the student population can return to campus. 
    • This includes students who need experiential or work placement to complete their academic year along with first year students in undergraduate programmes.
  • Campus reopening risk adjustment strategy level 1
    • 100% of the student population can return to campus. 
    • This includes international students who left South Africa during lockdown, provided international travel is allowed. 
    • Health, safety and physical distancing requirements should still be practised.

Returning to res:

  • Residences leased or managed by higher education institutions will reopen in a phased manner, with their capacity capped in accordance with the campus risk adjustment level. 
  • Under the campus risk adjustment strategy level 3, 33% of a residence’s occupants are allowed to return. 
  • Under the campus risk adjustment strategy level 2, 66% of a residence’s occupants can return.

You can find and download the directives here.

[Please note: Information on the new coronavirus is rapidly changing. Please refer to the Department of higher education and training website for the latest information. Visit for updates on South Africa’s coronavirus response.]

Gopolang Makou was the impact and engagement officer at Bhekisisa.