HIGHER Education Minister Dr Brian Mushimba has set Monday, June 8, 2020, as the day for re-opening of universities.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lusaka, Friday, Dr Mushimba announced that universities will re-open in a phased manner as only final year students would commence lessons on the opening date.

He added that the re-opening of the universities would also be based on the level of preparedness of the institutions as some of the universities were used as COVID-19 quarantine centres.

“Opening of universities and colleges will be implemented in a phased approach, subject to readiness to resume by institutions affected. In the first phase, all final year graduating students and those with final year classes will resume classes first. This is applicable to all public and private universities and colleges. Universities will, therefore, start opening from the 8th of June, 2020. The opening will be approached as I said in a phased manner considering that they have different circumstances and different levels of preparedness. So, universities, which were used as quarantine centres and some colleges were used as quarantine centres and may not be as ready or as quickly as another university or college that was not used. So, the date of the 8th is the first date that we have allowed as government for universities to start opening in a phased manner approach based on preparedness, which will be ascertained by relevant authorities. Graduating students will be the first ones to commence lessons and subsequently write their exams based on calendars approved by their respective senates,” Dr Mushimba said.

“All foreign graduating students will continue with E-learning and their exams will be conducted online. On graduating students, universities have different calendars and we are mindful of that, and I will speak to the calendars that normally start January to December; those calendars, certainly, as we started the closure due to COVID-19, they had just started their final year, they were in their third month of the 12-month stretch. They are students like Ridgeway Campus, who have a different calendar and the 7th year were almost done, except they had one rotation to go before graduating. Based on what Ridgeway Campus has communicated to us, there will be no need for those seventh-year student doctors to come back to campus to come and finish one rotation; they will devise other mechanisms to make sure that they finish the programme, they deploy them and they start working.”

He added that all Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA) colleges and others would commence their lessons on July 1, 2020.

“TEVETA colleges and other colleges will open starting 1st July, 2020. The TEVETA examination session dates will be reduced to two sessions per year: one; examinations that were scheduled for April-May will be held on 27th July to 7th August, 2020. Exams that were scheduled for July and August and November and December will be combined and held on 8th to 23rd December, 2020. When reporting back, students will be required to bring their own masks, soaps and hand sanitizers as these will be required for their safety as they report back to universities,” he added.

Dr Mushimba said government had moved to ban squatting in rooms and restrict visitations to institutions as one of the measures put in place to fight COVID-19 in higher learning institutions.

“Before institutions re-open, there will be need to inspect and certify the readiness by appropriate authorities as alluded to earlier. Some of the universities and colleges have been used as quarantine centres and, therefore, their readiness will be different from institution to institution. Some of the key guidelines that will be required to be followed include: (a) There will be temperature checks at entry gates across all colleges and universities; (b) provision of hand-washing facilities at all entrances to hostels, lecture rooms, labs, administration buildings will be mandatory; (c) restriction of students to two students per room in hostels and absolutely no squatting will be permitted; (d) restriction of visitors on campus; there is no need for us, who have children, cousins, nieces, nephews on campus to go visit them,” Dr Mushimba said.

“Post-COVID-19 world is not a world of gatherings and we don’t need for you to take anything to the students or for you to catch anything from the students. So, no visitations on campus will be allowed; (e) social clubs and amenities will remain closed. E-learning will continue to be used as an integral part of the learning process for both graduating students and those in other years.”

He also announced that all students, who had paid tuition fees for the semester and that the payment required physical presence on campus, would be refunded.

“The issue of student fees for those students that paid for the entire semester, tuition that covers aspects of physical presence on campus and they were not physically present on campus, what happens to the portion of their unused money that required them to be on campus and they were not on campus? We have engaged all universities and the guidance from the Ministry is that each university calculates a portion of the money that was not used by the student, who was not on campus and that portion be credited to the student accounts and the student will decide how to use that money. That is the guidance that we have given,” he said.

“There are some students that we sponsor in our universities, they have been asking about their allowances. Let me guide on this as well: the students that we sponsor on campus will give them their facilitation, while they are on campus to use while on campus. When they are not on campus, government does not give them that facilitation. They are home with the parents and the parents will take up that responsibility of facilitating them and supporting their living arrangement.”

Dr Mushimba also stressed that all universities and colleges should adopt virtual graduation tools during the amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Graduation ceremonies everywhere across the world, since COVID-19 has changed everyone, has gone to virtual graduation and until the world goes back to whatever normal it goes back to in the new normal, it is virtual graduation. I attended one at CBU where we graduated medical students, clinical officers and others; about 150 students were graduating and only about 15 came in physically to represent the rest of the class. So, the names were read in absentia and the ceremony took place in absentia on TV, live streaming, whatever else virtual graduation is the new normal,” said Dr Mushimba.

“University of Zambia on July 10 will have their virtual graduation, which will be live-streaming, it may be on ZNBC; the chancellor will be there or maybe the Minister will be there and students will be covered in a ZNBC studio with all the names of the students read and all the virtual graduation done, while live-streaming. This is the new normal, we can’t have gatherings and expose people needlessly and unnecessarily to this danger that COVID-19 is until new information comes that changes that position.”

Meanwhile, speaking during the same briefing, Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga announced that Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya and Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya, who tested positive to COVID-19, were recovering well.