Vice-Chancellor Message – 29 May 2020

​Dear UJ Community

This week has brought some clarity on the gradual reopening of our campuses. Now that we know the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology’s guidelines regarding how universities should operate under the COVID-19 national lockdown Level 3, we are intensifying our preparations for our campuses and residences to be ready for the partial return of our student population.


In a circular earlier this week, the University Management explained that we are working on clear criteria to identify students who are eligible to return to campuses and residences, cognisant of the up to 33% limit on students who can return to campuses, including residences, during Lockdown Phase 3 as per the Minister’s direction. It is important that you are aware of these criteria, which prioritises groups of students in the following categories:

  • Students in the final year of their programmes, who are on a path to completing their studies in 2020.
  • Final-year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, and connectivity.
  • Health Sciences students in all years of study, who require clinical training in their programmes.
  • Postgraduate students or postdocs who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies or term-limited fellowship.
  • Students who may face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments provided that the above categories are prioritised, and all safety and logistical requirements are met.

I also remind you that in accordance with the Minister’s guidelines, the return of students to campuses will be determined at the discretion of various institutions. Below are the specific groups that should be prioritised:

  • Students living with disabilities, or who are not able to access connectivity where they live or are living in circumstances where studying is difficult.
  • Students who live in privately-owned accommodation close to campuses may also return provided physical distancing arrangements are in place.
  • Any other categories which the institution must motivate for, as long as the maximum of 33% total per campus and per residence is not exceeded.

Eligible students will be issued with letters notifying them when they may return to campus. Students must also take note that there may be a need for them to have travel permits from the University when returning to University, particularly if they need to cross provincial borders. The University will, in due course, provide more detail in this regard and how it will go about to issue such permits if needed. The University of Johannesburg has resolved that select on campus academic activities, such as practicals, laboratory based work, clinical work etc., (in essence those modules that cannot be taught online) for final year and postgraduate students will resume on Wednesday, 17 June 2020. Of this group of students permitted to return in this first phase, among them will be students living in residence and privately owned accommodation. These students may return to their respective places of accommodation should they wish to do so, with the return date for residence students being Friday, 12 June 2020.

As already communicated, the rest of our students must continue to work remotely as online teaching and learning will continue. It is important to note that these students will not be granted access to the campus in line with government regulations. Similarly, staff that are required to return to campuses under Level 3 will be notified in due course. Until then, I urge staff to continue to work remotely. We will adhere to the President’s message that all staff members older than 60 years of age and those who suffer from underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer should ideally stay at home. In case the return of the staff is absolutely essential, they must be equipped with PPE.

Just as we have been resilient and diligent in the switching over to the remote online delivery of the academic programme, so shall we be in ensuring that our University complies with the requisite national disaster regulations for the higher education sector when we enter the reintegration phase. In addition to the usual precautionary measures to minimise exposure to the virus, such as social distancing, hand hygiene, sanitation and the use of personal protection equipment (PPE), the University has developed an integration plan. This includes the following:

  • All staff, postdocs and students eligible for returning to campuses and residences will be issued with permits or letters.
  • All staff and students will be subjected to an induction process that will include the completion of the declaration of indemnity forms.
  • All staff, students and external stakeholders to complete a compulsory screening.
  • All staff, students and external stakeholders must wear cloth masks at all times (they will collect masks upon first entering campus)
  • Line managers in various departments/divisions are required to perform and report a risk assessment of their respective work environments.

Additionally, all returning staff and students should provide names of contact persons (next of kin) to staff at Campus Health Service when requested, should they become symptomatic. This is in adherence to Departments of Health and Employment and Labour guidelines.

On a different note, UJ hosted its third of the weekly webinar series that reimagines the world after the pandemic on Wednesday, 27 May 2020. The theme of this week’s debate was “Data and delusion after COVID-19”. The panel of experts included Dr. Shakir Mohamed (Senior Researcher at DeepMind in London, UK); Professor Charis Harley (an academic in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at UJ), and Professor Olaf Dammann, (Vice-Chair of Public Health at Tufts University in Boston, US, among his other illustrious roles). I hope that those of you who tuned in found the insightful discussions enriching. The weekly virtual seminars are free of charge. However, we urge you to register online to participate in this critical series and to receive updates. You may also subscribe to UJ’s YouTube channel to be notified when the full webinar is available. Details of our next episode will be announced soon via our various communication platforms, including our website and social media accounts.

As highlighted by the COVID-19 period, data ethics requires heightened emphasis. On Wednesday, 27 May 2020, the university also hosted a Cloudebate™ on this important topic:

On Wednesday, our Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) hosted a Virtual Symposium titled, “Technoscientific Futures Abstract: The advance of technoscience has introduced radical changes and fears as never experienced before.” I was among the speakers, along with Richard Rottenburg from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research & Law, Organization, Science and Technology Research Network and Tanja Ahlin from the University of Amsterdam.

Today, I resume my monthly Book Discussions. Join us via Zoom for an online discussion of Beloved, by Tony Morrison, by clicking on

Earlier this week, our University joined the continent in celebrating Africa Day on Monday, 25 May 2020. Our very own Professor Adekeye Adebajo, the Director of the Pan-African Institute, was invited by the South African Parliament to deliver a keynote address on “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conditions for Africa’s Sustainable Development to Achieve A Conflict-Free Africa.” During the webinar meeting, Professor Adebajo examined the security architecture in Africa’s five sub-regions; assessed South Africa’s role on the UN Security Council; and offered policy recommendations for building peace in Africa. Click here to watch the talk.

In all these online activities, including the webinars, the possibility of “cyber-bombing” remains a concern for us. I remind you of the circular sent by ICS on how to protect your online session.

Finally, we must take a moment to recognise excellence amongst our academics despite this trying time. Please join me in congratulating Professor Leila PatelPage Content, South African Research Chair in Welfare and Social Development, Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA), who has been awarded the prestigious Katherine A. Kendall Memorial Award for 2020 by the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW). This award is made annually to recognise significant contributions to the development of social work education at the international level. To read more, click here.

We also congratulate Prof Shireen Motala on being awarded the SARChI Chair: Teaching and Learning by the National Research Foundation at a Tier-1 level. Prof Motala is currently the Senior Director: Postgraduate School (PGS) and a professor in the Faculty of Education (FoE). Prof Motala is a rated established researcher who has an outstanding research record in both schooling and higher education. Her research contribution on Teaching and Learning in higher education is timely, given the rapidly changing current context. To read more, click here.

Well done to both Prof Patel and Prof Motala, and thanks for flying the UJ flag higher!

While we’re all spending more time online, make sure that you’ve joined the Staff@UJ facebook group to keep our community connected. As this is a closed group, on entry please provide your staff email address or staff number when prompted to. This helps us to add you to the group quicker.

Please continue to visit our COVID-19 portal on the UJ website for important information, including health and wellbeing. Only information issued via the university’s official communication platforms is legitimate. This information may be verified by visiting:

We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and social distancing at all times.

With my very best wishes,

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala

Vice-Chancellor and Principal

University of Johannesburg

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