23 November 2021 - NW2357
Tambo, Mr S to ask the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
Whether institutions of higher learning such as the (a) University Cape Town, (b) University of the Witwatersrand and (c) Stellenbosch University have sought engagement with his department prior to enforcing mandatory vaccines as a prerequisite for student registration; if not, why not, in each case; if so, what is his department’s position regarding mandatory vaccines and their impact on the right to education?
The matter of whether vaccination for COVID-19 should be made compulsory for physical access to university campuses is something that is currently under consideration within the university system. Universities South Africa (USAf) has prepared guidelines for universities to consider and guide them in their discussions. At the end this is a matter that is decided upon by university Councils, who have the responsibility, within the framework of the Constitution and the Higher Education Act, to determine institutional policy.
As far as I am aware there have been no formal requests for consultation with the Department. However, I am aware that universities have sought legal advice on the matter and that in some universities discussions were held with their stakeholders prior to making decisions on this matter, which is a critical part of considering any vaccination strategy and any requirement for access based on proof of vaccination.
Higher Health, working with the Department of Health, Department of Higher Education and Training, universities, TVET and CET colleges has been actively working to establish vaccination sites for the post-school education and training system and the number of sites has grown significantly. It is also working closely with institutions to promote scientific information about the vaccination which can also address vaccine hesitancy within the post-school population.
Higher Health has indicated to the Department that they believe that it is extremely vital currently to promote vaccination through every communication channel. The priority for now is to mobilise and persuade people to volunteer to be vaccinated. Higher Health’s 15 000 campus-based peer educators are tasked to explain all about the vaccine and respond to people’s anxiety and are encouraging a peer-to-peer dialogue.
This will continue to be the focus for the current period, until the vaccination programme has had time to reach a majority of staff and students. I note the public attention on this matter, given the tension between individual rights to choose and the responsibilities of educational institutions to ensure the safety of students and staff. Ultimately, it is important that stakeholder discussions on this matter continue at the current time.