Phased reopening of universities to start in September

Kenya is to implement a phased reopening of universities from September under strict guidelines, ending a four-month closure occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.

The universities have been asked to consider a staggered resumption of studies to be able to conform with physical and social distancing requirements, especially in halls of residence, lecture rooms and dining halls.

According to Education Cabinet Secretary Professor George Magoha, reopening of universities for face-to-face sessions will be on a case-by-case basis based on approved compliance with Ministry of Health COVID-19 protocols.

Universities, he added, should continue conducting virtual teaching and learning and online graduations for students who have successfully completed their programmes and have met graduation requirements set by their respective senates.


“All institutions allowed to reopen must comply with COVID-19 regulations or risk closure. All the decisions that we have made with the stakeholders regarding reopening of learning institutions may change as informed by reports from the Ministry of Health, prevailing circumstances and increased knowledge of COVID-19,” said Magoha on Tuesday 7 July.

On 15 March all universities were ordered to close down to prevent the spread of the virus.

As part of the minimum reopening conditions, institutions will be required to reduce physical contact by having fewer learners.

“Social or physical distancing is the most critical factor in ensuring the safety and health of learners for reopening of learning institutions. Handwashing with soap and-or use of sanitisers, wearing of face masks and monitoring body temperature will be the minimum requirements for the health and safety of learners,” said Magoha.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kenya has been on a steady rise, hitting 8,067 on 6 July 2020, with the death toll nearing 200. The government has projected that the rate of COVID-19 infection is likely to reach a peak during August and September.

Schools to reopen in 2021

Based on this disturbing trend, the government has shelved an initial proposal to reopen basic education learning institutions in September. Instead, the institutions will reopen in January 2021, meaning that learners will have lost a full year (2020), as they will be expected to remain in their current classes in 2021.

Teacher training colleges and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) institutions will be allowed to reopen from September, subject to strict adherence to the Ministry of Health COVID-19 protocols.

The Universities’ Academic Staff Union (UASU), one of the stakeholders involved in the development of the reopening guidelines, recently argued for a phased approach to reopening. “Universities have to demonstrate the availability of resources for maintaining social distancing, testing, contact tracing and isolating new cases in every public university,” said UASU in a June 2020 report.

Universities have been hit hard by the pandemic with some slashing salaries and cutting non-core jobs.

Reduced funding

For the coming financial year starting 1 July, Kenya has reduced funding to its public universities by US$400 million. As reported by University World News, universities will have to make do with US$1.13 billion, down from the US$1.53 billion the government planned to spend.

But universities in Kenya have also been at the centre of innovations to build capacity to assist in the response to the pandemic. For example, Kenyatta University recently unveiled a prototype ventilator that it said would cost about US$5,000, a quarter of the cost of a conventional machine. The university’s engineering and biomedical engineering departments will be able to produce 50 every week.

Since closure, universities have turned to online learning to keep students on course to finish their courses. However, this has not been going well because the online learning infrastructure in most universities is inadequate and most lecturers have not been trained to handle online learning.