Universities in SA have been given until February to complete the 2020 academic year with the 2021 calendar set to start between March and April.
Higher education & training minister Blade Nzimande made the announcement on Wednesday during his update on Covid-19 alert level 2 measures in the post-school education and training sector.
He said institutions have reported different levels of responsiveness in terms of their progress in completing the requirements for the current academic year and the readiness to commence the 2021 programme.
“I have been concerned about the wide range of variation in respect of these two aspects given that they have various kinds of negative implications for the system. We need to strike the right balance between the imperative of enabling all institutions to complete the requirements for the 2020 academic year to give all students a fair chance,” Nzimande said.
“For this reason I have met with both the Covid-19 ministerial task team and vice-chancellors upon the principle to agree on a fixed period within which all institutions must complete the current academic year and a fixed period of starting dates for the opening of the 2021 academic year.”
Nzimande said the starting dates for the 2021 academic year will range from March 15 to April 15.
He said their latest monitoring reports show that while challenges do remain in the system, all universities have made significant progress in their teaching and learning strategies and campus safety strategies, which have included implementing various methods for remote learning.
“All institutions have prepared their campuses in line with the higher health protocols and health and safety committee at all campuses are compulsory and must be actively engaged.
“On a sad note, I must report that we have lost 80 members of public higher education to Covid-19 of which 35 were staff members, nine were students from universities, 11 were students from TVET colleges and 25 staff members,” Nzimande said.
He said the total number of positive Covid-19 cases reported by institutions was 1,552 of which 975 were staff members and 577 were students.
“Institutions will have to continue to be vigilant and prioritise health and safety of staff and students while ensuring a continued more intense support for teaching and learning to ensure that the academic year is saved. I am also happy to announce that according to criteria developed under level 2 of the lockdown, it will be possible for us to allow for up to a maximum of 66% of students to return to university campuses,” Nzimande said.
He said this criteria would allow all groups that had been prioritised to return in level 3 but couldn’t be accommodated due to maximum campus capacity having been reached to complete the academic year. It would also allow for the return of students in all years of study who require laboratory and technical equipment to complete the academic year and first-year students in all undergraduate programmes.
Nzimande said all other students will continue to be supported through remote multimodal teaching, learning and assessment until they can return to campus.