The academic year for universities will only be completed in the early part of next year, announced Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande on Wednesday afternoon. He was speaking about the progress made and measures implemented by his department during level 3 of the Covid-19-enforced national lockdown.
“This will mean a later start to the 2021 academic year for many students and a readjustment of the 2021 academic calendar,” Nzimande said.
He said there had been discussions with the department of basic education to determine its plans regarding the end of the school year.
“It is likely that the intake of first-year university students in 2021 will be later than usual. This will require a change in the normal academic year to ensure that the 2021 academic year finishes within the 2021 calendar year.
“I also plan to publish guidelines in the Government Gazette soon to guide institutions, private accommodation providers, National Student Financial Aid Scheme and fee-paying students on issues linked to tuition and accommodation fees for the 2020 academic year, given that it will be extended and there have been substantial changes due to the Covid-19 disaster. I will inform the public of the details in due course,” Nzimande said.
Under level 3, he said, they allowed a maximum of 33% of the student population to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences on condition that they could be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by his department.
This cohort of students include all groups that returned during alert level 4.
Nzimande said measures implemented under level 4 aimed at limiting and controlling the return of students in their final year in programmes requiring clinical training – starting with medicine and then phasing in all the other programmes, such as nursing, dental and veterinary sciences to campuses.
“We said that, at level 3, we will implement controlled reintegration of students back to campuses, prioritising students in the final year of their programmes who are on a path to graduating in 2020. Final-year students require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to accommodation. Students in all years of study require clinical training in their programmes [provided that the clinical training platforms have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to the safety protocols], and postgraduate students require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.”
A Government Gazette providing the directives on the criteria for the return to campus was published on June 8.
“All public universities have provided plans and are managing the permits for the identified students to return. Private higher education institutions have also provided plans. All our universities have provided the dates for the planned return of students in line with their risk adjusted strategy linked to the situation in their localities. All universities continue to support their other students through remote multimodal teaching, learning and assessment strategies,” Nzimande said.
He said his department was closely monitoring the return to campuses, and the implementation of the teaching and learning plans.
“Final-year students requiring clinical training returned to their campuses from May 11 to June 20. The planned and staggered return of the remaining 33% of students to campuses started on June 17, when the first students arrived back at some universities, and will run until late August, by which time the full 33% will have been reintegrated into campuses across the country. To date, 20 universities have welcomed students back on to their campuses,” Nzimande said.
He said Sefako Makgatho University, the University of Fort Hare, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Walter Sisulu University, Tshwane University of Technology and the University of the Free State have plans to reintegrate their students by the end of August.
“We are working with Universities SA to give support to all our institutions,” he said.
With regard to technical and vocational training colleges, Nzimande said National Accredited Technical Education Diploma (Nated) trimester (engineering) students, those in N1 to N6, returned last month.
Nated semester (business studies) students in N4 to N6 also returned last month, while others did so on Monday.
Community education and training colleges opened on June 23, and some have reported Covid-19 infections, particularly in North West, the Free State, the Western Cape and Gauteng.