What to expect at varsities this year

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A general view of the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria.
A general view of the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria.
Alet Pretorius, Gallo Images


Blended approaches are being adopted by universities, with some planning on conducting lectures virtually, while other programmes still require contact learning this year.

This comes amid plans, by some, to close the 2020 academic calendar in March, while others expect to begin this year after the release of matric results in February.

Some universities had to extend the 2020 academic year to this year due to the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus and related lockdowns.

Carol Crosley, Wits University registrar, said they had received more than 71 586 applications for 5 182 first-year places for 2021, and late applications would not be allowed.

She advised that online registration for first-year students would be open from February 25 to March 4. Online registration for returning undergraduate students had opened on January 5 and would be closed on February 25 while faculties determined dates for postgraduate students.

She said classes would begin on March 8 for undergraduate students and on February 22 for postgraduates.

READ: Unisa reduces the number of first year students and UKZN postpones reopening

Residences will re-open for first-year students from February 27 and for returning students on March 4.

“Please bear in mind that the university has adopted a blended learning approach,” Crosley said. The current reality is that Wits will have fewer students in larger venues in which all physical distancing protocols could be observed.

“The university aims to deliver good quality blended learning which will include contact teaching and interaction coupled with online and multimedia components,” she said.

Lessons learnt from 2020 on using the hybrid model on a large scale have been used to enhance teaching and learning in 2021.

Meanwhile, Nombuso Shabalala, head of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) media liaison department, said their academic year was scheduled to commence on March 15.

Shabalala said 44 600 prospective first-year undergraduate students had applied. Registration for such students was scheduled to take place from March 1. For returning students, registration would take place from January 20.

“Different cohorts will use different ways of physically distanced registration and are scheduled in different time frames. Undergraduate applications for admission closed on August 31 2020, having been extended by a month due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Shabalala said.

Residences will open on February 25 for postgraduate students and on March 1 for new and returning undergraduate students.

“Only students who have been invited to return to residence will be accepted. In addition, they will be required to undergo a ‘safe arrival’ quarantine for seven days.”

All students, like all staff members, will be required to comply with all the protocols aligned to lockdown level 3, as detailed in the invitation. There will be no shared accommodation.

“Physical distance and health protocols will be applied and students in residence accommodation will need to sign a commitment of adherence to Covid-19 health and safety protocols,” she said.

Plans for this academic year were based on the understanding that the Covid-19 pandemic would continue. “We are committed to providing an academic framework to help all UCT students, research fellows and staff succeed in the academic programme while continuing to protect everyone’s health and safety.

READ: Stellenbosch University bucks the trend, approves lower tuition, accommodation fee increase for new academic year

“Sessions that involve physical contact, whether in a laboratory, studio, tutorial or final-year lecture, will be held under strict health protocols. Students and staff members not wearing masks will not be allowed into venues,” she said.

For safety reasons, she said they would adopt physically distanced learning this year, but in a way that would allow students to benefit from the resources available on campus.

“So it’s important that students return to campus in 2021, even if they will be working online. We are working hard to help everyone to succeed,” she said.

  • University of Johannesburg (UJ) spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said they planned the 2021 academic activities under different scenarios. UJ was ready to implement any one of the scenarios, depending on the Covid-19 situation.

“The scenarios range from fully online, to blended, to face-to-face tuition,” Esterhuizen said.

Academic activities for senior students will commence on February 15 instead of February 1 – two weeks later than normally planned.

“The start of academic activities for first-year students is on 8 March, three weeks later than the first-years. The start date for first-year students is based on the Grade 12 results release date of February 23, instead of the first week of January normally.

“Thus registration for first-years commences on February 23, and closes on March 5 2021. All registrations (for both first-years and senior students) are done online and off-campus (no walk-ins),” he said.

  • This is a developing story.


Msindisi Fengu 


+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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