Covid-19: Most SA universities aim to complete academic year in 2021, education committee hears

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The University of Cape Town.
The University of Cape Town.
Jacques Stander, Gallo Images
  • Very few South African universities will complete the 2020 academic year before the end of the current calendar year.
  • Currently, 16 universities are expected to complete the 2020 academic year between January and March 2021.
  • Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande has said the completion of the academic year is key to the country's economic recovery plan.

Only 10 of South Africa's 26 universities are aiming to complete the academic year before the end of the 2020 calendar year.

Four of the 26 universities are expected to end the second semester in January 2021, seven in the following month, and the remaining five are expected to complete the academic year by March.

This emerged when Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande and his senior officials had a virtual meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education on Friday.

"As we grapple with the completion of the year, we have to look at the role of post-school education and training in our economic recovery. We are not just saving the 2020 academic year, for its own sake, we are saving it for our economy because these are our future skills," Nzimande said.

READ | Covid-19: Higher education academic year likely to end in March 2021, says Nzimande

Diane Parker, deputy director-general for university education, said some universities lost time at the beginning of the 2020 academic year, before the country went into lockdown.

"Universities that had already developed online teaching and learning capacity were able to transition to an online modality more rapidly. Universities have extended teaching and learning time to more effectively support students who could not be fully engaged during the lockdown," she said.

The 10 universities that are expected to complete the academic year in 2020 include the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the University of Cape Town, the University of the Free State and the University of Johannesburg.

The Durban University of Technology, North West University, Rhodes University and the University of Mpumalanga are some that are planning to end the second semester in January 2021.

Universities planning for a February completion include, among others, the Central University of Technology, Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban, Nelson Mandela University and University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Parker also said students who were not able to access remote teaching and learning effectively were prioritised for return to campus.

Parker added: 

[There has been an] extension of the academic year to enable modules to be delivered successfully. Blended teaching and learning modalities are being used, including contact, and in compliance with the Covid-19 regulations. In some cases, platoon systems are being used to ensure students have access to campus-based support. Catch-up programmes and schools are being implemented for students who require these and some universities are offering modules a number of times to enable multiple opportunities for students.

In September, universities reported that of the students who indicated a need for a laptop, 68% were attended to.

"Some universities have indicated that devices are available, but students are not taking [them] up. The universities where device availability is low at present are participating in the NSFAS-led process," she said.

READ ALSO | Nzimande appoints task team to probe NSFAS, calls for inquiry into salaries of vice-chancellors

She also said around 94% of students were being provided with mobile data.

South African Union of Students president Misheck Mugabe said Covid-19 had entrenched academic and financial exclusion of students.

"Some of the students voluntarily de-registered during lockdown. The academic year is highly compromised and our qualifications are under threat," he said.

He added that the challenges the Covid-19 lockdown posed included the closure of internet café, making it difficult to submit tasks.

Universities South Africa CEO Ahmed Bawa said there was a rapid shift to remote teaching and learning to complete the academic year.

"The ICT infrastructure at all 26 universities are designed for on-campus learning and not remote learning. That was a very serious wake-up call which required a significant change to our infrastructure in a very short period. We also had to try and understand how to maintain the research and innovation activities," he said.

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