- Universities have put measures in place to ensure the academic year kicks off safely amid Covid-19.
- The Department of Higher Education says it will assist students still in need of places.
- The department has also extended the registration period for first year students due to delays in NSFAS concluding their funding eligibility.
Higher education and training institutions have received thousands of applications, in excess of the available spaces for various programmes.
Universities across the country are gearing up for the 2021 academic year following a challenging 2020 amid Covid-19.
On Monday, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande announced that registration for first-time students would be extended by two weeks due to delays in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) confirming funding eligibility.
The department also announced that NSFAS would fund all returning beneficiaries who meet the academic and relevant criteria to continue their studies.
READ | Despite shortfall, NSFAS will continue to fund returning students, says Nzimande
With the backdrop of the announcement, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) commenced its academic year on Monday.
Wits said it had registered 35 000 students, adding that while it only had over 5 000 available spaces for first-year students, it had received over 70 000 applications.
The institution's first semester academic programme would take place online with only a fraction of students returning to campus in a staggered and intermittent manner.
It said students who would be prioritised to return were those who needed to conduct experiments in laboratories, studios, and those on the frontline working in hospitals and clinics.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said:
Dean of Student Affairs Jerome September said selected students would be allowed to return to residences, and priority would be given to first years, those invited to return by faculties, and those who were unable to study from home.
University of Johannesburg (UJ) said it received 242 000 undergraduate applications.
Despite the many applications, the university said its intake would comprise of approximately 10 900 first years.
The university said it had planned accordingly for different scenarios depending on the behaviour of Covid-19. These scenarios ranged from it going fully online, blended learning, as well as face-to-face classes.
UJ said its first semester would also be largely conducted online and Covid-19 regulations would be adhered to across its campuses and residences.
"In 2020, UJ demonstrated that it is able to transition from face-to-face to online tuition, with ease. It was one of few institutions that managed to complete the academic year on time as planned.
"This year the start of academic activities for senior students commenced on 15 February, instead of 1 February. Which was two weeks later than normally planned. The start of academic activities for first year students is today (8 March), three weeks later than the senior students. The start date for first year students was based on the Grade 12 results release date of 23 February, instead of the first week of January normally. All registrations were done online and off-campus," the university said.
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University of Fort Hare in Alice in Eastern Cape, which experienced disruption in its registration processes, due to student funding concerns, received over 40 000 applications, but could only accommodate 4 000 first years.
Its spokesperson Tandi Mapukata said while registration at the university commenced on 1 March, on the 3rd it was halted by Student Representative Council who had concerns around funding.
The process would resume on Tuesday, Mapukata added.
"For now, there will be no contact classes. All teaching and learning will continue remotely through blended online modalities. We will continue to allocate rooms and enforce compliance with Covid-19 health and safety precautions as we did throughout the lockdown period. Remember our students have been in residences until Feb 2021 to complete the 2020 academic (year), so our stance on infection prevention has not changed," she said.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) received over 112 500 first year applications and only had space for 9 500.
There were 33 000 applications for the Bachelor of Education programme but only 1 440 spaces, while the Bachelor of Medicine (MBChB) got 7 910 applications for 250 spaces. The university said it would only admit 430 first year's in its Bachelor of Law programme.
UKZN spokesperson Normah Zondo said:
Zondo added that management was aware that some students experienced difficulties with registering online, and they were committed to providing adequate support to those who struggled.
According to the University of Western Cape, 44 600 prospective first-time undergraduate students applied. The university said, compared to 2020, the number of first entrance applications increased by about 42% this year, despite it having capacity to enrol 4 200 first years.
Once registration - which got under way on 3 March - concluded, to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the university said it would be pursuing a physically distanced, low-density campus approach to teaching.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) spokesperson Elijah Moholola said: "Senate has decided that all undergraduate courses will be offered via a combination of online lectures and face-to-face activities in small groups. This is to mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19 during this second wave, and in preparation for a possible third wave. Different courses have different attendance requirements and approaches to learning."
UCT said it had also implemented a "safe arrival" quarantine period for the first seven days for students who would be moving into residences.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) spokesperson Lauren Kansley said the institution also received about 70 000 applications for first-time entrances and only had space for 7 320.
Kansley said the applications were not unusual for the university, because it continued being oversubscribed, as always.
She added that while returning students had already registered and had commenced learning, first years would resume around 15 March.
Kansley said registration would continue and the university would evaluate availability of spaces in programmes.
"The university will issue its latest contingency plan. This is a working document which changes with each lockdown level, whether up or down. However, we are very firm on the fact that we don’t want more people on campus than need to be," Kansley said.
Prospective students' placement
Speaking during Monday's media briefing, Higher Education Director General Gwebinkundla Qonde said there were 184 315 available spaces for first- time students across universities.
The DG said as a medium-to-long term plan, the department was establishing a Central Applications System (CAS), which will allow prospective students to submit one application which will be sent for possible placement at a preferred institution.
"At the present moment what we are doing to assist students who may not have been admitted or applied later; there is a Central Application Clearing House System (CACH), so all students who may not have been admitted to any institution get re-routed to CACH, [and] that system assists students to get placement in any available space within an institution.
"So, if you are not admitted in a particular institution, don't lose hope, the department is there, through this system, to assist you," Qonde said.
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