- The higher education department plans to have the 2021 academic year between 15 March and 15 April.
- All Covid-19 protocols on the staggered return of students at institutions remain in place under Level 2.
- First years are among those returning.
The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation hopes to complete the 2020 academic year at the end of February 2021, Minister Blade Nzimande has announced.
Nzimande was briefing the nation in Pretoria on Wednesday, updating the department's plans during lockdown Level 2 and the measures in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The minister said the starting dates for the 2021 academic year will be between 15 March and 15 April.
He said all efforts would be made to ensure that institutions falling behind would get up to speed to meet the dates.
Nzimande said further details on the management of the processes surrounding the end and start of academic years would be communicated by the department once all consultations concluded.
The minister said institutions reported different responses towards concluding the 2020 academic year and their readiness for the next year.
"We need to strike the right balance between the imperative of enabling all institutions to complete the requirements for the 2020 academic year in order to give all students a fair chance, and the need to ensure the start of the 2021 academic year in ways that do not render the system unmanageable or impairing the principle of equity of access across the system."
Nzimande said the sector engaged various stakeholders on the dates.
He said the department advised universities to at least complete the year by the end of February, adding he was aware that some institutions, mostly those well off, would be able to complete earlier than the stipulated dates.
During the briefing, Nzimande also announced that, under Level 2, universities would be allowed a maximum of 66% of students to return to campuses.
This was up from the 33% of the student cohort allowed to return to campuses under Level 3.
The department said it was working closely with the basic education sector, so that there were no issues faced by matrics who needed to register at higher education institutions next year.
Among the groups that will be allowed under Level 2 include students in all years of study requiring laboratory and technical equipment, and those requiring practical placements and experiential workplace experience in order to complete the academic year.
First year students in all undergraduate programmes would be allowed back, Nzimande said.
Nzimande added that each institution had its own operational plans, based on a risk assessment linked to its operating conditions, location and context.
The minister said the institutions were requested to submit their updated plans for the return of students.
He added that the protocols surrounding the staggered return of students remained in place and any uncontrolled returns would be irresponsible.