Varsities to kickstart academic year, shorter holidays possible
Shorter holidays, adjustments to the academic calendar, and a mix of online and face-to-face lectures are on the cards as South Africa’s universities prepare for the new academic year.
Chief executive officer of Universities South Africa Professor Ahmed Bawa said provided there were no shutdowns similar to those experienced in March, universities could complete the year by reshaping the academic calendar and shortening holidays.
Bawa listed two potential causes for delay.
“One is clearly the trajectory of the pandemic and its impact on the government’s decisions on how to manage the crisis and whether this may have implications for the way in which the universities may function,” he said.
However, he added, universities were in a good position to provide alternative, remote learning and implement the public health protocols required to prevent outbreaks.
“A second is the dependence of the universities on the marking and certification of the NSC results. The universities are expecting the results to be published on February 23. If there is significant delay this will have an impact on the 2021 academic year.”
Bawa’s comments come as Western Cape tertiary institutions plan to commence the academic year in March.
At UCT, registration for returning students will start on January 20, while registration for 4 300 first-year students will start on March 8, as classes begin March 15.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said “We are committed to providing an academic framework to help all UCT students, research fellows and staff to succeed, while continuing to protect everyone’s health and safety.”
All undergraduate students are expected to be in Cape Town from March 15 with courses being offered online and in person, as part of a physically-distanced learning (PDL) strategy. Decisions on in-person lectures and face-to-face tutorials will be made by each faculty according their ability to facilitate them.
“UCT will identify study spaces on campus that meet health protocols for the use of day students,” Moholola explained. “Residences space will be allocated according to the existing policy, which gives priority to minors, first-year and financial-aid students. There will be no shared accommodation. Physical distance and health protocols will be applied and students in residences will need to sign a commitment of adherence to Covid-19 health and safety protocols.”
Stellenbosch University is also expected to commence classes on March 15, though students in the medical faculty will start clinical rotations this month.
“The university plans to resume contact teaching for all faculties as soon as possible – subject to the relevant coronavirus regulations,” said spokesperson Martin Viljoen. “Taking into account the online revolution that Covid-19 brought about, teaching will be augmented by online teaching. In this regard, some subject content can be packaged electronically in the form of slide shows, videos and sound recordings – material that students can master comfortably where and when they want, without having to attend class.”
Viljoen added the university would adjust it’s Covid-19 protocols according to national regulations.
Students are being encouraged to complete the registration process online with universities moving to ensure accessibility for all, such as at the University of Western Cape (UWC).
“The university has ensured that its learning and teaching platforms are available via VPN which means it will be data free,” said UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder. “The university successfully provided more than 13 000 students studying remotely with data and more than 6 000 students with devices during 2020. The students were charged for the device and this was offset with a fund-raising campaign called #NoStudentWillBeLeftBehind as well as support from the Department of Higher Education and Training.”
UWC plans to start its academic year on March 8, with online registration available from February 23.