16 SA universities expected to complete academic year in 2021

Only 10 South African universities aim to complete the academic year before the end of the 2020 calendar year, while 16 universities are expected to complete the 2020 academic year between January and March 2021, due to delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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. 

This meeting provided the expectations of completing the 2020 academic year at South African universities. 

Four of the 26 universities that were assessed 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. 

"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,"

-Blade Nzimande, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister

19 universities are categorised as low risk while 7 others are considered medium risk. The institutions were categorised according to the amount of time they will need to complete the semester programme. Those who were deemed medium risk had a long way to go in terms of completing the semester programme, as assessment processes were still to get underway and a significant number of students did not fully engage in teaching and learning. 

Deputy director general for university education Diane Parker said they were working with the seven institutions categorised as medium risk. 

She notes that:

"At the moment no universities are considered to be at high risk. We are going to have a situation where we see completion of the academic year across all institutions as being more likely," 

The 10 universities that aim to complete before the end of the 2020 calendar year are: Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Sol Plaatjie University, Stellenbosch University, UCT, University of Free State, University of Johannesburg, Unisa, University Of the Western Cape and Wits.

"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,"

-Diane Parker, Deputy director general for university education

Parker also said four other universities planned to complete the academic year in January 2021. These are Durban University of Technology, North West University, Rhodes University and the University of Mpumalanga.

Central University of Technology, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Nelson Mandela University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Venda and Vaal University of Technology - aimed to complete in February 2021.

While the five that would complete their academic years in March 2021 are: Sefako Makgatho University, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Fort hare, University of Zululandand Walter Sisulu University.

Parker, who spoke during the briefing to the higher education Portfolio Committee said that some universities lost time at the beginning of the 2020 academic year, before the national lockdown commenced, due to various reasons including protests. 

"They could not get the academic year off the ground before lockdown. It makes sense to stretch to a later period in 2021," 

-Diane Parker, Deputy director general for university education

Parker stated that students who were not able to engage in remote teaching and learning were prioritized for return to campus. However, restrictions remain in place due to the need for social distancing. 

She 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, only 68% were attended to. 

Parker said that the devices are available but that students are not taking them up. She also said that approximately 94% of students were being provided with mobile data. 

South African Union of Students president Misheck Mugabe stated that the coronavirus pandemic 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,"

- Misheck Mugabe, South African Union of Students president 

He added that the national lockdown posed challenges which included the closure of internet cafes, which made it difficult for students to submit tasks. 

Deputy director general for university education, Diane Parker remains positive that universities would complete the academic year with a very good opportunity for all students to succeed. 

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