High Risk Universities Plan To Finish Academic Year In March

High risk Universities in South Africa are expected to only finish their 2020 academic year in March of next year. With many Universities not having continued their academic programmes and some students having been left in the dark, is this possible? Will these students be able to catch up?

Six South African Universities were identified as high risk which the Minister of Higher Education said was due to them not being able to adequately resume academic teaching and learning for a major part of the student population since a recess due to Coronavirus was called in March.

The six institutions identified by the Minister as high risk were Central University of Technology, Mangosuthu University of Technology, University of Fort Hare, Sefako Makgatho University, Vaal University of Technology and Walter Sisulu University. Nzimande said that as reports come in, this could change.

Universities South Africa (USAf) CEO, Ahmed Bawa, said that newer reports shows that the number of Universities identified as high risk are now fewer than six. 

"Even those institutions which are deemed to be at high risk have programmes in place or have a plan in place at least to complete the 2020 academic year and I can tell you to what extent that plan is in place at the different institutions," said Bawa.

Universities which are in the high risk list are also putting plans in place to finish the academic year by March 2021. 

Bawa says that they're hoping to not see outbreaks on campuses and that should they happen, there is hope that the Universities and Departments of Health will be able to cope with it.

High risk institutions are identified as such according to data from the Department. Two major factors determine the level of risk such as the extent to which the Universities have engaged in some form of learning prior to this period and then whether they are in a good position to receive students back on campus. 

Under Lockdown level 2, 66% of students are expected to be back on campuses. The next 33% of students are due to start returning to campuses on 1 September. 

There's been a direct intervention from Higher Health, the higher education support structure to support institutions and the Department during Covid and works with the Department of Health. Higher Health, the Department and USAf are working with local Departments of Health to see how and if they can strengthen the local health department to assist Universities should outbreaks happen on campus. 

"We know exactly how to prevent outbreaks and we're seeing it in the broader public ... it's wearing masks, social distancing, trying to ensure that surfaces are sanitised and all of that so those public health steps are well known. Now, the big question is, will we able to get staff and students to rigorously take on board those public health initiatives. We know for a fact that if we follow those public health guidelines that we'll prevent the outbreaks. It's as simple as that," said the USAf CEO.

It's important for Universities to have a social compact in place, said Bawa.

Universities have said that interventions and catch up programmes will be in place for students who couldn't do online learning and that these will be implemented when a return to campus happens. However, will students be able to catch up on months worth of work in this time? Students who are at Universities which were identified as low risk are already overwhelmed and not performing as they would want to, so what will happen in the case of a vulnerable student at a low risk University?


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