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Five universities extend academic year to March 2021

Out of South Africa’s 26 higher education institutions, five universities will conclude their academic year in March 2021, seven plan to do so in February and four at the end of January. Ten universities aim to finish the academic year this year. 

This was announced by Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande on Wednesday afternoon. Nzimande’s briefing explained how level one lockdown would affect the higher education sector. He said the reason the universities would not complete the academic year at the same time was that some had not effectively started with the academic year when the lockdown was implemented in March. 

The minister did not provide the names of the institutions. However, universities such as Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu in the Eastern Cape have experienced ongoing student protests over funding and other issues at the beginning of the academic year until the lockdown was implemented. 

There was also a delay in some students receiving laptops and data while at home during lockdown which may have impacted on when they could complete the academic year. 

The Mail & Guardian reported in July that students from the University of Venda, Fort Hare and the University of Zululand were yet to receive laptops and data from the institutions. The students also reported a lack of communication from the universities about plans to continue with their studies. 

The M&G has asked for the names of the institutions that will not be able to finish their academic year and will update this story once that information has been received. 

“This staggered ending of the academic year is linked to the ability to support students and to ensure that all students have been given a reasonable opportunity to succeed,” said Nzimande.

The minister also said that seven universities were considered to be medium risk. This means that these institutions needed more time before they could complete their first-semester programme; some have yet to start with their summative assessments. 

“At these institutions, a significant number of students seem still not fully engaged in teaching and learning programmes,” said Nzimande. 

Level one allows for universities to have 100% of their students back on campus. This would allow students who were far behind with their studies a chance to go through catch-up programmes, said Nzimande.

Level one also means that international students who had travelled to their home countries will also be allowed back on campus. Nzimande, however, said there would need to meet the requirements of the regulations for people who have travelled outside the country. 

They must have a Covid-19 test not older than 72 hours showing a negative result. If they are positive, they would have to go into quarantine at their own expense for 10 days before going back on campus. 

Nzimande also revealed that the 2021 academic year will be staggered to start between March 8 and April 12. This is because the Matric results will only be announced on February 23.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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