There’s no chance of a return to face-to-face classes at least in the first quarter or first semester.
This, according to Universities South Africa executive director Professor Ahmed Bawa.
Bawa added that the biggest task for institutions for higher learning this year would be to ensure support for new first-year students.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, universities are grappling with how to accommodate students for the 2021 academic year. Last year, teaching and learning had to be done online – and it seems that might be the case again for 2021.
Bawa said institutions must then ensure that first-year students, especially from rural schools, had all the necessary support.
Learning to use online platforms
“The emphasis has to be on those students who are at risk and bringing them in and getting them to use the technology that is available on campus. What each university has done is [to plan] a whole orientation process with incoming students to bring them up to speed with how to use online learning platforms,” Bawa said.
He said so far, some universities had opted to have only first-year students on campus so they can be able to access computers and internet connection, but not for face-to-face learning.
University of Cape Town (UCT) spokesperson Elijah Moholola said they would adopt “physically distanced learning”.
“While Covid-19 is still with us, we all need to learn from the lessons of 2020. We have seen how difficult it was for many of our students to learn remotely for various reasons, including their social conditions.
“For safety reasons, UCT will adopt physically distanced learning this year, but in a way that will allow students to benefit from the resources available on campus.
“So it’s important that students return to campus in 2021, even if they will be working online. We are working hard to help everyone to succeed. Plans for the 2021 academic year at UCT are based on the understanding that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue,” he said.
No shared rooms, strict protocols
Moholola said all undergraduate students have to be on campus by March and this would allow them to use computer laboratories and libraries. Students also won’t be allowed to share rooms in residences.
“Sessions that involve physical contact, whether in a laboratory, studio, tutorial or final-year lecture, will be held under strict health protocols. Students and staff members not wearing masks will not be allowed into venues.
“On registration, students will need to sign a commitment of adherence to Covid-19 health and safety protocols before being allowed on campus,” Moholola said.
University of Johannesburg spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said the academic year for senior students had been pushed back by two weeks to 15 February. First-year students were expected to start their studies on 8 March.
Matric results were due to be released on 23 February. Esterhuizen said there would only be online and offsite registration.
The University of South Africa had been informed by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande to reduce its first-year intake by 20 000 to ensure the National Students Financial Aid Scheme was not overburdened.
Bawa said: “I think it’s going to draw on all of our resilience again. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy year.
“Until such time we have a working vaccine, we are going to have to rely on being nimble and being able to work with the situation. We need to try and make sure we don’t have outbreaks on our campuses.”