Government working on new plan to rescue the academic year for South African universities

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education will hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday (21 April) to assess the impact of the lockdown on the higher education sector.

As part of the briefing, minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande will present plans from the department, universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to rescue the 2020 academic year.

Issues which are expected to be covered in the Higher Education plan include:

  • Plans to rescue the academic year for both universities & TVET colleges;
  • Online learning and teaching, what is to be done with mid-term examinations;
  • The impact of the lockdown on National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) qualifying students;
  • The accommodation of students at university residences.

“It is important that as a country we do everything in our power to save the 2020 academic year in the Post School Education and Training sector,” said committee chairperson Philly Mapulane

“The future of our country is dependent on the continuous production of graduates from this sector for the economy and for all other sectors in our society,” he said.

The majority of the country’s schools and universities were closed due to social distancing measures even before the country’s five-week lockdown came into effect.

As a result, they have had the difficult balancing act of continuing to offer courses while ensuring the standard of education does not drop.

A number of the country’s universities have already indicated that they will continue with online courses for the rest of the semester.

The University of Cape Town has proposed moving to a model of ‘continuous assessment’ and has decided to suspend invigilated examinations for courses during the first semester.

The university is also proposing during the 2020 academic year there will also be no academic exclusions.

Wits University said that it would effectively ‘reopen‘ online as of Monday (20 April), as it prepares for its second block of teaching.

However, it indicated that not all courses would be available due to inherent limitations. There are specific disciplines that may be patient-based, laboratory-based, studio-based or involve creative practices that cannot be undertaken online, it said.

“To be clear, the university is not transitioning to a permanent online modality for all courses, nor are we becoming a correspondence institution,” it said.

“We are instituting an emergency remote teaching and learning programme as one measure that will help us to minimise the time lost in the academic project.”

Read: Extending the extended lockdown in South Africa: don’t expect freedom of movement in May

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Government working on new plan to rescue the academic year for South African universities