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Students won’t complete this year – Blade

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Higher Education minister says it is clear in terms of the reworking of the 2020 academic calendar that the current academic year will only be completed next year due to the time that had already been lost

Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande. File picture

HIGHER Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande has indicated that the academic calendar for higher education institutions will not be completed this year despite multiple efforts to salvage the time lost due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Nzimande held a briefing earlier this week on the latest measures taken by his two departments in response to Covid-19 and other developments, including the phased return of students to campuses.

Nzimande said it was clear in terms of the reworking of the 2020 academic calendar that the current academic year would only be completed next year due to the time that had already been lost.

“This will mean a later start to the 2021 academic year for many students and a readjustment of the 2021 academic calendar.

“I must also indicate that we have been discussing with the Department of Basic Education to determine their plans on the coming to an end of the 2020 school year,” Nzimande said.

He said this would result in delays for the admission and registration process for matriculants who were planning to enrol at universities next year.

“This will require a change in the normal academic year to ensure that the 2021 academic year finishes within the 2021 calendar year,” Nzimande said.

He announced that universities would only be allowed to return 33% of the student population to campuses, on condition that they could be safely accommodated and supported in compliance with the health and safety protocols put in place by the department.

The students include postgraduate and final-year students who were either graduating this year or in need of laboratories and technical equipment, as well as all students who required clinical training in their programmes, provided there was sufficient space for them.

“As we speak, all public universities have provided plans and are managing the permits for identified students to return. Private higher education institutions have also provided plans. All our universities have provided the dates for the planned return of students, in line with their risk-adjusted strategy linked to the situation in their localities,” Nzimande said.

The staggered return of the specified group of students would commence on June 17 until August 31, while all other students would continue receiving support from their respective universities through remote multi-modal teaching.

Nzimande said that HealthCheck, which developed the Covid-19 protocols, had also developed a purpose-built daily digital screening and monitoring tool that enabled students and staff to check for Covid-19 risks and symptoms every day.

“Since HealthCheck was launched about 20 days ago, we have recorded over 600000 screenings done across the post-school education and training (PSET) system, with students and staff using HealthCheck either through WhatsApp, USSD or the website,” he said.

Nzimande also announced the establishment of an inquiry into the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which has been tasked with investigating the business processes, systems and capacity of the scheme, which has over the years been marred by dysfunction.

Meanwhile, Nzimande indicated that the Science and Innovation Department (DSI) had reassigned R15 million from existing indigenous knowledge projects to support Covid-19 interventions, which would supplement the almost R75m already leveraged from Canada, Sweden and the UK.