Higher education and training institutions have aligned their start of the 2021 academic year for first-time entries after the release of the 2020 National Senior Certificate, Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande said.

Nzimande briefed the nation on Monday on plans for reopening higher education institutions, and science and innovation during the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.

He urged students awaiting their matric results not to panic, because universities will only open after the release of the results.

News24 previously reported that the Department of Basic Education will finish marking exam scripts on 22 January and matric results will be released on 23 February.

Nzimande said his department would work closely with institutions to prepare the system for the start of 2021 academic year.

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The academic year for universities will start between March and April, Nzimande said.

The 2020 academic year was interrupted after institutions had to shut their doors and move online following the March recess when Covid-19 hit South African shores.

Nzimande said as of 13 November 2020, 1 499 university staffers and 1 588 students had tested positive. He added 48 staff and 10 students died.

On Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), Nzimande said:

“Based on our current cumulative reporting period between 15 Dec 2020 to 11 Jan 2021, I can report the following Covid-19 related cases in our sector: Staff Infections – 146; Staff Recoveries – 123; Staff fatalities – 23.”

He said 10 institutions had already completed all teaching and learning activities, including examinations in 2020, and were now finalising special examinations and practical assessments.

Sixteen institutions were completing the academic year in different forms and times, depending on their timetables.

The minister added that some institutions had completed their formal teaching programmes, while others were still finishing off and providing catch-up opportunities for students.

“I am confident that with the support of all stakeholders we should successfully complete the academic year by the end of February for the vast majority of institutions and by March for all institutions,” he said.

Nzimande said further information on the 2021 academic year plans will be released at a later stage after the matric results have been released – and upon engaging with institutions.

He emphasised that adherence to Covid-19 protocols were essential during the registration period at universities.

He said due to the current adjusted Lockdown Level 3, students who can study from home were requested to continue doing so, while those with difficulties had already returned to campuses.

Institutions have been urged to continue communicating their detailed programmes with students, prospective students, parents, and employees.

“I urge all students and staff to continue staying safe, to keep up with the necessary preventative methods to reduce the spread of the virus, and to abide by the necessary protocols and codes of conduct in place at university campuses and in residences to ensure that they remain safe during this challenging time,” the minister said.

TVET colleges

Nzimande said the approved 2021 academic calendar for TVET Colleges still applied and will be adhered to, with students expected to return in a staggered manner, on 25 January and 1, 8, and 15 February.

Remote learning support will be in place for those students who will return in February.

Nzimande said the return of trimester students will be prioritised because of the compressed study time for them, while those studying N5 and N6 will return before those doing N4.

This will allow walk-ins to be better managed.

“Presently colleges with the systems in place are continuing with online registrations. For the remainder, colleges have put systems in place to observe all COVID-19 protocols to avert the spread of infections.

“Given that colleges and campuses differ quite significantly in the extent to which they are affected by the current rate of infections and fatalities, agreement was reached with the relevant stakeholders on our consultations that colleges will be afforded some flexibility to manage both the return of staff and students, based on the principles and parameters provided by the Department.”

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Author: News24.com