2020 academic year likely to spill over into 2021: Nzimande

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Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande on Wednesday announced that the intake of first-year university students for 2021 may take place later than usual. 

While giving an update on the return of South Africa’s students to universities, community colleges and other institutions of higher learning, Nzimande covered a range of topics, including transformation policies and a probe into the salaries of vice-chancellors and senior executives at public universities.

Nzimande said the end of the 2020 academic year is likely to spill over into the 2021 calendar.

Nzimande says, “As you can see now, already because of the challenges we are facing in 2020 already we are going to have pressure for the 2021 academic year so everyone, parents, students and other stakeholders must realise that unless we cooperate, unless we commit not to waste teaching and learning time, the future of our many students, thousands of them will be at stake.”

The minister said a maximum of 33 percent of the student population will be returning to university campuses and residence, on condition of guaranteed health and safety protocols.

“This 33% of the returning students will include students in the final year of their programmes who are on their path to graduating in 2020, final year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data connectivity and access to residents and private accommodation, students in all years of study who require clinical training in their programmes and postgraduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies, Nzimande added.

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He says,  the Community Education and Training Colleges recorded a low return rate since reopening at the end of June. He said this was due to anxiety over the pandemic and the closure of the hosting school.

He added that the former adult and basic education centres have also been hard hit by infections.

Nzimande says, “Unfortunately our community colleges are in a far riskier situation than universities and TVET colleges not that those are immune either, it is our considered view therefore that for the 2020 academic year, serious considerations would have to be made that the return of the students be limited to general educations and training certificate of ABET qualification, senior certificate, occupational programmes and adult education & training sub level 3 student. This will enable community learning centres to comply with regulations, especially physical distancing.”

Nzimande raised concerns about reports of students using data provided by universities to download movies and other non-academic information.

“I must also say that I remain unhappy about some of the reports I’m getting that some of the students are using the data bundles for private use such as downloading movies and even disturbing undesirable content. I just want to emphasise once more this data must be used for dedicated online education platforms, for teaching and learning as approved by our institutions, everyone must know.”

Nzimande added that he has requested the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to commission an inquiry into the salaries of vice-chancellors and senior executives at public universities.

“This research must focus on the comparison of salaries of vice-chancellors and senior executive managers to those of academics and the rest of the non-academic staff and workers for the period covering 2005. Portfolio committee was concerned; a concern which I share that there is often no correlation between the size and nature of the institution and the salaries of the vice chancellors amongst other things and that also there is concern that the gap between the salaries of vice chancellors and workers on the ground it’s just too huge”

He announced that the department of science and innovation, together with the South African COVID-19 research team, are probing whether the local indigenous herb, Artemisia afra, (also known as umhlonyane in Nguni languages) could be used to treat coronavirus., saying the research also involves other South African herbs

Nzimande says, “Our department of science and innovation is also leading a research and innovation pillar of the cannabis industrialisation master plan. To this extent, our focus is to develop medicinal products for COVID-19, cancers, diabetes, TB and HIV/AIDS and neurodegenerative diseases, amongst others.”