April 20 has become the “planning horizon” for universities.
Leading up to that date, these institutions will reassess the effects of the early recess, which was brought on by the national lockdown implemented by government in an effort to curb Covid-19 coronavirus infections.
The date of April 20 was revealed by Professor Ahmed Bawa, chief executive of Universities SA (USAf), to City Press.
USAf is an organisation representing the vice-chancellors of the country’s 26 universities.
Bawa said universities were not in a position at this stage to plot a new timetable in the midst of the lockdown.
“We are using April 20 as a planning horizon. It will provide us with an opportunity to plan as the context evolves. What the universities are committed to is completing the 2020 academic year, even if this means making major changes to the academic calendar,” Bawa said.
From all we have seen from other parts of the world, our scientists indicate that this is unlikely
He said that universities were collaborating and that USAf was playing a role in galvanising resources to ensure that institutions would complete the academic year as effectively as possible.
“We are also working with other organisations that have been working on alternative delivery mechanisms for academic programmes. Our biggest challenge at the moment is to get the mobile telecommunications companies, such as Vodacom, MTN and Telkom, to make zero-rated data available to students who cannot afford data. If they made this move, that would be a fundamental game changer for the students and the universities,” Bawa said.
He said that if the lockdown proved instrumental in bringing down the Covid-19 infection rate dramatically, then USAf would work towards reopening universities at that point.
“However, from all we have seen from other parts of the world, our scientists indicate that this is unlikely. We will, before April 20, reassess the situation,” he said.
Bawa confirmed that USAf formed part of the task team announced last week – and led by Buti Manamela, the deputy minister of higher education, science and innovation – as part of efforts to combat Covid-19.
However, he said, the task team had yet to meet.
Ishmael Mnisi, spokesperson for Minister of Higher Education, Science and Information Blade Nzimande, said this was because the task team was only announced on Thursday.
The team comprises USAf, the SA College Principals Organisation, the SA Union of Students, labour unions and health experts.
It is set to make appropriate information available to institutions of higher learning and develop protocol guidelines for them.
Nzimande’s department has also requested that universities and public colleges complete an update survey of the IT capabilities they have with regard to offering online courses.