Completing the 2020 Academic Year

27 August 2020

Completing the 2020 academic year using remote teaching | A phased return to campus | Graduation

Completing the 2020 academic year using remote teaching

(Updated 26 August) While the official rate of COVID-19 infections has slowed, the coronavirus is still very much with us and we must remain vigilant. We will not be able to maintain the necessary social distancing if we return to face-to-face teaching on campus in lecture halls and other academic spaces. We will also not be able to accommodate all students in residence under safe conditions.

Taking this into account, as well as what we have learnt from the experience of remote teaching in Term 2, we are continuing the second semester of 2020 in the same way. Our first priority is to protect the lives and well-being of students and staff, and we hope to do so by keeping a strict limit on the number of returning students in this phase.

(Updated 12 August) While the first semester required emergency remote learning, the second semester approach is better described simply as remote learning. With an opportunity to reflect on both the challenges and what has worked, the second semester will provide more opportunities to leverage the benefits of being online.

Well-designed online education:

  • provides opportunities for reflection and engagement through asynchronous activities
  • enables students to study at their own pace
  • gives students opportunities to watch lectures on video repeatedly in order to understand difficult material
  • develops the digital literacies graduates need.

Prior to the pandemic, about 60% of UCT lecturers had chosen to record their lectures using video capture. COVID-19 fast-tracked this process as we launched emergency remote teaching.

(Updated 12 August) UCT surveyed students in July 2020 about their experiences during Term 2. Among the positive aspects students reported has been how they have learnt to manage their time. Students have also appreciated regular communication from their lecturers. Some students have seen real value revisiting online course material, being able to ask questions and get personal support, in and out of normal teaching hours.

There were real concerns at the start that many students would not be able to successfully complete their courses. A broad range of options and services have since been put in place to mitigate the impact of the situation and support as many students as possible to complete the academic year.

We are looking into how we can conduct assessment for some invigilated exams, as well as how we are providing data access and electricity provision for some students at home. We are surveying students and academics to monitor their experiences and to review lessons for the future.

(Updated 12 August) Early in March 2020, UCT academics participated in a series of webinars that discussed how course content, course organisation, activity design and assessment would need to change in the remote teaching environment. Over 2 500 staff members signed up between March and July for webinars on a range of topics focused on supporting them with teaching in the remote context. We also updated existing guides for remote teaching and created new ones. The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) has also introduced a range of technical innovations to support remote teaching and learning. Other universities are now beginning to use the extensive resources we’ve developed under Creative Commons licences, to benefit the sector during the pandemic.

(Updated 12 August) UCT has decided to use low-tech remote teaching. This uses technical teaching strategies that promote asynchronous learning and allow learning to take place in different environments using little bandwidth.

The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) has successfully enhanced Vula, the university’s online collaboration and learning system, for the second semester to include several engaging features:

  • a new tool, similar to a Facebook wall, for posts and updates
  • redesigned text editor content templates, which boast speech bubbles and idea icons
  • a simple assignment-grading tool, which includes a student progress bar
  • rubric grading to integrate assignments, tests and quizzes in a single gradebook
  • a template that enables easy course set-up and design using 2020 course site and page templates.

Prior enhancements include Zoom video conferencing and improved learning analytics.

(Updated 16 October) The most important points to highlight in the new calendar are as follows:

  • Term 4 starts on 5 October and ends on 13 November.
  • From 5 October to 16 October there is a practical block for the second-term component of the first semester.
  • From 19 October to 13 November there is a practical block for second-semester courses.
  • Consolidation takes place between 16 and 18 November.
  • Exams for second-semester courses start on 19 November and end on 9 December. Preliminary results will be available on 23 December.
  • Exams for first-semester courses start on 10 December and end on 22 December.

Please note that the faculties of Engineering & the Built Environment and Health Sciences are managing their calendars in a slightly different manner due to their specific requirements.

Please refer to the academic calendar on the website.

(Updated 16 October) The 2020 exams will take place online where possible. Where invigilated exams are necessary, all health and safety protocols will be in place at the venues. Exams will end on 9 December, and preliminary results will be available on 23 December.

(Updated 16 October) We have considered the needs of students together with the health risks and the availability of safe spaces under lockdown conditions. We will continue with a phased approach for the return of students where possible or needed.

In September and October different groups of students were invited to return to campus to complete their coursework. These students were identified centrally in collaboration with the faculties and the Department of Student Affairs.

Students have generally been identified for places in residence based on vulnerability – those who have difficult home circumstances, reflected by socio-economic disadvantage, and those who face particular barriers to academic progress. These students have been allowed to continue remote learning in residence, which allows for tutorial support and easier access to online resources. Final-year medical students have also returned to residence.

All returning students need to undergo a 10-day self-quarantine period on arrival at their rooms in residence or their private accommodation.

Currently there are 3 900 students in residences; a further 2 200 were invited back but opted not to return. Online tutoring and mentoring services have been made available to all students.

(Updated 12 August) Students registered in performing arts courses and those needing to undertake practical blocks will be invited, in a phased return, to return to residences or academic spaces in alignment with the amended UCT calendar.

(Updated 12 August) Selected groups of postgraduate research students who need to use on-campus facilities to complete their research projects, where this can be accommodated appropriately, will be invited to return.

Arrangements will be made for researchers and postgraduates to return in two tranches, although this is subject to change according to provincial or national circumstances.

The first group aligns with Phase 2 of UCT’s return to campus:

  • staff and postdoctoral researchers in critical research areas that involve time-sensitive deliverables
  • master’s and doctoral students who are reaching the end of their degrees and need access to facilities on campus, such as studios, practice rooms and laboratories
  • technical support staff needed to support them.

The second group aligns with Phase 3 of UCT’s return to campus (after August 2020), when we hope that the peak in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Western Cape is on the decline:

  • honours students whose courses include significant research components
  • master’s and doctoral researchers who are not yet reaching the end of their degrees but who need access to laboratories or studios.

Throughout both phases, research supervisors will be given permission to visit campus occasionally to support their students. To do so, they will need to request a letter from the Office of the Vice-Chancellor.

(Updated 12 August) On 3 August Senate approved that the extension of remote teaching to the fourth term requires the modality of assessment to be consistent with the first-semester approach. Data from the Student Access Survey supports the continuation of the pass/fail approach for all first semester half (F) courses. Given the extension of remote teaching to the end of the academic year, the following has been decided regarding pass/fail final results in second semester half (S), full year half (H) and full year (W) courses in the second semester for 2020:

  • Pass/fail results do not apply to exit-level S, H and W courses. These courses will be graded as usual.
  • For all courses, continual assessment tasks are graded – so students will get feedback as before.
  • The final grade posted on the system at the end of the course is a pass or fail, even though there is an underlying grade that can be used in the department for deciding who gets offered a supplementary exam.
  • The grade point average (GPA) calculation is amended (on the system) to substitute the course results of the 2020 S, H and W courses with a pass/fail result. All second semester pass/fail results will be ignored by the GPA calculation. Other calculations run as usual. These results will appear on your transcripts and will enable you to compete for jobs, funding or places at other higher education institutions.
  • The transcript note that only a pass/fail result was given (no grades) as a consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown will be held in perpetuity for all students who completed a 2020 S, H or W course.

Read more about assessment in the second semester.

(Updated 16 October) In line with UCT’s approach to the completion of the 2020 academic year using remote teaching, along with the phased return to campus of some students and staff members by invitation, UCT Libraries will continue to offer a comprehensive virtual service. In addition, the network of libraries across campuses and faculties has reopened for limited services during restricted hours.

Under the restricted reopening, limited study spaces will be available in designated areas. The number of users will be capped as per national and institutional regulations (maximum 100 people). None of the 24/7 facilities will be available.

The borrowing of library materials will be facilitated by a request-and-collect / pickup-and-go service, offering extended loan periods with automatic renewals. All materials can be returned via book-drop boxes, which are located at all sites. No borrowed materials will be returned in person to UCT Libraries. There will be no short loan service, due to frequency of use, handling and quarantine considerations. While general browsing of the physical collections will not be permitted, you are encouraged to browse the catalogue online.

This limited service takes into consideration UCT’s phased approach to the return to campus, institutional lockdown regulations, staff health-risk assessments, and protocols for the return to work and reopening of buildings.

(Updated 16 October) Computer labs will become available as and when decided by the relevant faculties. Because of the health and safety protocols that are in place, access to computer labs may be restricted. Many labs remain closed while emergency remote teaching continues, unless they can be accessed remotely, such as in the Engineering & Built Environment faculty. Some labs are managed by Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS), but this is only under contract to the relevant faculties, which are responsible for assessing the need to reopen the computer labs.

(Updated 12 August) UCT Libraries’ revised Return to Research Service has been informed by and built around supporting the UCT Return to Research Plan. The service will take into consideration the adoption of a phased return approach; the completion of master’s and PhD submissions; the research priorities and timelines of the UCT Return to Research Plan; and institutional lockdown regulations, staff health risk assessments, and return-to-work and reopening-of-buildings protocols.

To support the implementation of the UCT Return to Research Plan, UCT Libraries has consulted widely and will be offering limited services from 1 September. Unless otherwise determined and agreed upon, UCT Libraries will be functioning according to a strict schedule and on a closed-access basis, ie general browsing will not be permitted. Available services will include:

  • Scan and email: Researchers and postgraduates must inform librarians of their research resource needs 24 hours in advance so that print materials may be scanned (within copyright legislation) and distributed (via email) to the researcher or postgraduate within 48 hours.
  • Loans: Researchers and postgraduates must inform librarians 24 hours in advance of specific materials to be borrowed from the open shelves. Loan quotas will be increased, and collection dates and times will be determined by a booking system. Extended loan periods with automatic renewals will apply.

Only those included on the following lists will be eligible to use the above services:

  • confirmed master’s and PhD students, researchers and postdoc fellows who have received and accepted a formal invitation and have a permit to travel to UCT, as noted in the UCT Return to Research Plan
  • master’s and PhD research students who will not be returning to campus but are working on the final stage of their degrees
  • prospective master’s and PhD students working towards the finalisation of their research proposals for submission. Virtual browsing will be encouraged in consultation with the librarian.

Functioning within the current lockdown level, UCT Libraries will need to rely on a core team of staff who will physically access the respective library on certain days only. Strict adherence to health and safety protocols will be expected.

Read more about UCT Libraries’ response to the UCT Return to Research Plan.

(Updated 26 August) Please contact your faculty advisor or department via Vula if you have any questions about online learning, receiving printed learning materials and USB drives, or other study needs during this time. For technical questions you can also contact the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) Helpdesk by emailing or phoning 021 650 4500 during office hours.

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A phased return to campus

(Updated 9 June) UCT will open the university in a planned, coordinated and phased manner to a very limited number of staff and students. Three groups – final-year medical students, academically vulnerable students and those students needing to access campus labs and studios to complete their 2020 studies – will be the first to return to campus. The return of all other students to campus will follow as circumstances allow. UCT will notify the groups of students who will be invited to return, and what date they need to be back on campus.

Under national Alert Level 3, depending on a tertiary institution’s capacity, no more than a maximum of 33% of students will be allowed to return to campus and residences. This is on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). A maximum of one-third of students set by the DHET is not a prescription. It is a guide to be considered in combination with governmental directives and institutional health and safety obligations.

(Updated 26 August) UCT has adopted an approach that will allow for a phased, restricted and strictly monitored return of limited numbers of staff and students to campus over the coming months. Most students and staff will continue to learn and work remotely. As per the directive of the Minister of Higher Education and Training on 23 May, no more than one-third of our students are allowed to return to campus. So far, the following students have been, or will be, invited back to campus:

  • Some students have been invited back to residences on the basis of vulnerability, such as difficult home circumstances, socio-economic disadvantage or particular barriers to academic progress. These students will continue remote learning in residence, with tutorial support and easier access to online resources.
  • Final-year medical students have returned to residence.
  • Students registered in performing arts courses, and students needing to undertake practical blocks, will be invited, in phases, to return to residences or academic spaces, in alignment with the amended UCT calendar.
  • Selected postgraduate researchers who need to use on-campus facilities to complete their research projects, and where this can be accommodated appropriately, will be invited to return in two tranches.

The return of students is by UCT invitation by student name only. No one else will be granted access to campus or accommodation.

(Updated 9 June) UCT is following the government’s COVID-19 occupational health and safety regulations, which stipulate that hand sanitisers, hand-washing facilities and supplies, and cloth masks are to be provided to students and staff members. Important interventions include physical distancing and arranging workspaces to allow a minimum of 1.5 metres between people; appropriate scheduling of the cleaning and sanitising of surfaces in workspaces and vehicles; and limiting capacity in rooms, shared facilities and vehicles to allow for social distancing. Other measures will include providing additional personal protective equipment, such as gloves, N95 masks and visors, as required by the National Department of Health, for university staff and students who are providing care and support in the public health sector.

(Updated 9 June) About 800 Faculty of Health Sciences staff have remained on duty during lockdown as joint staff with the Western Cape Department of Health. About 350 staff members during the week and 180 staff over weekends, whose work is not related to healthcare, have remained on campus to perform essential services, such as cleaning, maintenance, security and some functions performed by Information and Communication Technology Services. About 30 student housing staff have returned to manage the residences where final-year medical students are staying as they complete their clinical training.

(Updated 20 July) Please contact Grant Willis, Director of Student Housing, at; Jacqueline Kemp, Student Housing Admissions & Advocacy Services Officer, at; or Glenn Von Zeil, Manager of Student Housing, at

(Updated 26 August) Staff at UCT have been asked to continue working from home where possible. This approach remains our default position. All departments have identified those staff members whose work requires them to be on campus. These staff members have been granted access to campus on condition that they undergo a daily health assessment and adhere to strict protocols.

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(Updated 16 November) Graduation is the culmination of the hard work of students and faculties across UCT, and it has been very hard on everybody to have to suspend the March 2020 graduation ceremonies. At this point we cannot make any plans for any event that involves a large gathering, as we must adhere to health and safety protocols during the pandemic. The VC Desk of 21 October 2020 provides information on virtual events that are being planned.

(Updated 26 August) We understand the disappointment that our students and their families feel about the suspension of the March 2020 graduation ceremonies. Graduates can email the UCT Student Records Office for information about obtaining certificates. Graduation plans are being revised and more details will be made available soon.

(Updated 30 March) We understand the disappointment that our students and their families feel about the suspension of the March 2020 graduation ceremonies. The decision to suspend the ceremonies was not taken lightly. Graduates can email the UCT Student Records Office for information about obtaining certificates.

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UCT’s response to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March and implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.

Frequently asked questions


Daily updates

Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
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Campus communications

Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources

News and opinions

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Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.