Academic year 2021

19 January 2021

What to expect in the first semester of 2021 | A phased return to campus | Graduation

What to expect in the first semester of 2021

(Updated 18 February 2021) Classes will begin on 15 March 2021.

(Updated 17 February 2021) All students would usually be required to be on campus for the start date of the academic year, but for the first semester this year, as things stand, only students from the faculties of Health Sciences, Science and Engineering & the Built Environment must be physically present at UCT by 15 March 2021. 

Attendance for students from other faculties will be determined by particular courses. Students may, however, be required to be on campus for invigilated tests and exams, but they will be kept fully informed by the relevant faculty. UCT residences will open on 25 February 2021 for postgraduates and on 1 March 2021 for new and returning undergraduate students.

Other important dates are:

  • 25 February: Completion of undergraduate admissions processing
  • 2–12 March: Student registration and orientation
  • 12 March: Parent Orientation (virtual)
  • 15 March: Academic term starts

(Updated 17 February 2021) To limit the spread of COVID-19, UCT is organising single-room residence accommodation and is instituting a “safe arrival” quarantine period that requires students to spend the first seven days after arrival in their rooms. If students become a close contact of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, the “close contact” quarantine period as prescribed by the National Department of Health (10 days in quarantine) must be followed.

Meals served during the “safe arrival” quarantine period will be charged to students’ fee accounts whether the student is in catering or self-catering residences. UCT will also conduct monitoring and screening during this period and provide medical care and support should students develop any symptoms of COVID-19. This precaution will help the university manage the high-density residence environment in the interests of the safety of all students and staff.

Students in the Faculty of Health Sciences, who are required to be in the health system as part of their academic clinical learning programme, will be informed of the specific safety protocols applicable to them, including conditions under which they may have to enter a quarantine period.

(Updated 17 February 2021) UCT is preparing study spaces on campus that will meet the essential health and safety protocols. These will be clearly marked to indicate the maximum number of occupants to comply with physical distancing requirements. Students using UCT venues and other facilities will have to follow the prescribed rules and regulations and comply strictly with these limitations.

Computer laboratories that are serviced by Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) will be opened for the use of undergraduate students, following strict health protocols and cleaning rotation schedules. Faculty-managed undergraduate computer laboratories will follow the same protocols, but they may follow different dates and times for opening. Please check with the relevant faculty about specific labs.

UCT Libraries’ comprehensive Virtual Library Services continues as the primary service model. Students may access the UCT Libraries resources via the Libraries website and a dedicated Virtual Library Support page.

Read the DVC Desk: Undergraduate Teaching and Learning at UCT First Semester 2021.

Read the DVC Desk: 2021 Framework for Postgraduate Studies at UCT.

(Updated 12 February 2021) UCT will pursue the physically distanced, low-density campus approach to teaching. The same will apply to residence accommodation. Senate has decided that all undergraduate courses will be offered via a combination of online lectures and face-to-face activities in small groups.

Top of mind is health and safety. Strict protocols will be in place, and staff and students are reminded to continue practising vigilance, wearing suitable masks and following strict sanitising regimes. We are confident that all teaching venues are safe and have appropriate ventilation.

Please take note that different courses have different attendance requirements and different approaches to learning. While faculties such as EBE and Health Sciences require students to be physically present on campus, others, including Humanities and Science, specify which courses require students to attend classes in person. The Faculty of Commerce, meanwhile, does not require students to attend lectures and tutorials on campus, but they must sit for invigilated examinations in person. The Faculty of Law will conduct all teaching entirely online. Please consult your faculty’s web page to ensure you know exactly what will be required from you this year.

(Updated 12 February 2021) First off, you need good internet access and a desktop computer, laptop or tablet to work on. Next, set up a dedicated learning area as your workspace – whether it’s your kitchen table, bedroom or a shared space. Always working in the same space helps you establish a routine. For those in Cape Town who are off campus and not in residence, facilities for study and internet access are available at UCT. To maintain social connection – and to keep yourself and others on track to meet deadlines – become part of a peer buddy system. Also, connect with other students via WhatsApp groups, social media or Vula tools like Forums and Chat. You can also take part in online ice-breakers.

For online assistance with network drives, Netstorage, connectivity and email, get in touch with the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS):

The following assistance is available for non-ICTS managed services:

  • For assistance with PeopleSoft, UCT’s online self-service student administration system, contact the Helpdesk via email, telephone (X5227 or 4720) or log an online call.
  • Vula is an online collaboration and learning environment used to support UCT courses as well as other UCT-related groups and communities. For additional information, or if you have a query, go to the Vula website, contact the Vula team via email or call 021 650 5500.

If you find yourself in distress and unsure of where to seek help, the UCT Call Centre and Referral System (UCT_Cares) provides a central point of contact for information and services. Send your query to Once received, the UCT_Cares team will either respond with the relevant, general information or will refer you to the relevant department.

(Updated 12 February 2021) Since as early as March 2020, UCT academics have been participating in a series of webinars that discuss how course content, course organisation, activity design and assessment can be enhanced in a digital teaching environment. We updated existing guides for remote teaching and created new ones. The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) introduced a range of technical innovations to support remote teaching and learning. Other universities have now begun using the extensive resources we’ve developed under Creative Commons licences, not only because the pandemic continues to limit face-to-face learning, but also because blended learning helps students to succeed.

(Updated 12 February 2021) UCT has introduced a range of new tools and technologies to enrich the online learning experience. Course content, activities and assessments are organised through Vula course sites, with Microsoft Teams or Zoom for live sessions. Most recorded lecture videos will have transcripts and captions. Courses may also make use of some new tools introduced for 2021, including Wooclap for interactive polling and rapid feedback, Padlet for building collaboration and community, Hypothesis for annotating texts together, and Gradescope for supporting hand-written or sketched assignment work. Students and lecturers may also make use of social media or other third-party tools for building community and peer support.

(Updated 17 February 2021) UCT Libraries’ comprehensive Virtual Library Services continues as the primary service model. Students may access the Libraries resources via the UCT Libraries website and a dedicated Virtual Library Support page. Access to the physical libraries is currently impacted by the continued national state of disaster and return to Lockdown Level 3 status.

UCT Libraries will open in a phased manner to staff and registered students according to approved health protocols, staffing, spatial layout and seating capacity at the different library sites.

For researchers, the comprehensive Virtual Library Service enables library staff to support you and your research online.

Please check the UCT Libraries website regularly for the latest updates as services are subject to change.

(Updated 17 February 2021) Please contact your faculty advisor or department via Vula if you have any questions about online learning or other study needs. For help with Vula, you can contact the Vula helpdesk by email or call 021 650 5500 during office hours.

For general IT questions, you can also contact the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) Helpdesk by email or call 021 650 4500 during office hours.

If you haven’t been able to find a solution to your problem, or are not sure who can help, email the UCT­_Cares team at If they don’t know the answer, they will refer your query onwards.

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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.

(Updated 14 December) We would normally have celebrated our achievements in a regular graduation ceremony. Sadly, we have been unable to do this in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we have arranged a special virtual celebration for the March 2020 cohort of graduates on Monday, 14 December. It will commence at 18:00 and will be streamed online via the UCT website and social media platforms.

The names of the graduates will appear on the university’s graduation page. We ask all graduates who would like to, to please send us their pictures ahead of the virtual graduation so that we can share in your celebration, albeit virtually.

Graduation-specific media assets will be made available, which we encourage you to use on the celebration day to produce your own images and share them on your own social media platforms. Please look out for related details, to be shared via the UCT social media platforms closer to the time of the virtual event. We look forward to sharing with you the big wave of online celebrations by thousands of UCT graduates. Please use #UCTGrad2020 and tag @UCT_News when sharing your pictures and graduation stories on social media.

If you have not yet done so, you may request a hardcopy degree certificate and transcript to be delivered to you via courier.

(Updated 14 December) Graduation ceremonies are the major highlight of UCT’s year. We are saddened that it is not possible to celebrate your graduation at a physical ceremony due to COVID-19. However, we have arranged a special virtual graduation celebration for the December 2020 graduands on Tuesday, 15 December. It will begin at 18:00 and will be streamed online via the UCT website and social media platforms.

The names of the graduands will appear on the university’s graduation page. We ask all graduands who would like to do so, to please send us your pictures ahead of the virtual graduation, so that we can share in your celebrations albeit virtually.

Graduation-specific media assets will be made available, which we encourage you to use on graduation day to produce your own images and share these on your own social media platforms. Please look out for related details to be shared via the UCT social media platforms closer to the time of the virtual event. We look forward to sharing with you the big wave of online celebrations by thousands of UCT graduands. Please use #UCTGrad2020 and tag @UCT_News when sharing your pictures and graduation stories on social media.

You may request a hardcopy degree certificate and transcript to be delivered to you via courier. Certificates will only be dispatched after the virtual graduation ceremonies have taken place.

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UCT’s response to COVID-19 in 2021

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to 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. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

Frequently asked questions


Daily updates

Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications



New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
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
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 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

Statements and media releases

Media releases

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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.