2021 Framework for Postgraduate Studies at UCT

10 December 2020 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear postgraduate students and colleagues

Plans for the 2021 academic year at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are based on the understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue. We are committed to providing an academic framework to help all UCT students, research fellows and staff to succeed in the academic programme, while continuing to protect everyone’s health and safety. I am writing to share our plans for UCT’s postgraduate studies framework.

Please read this email carefully, as it sets deadlines for certain requirements for both postgraduate students and staff members.

As communicated on 7 December regarding undergraduate teaching and learning, UCT will function as a low-density campus in the first semester of 2021. Our hybrid teaching and learning and research environment will use both asynchronous and synchronous online activities (asynchronous activities can be accessed at any time, while synchronous activities will require participants to attend on a specific schedule); face-to-face teaching of small groups in COVID-compliant venues under physically-distanced learning conditions; and physically-distanced research activities in low-density labs, studios and workshops that will operate within a schedule and on a rotation basis, to reduce the number of people in each space at any time.

While we hope to return to more on-campus activities in the second semester, we have planned the postgraduate year around the possibility of a continuing pandemic.

Teaching and learning of taught postgraduate courses and programmes

The great diversity of UCT postgraduate programmes offers potential for a wide range of teaching and learning modes, so programme convenors will work with Heads of Departments (HoDs), with the support of their Deans, on the best mode for individual programmes. These may include running in a fully online mode (a number of our programmes are designed in this manner, including both asynchronous and synchronous activities); a hybrid mode; physically distanced learning (PDL) mode and a face-to-face mode. Synchronous online activities will help to relieve the pressure we foresee in using a limited number of venues with reduced capacity, owing to COVID-19 health and safety requirements.

The mode of operation will depend on the nature of the programme, its most appropriate teaching modality, the number of students in the programme and the availability of venues. Staff will need to book venues by no later than 31 December 2020.

By the end of this year, students who are either currently registered or have been accepted to start postgraduate degrees should be notified on both the mode of delivery and whether they need to be in Cape Town.

Laboratory, studio, seminar and group work will run on a roster basis, to help maintain physical distancing. All other health protocols associated with COVID-19 must be followed at all times. Fieldwork and internships will be set up to comply with both the needs of the programme and health protocols. Guidelines for fieldwork under COVID-19 conditions are available and require HOD sign-off.

The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching continues to provide substantial support to academics in the design of teaching modalities. All courses will be assessed by programme convenors, departments and their respective faculties. The assessment method will be communicated to the students clearly and in good time. External examinations will take place in courses according to Senate policy, introducing remote oral defences, interviews or presentations as required. Examination and grading of research reports, assignments, dissertations and theses will follow UCT’s standard assessment procedures.

Postgraduate research

During the second semester of 2020, we ensured that postgraduate research students who required research facilities on campus or in the field would have access to them. Meanwhile, research students who did not require access to physical facilities on campus continued to work remotely. We plan to continue to operate in this manner in 2021.

Any postgraduate research student who requires access to on-campus facilities such as studios, workshops, computer labs, laboratories and other resources, but has not yet received an invitation to use them, needs to request such an invitation from their supervisor or Head of Department.

Activities such as research support and supervision, lab and studio instruction, seminars and discussion groups will take place in either online, hybrid or face-to-face modes, to be decided at a department level on a case by case basis. Guidelines drawn up for fieldwork under COVID-19 conditions must be followed. Departments, or in some cases large research groups, are responsible for the organisation and communication of health and safety protocols to their students.

The dates for fee rebates for postgraduate research students who submit their dissertations during the course of the year are linked to term dates, with a 75%, 50% and 25% rebate possible on submission by the start of the second, third and fourth quarters, respectively. Students whose research was delayed by the COVID-19 lockdown may motivate for a six-month fee waiver at the end of their degree, with the support of their supervisor. Faculty offices can advise on this procedure.

We will continue to rely on tutors in 2021

Tutors played a key role in supporting emergency remote teaching effort this year, particularly at undergraduate level. Many tutors are postgraduate students who benefit from the learning opportunity as well as earning a stipend. Postgraduate students for research-based degrees who want to take up these opportunities need to consult with their supervisors to ensure that they will be able to complete their research milestones. They must also ensure that the time they spend on tutoring is within the restrictions set by their postgraduate funding.

Two types of tutor training are needed: general (such as digital literacy or online facilitation) can be provided by the Centre for Higher Education Development, following discussion with postgraduate students’ respective faculties and departments; while tutor training that is specific to a discipline or faculty is provided by the respective faculties at their discretion.

Teaching, learning and research facilities on UCT’s low-density campus

UCT will identify study spaces on campus that meet health protocols for the use of day students. These spaces will be configured for social distancing.

Specific computer laboratories that are serviced by Information and Communication Technology Services will also be opened at a much lower capacity to ensure physical distancing.

As with all other UCT venues, these facilities will need to be booked in advance and students who use them will need to follow strict health protocols and respect the need for cleaning rotations.

Eduroam will provide access to data, but we understand that this will not cover students’ full needs, so UCT is renegotiating data agreements with service providers.

UCT Libraries will open on a limited basis for staff and registered students, according to approved health protocols and the capacity for staffing, spatial layout and seating at each library site. On-site library services will be available with some restrictions, while Virtual Library Services will continue, including a virtual “Ask The Librarian” facility, access to literature search tools and outputs, as well as a “scan and email” facility.

Postgraduate registration will take place online

New students can register online using an abbreviated memorandum of understanding (MoU) and complete a detailed MoU to be submitted by a set deadline. Returning students will complete their MoUs and progress planned activities online, preferably before the end of this month, to allow for quicker registration in 2021.

International postgraduate students should contact the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) for access to online services such as international student clearance (pre-registration) and support for their return to Cape Town to complete their studies.

Faculties will provide orientation that is specific to their own disciplines and departments, as well as access to more general online orientation programmes prepared by UCT support offices. Additional online support of postgraduate students will be provided at various stages of their degrees, including monthly emails coordinated by the Office of Postgrad Studies and the Postgrad Hub, administrated through the Research Office. The Postgraduate Funding Office will provide news on funding opportunities.

I thank all staff members and students for the strength of your contributions to teaching, learning and research during this difficult year. I trust that the framework we are putting in place for 2021 will provide good support to your future work, and I wish each of you a well-earned holiday.


Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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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.

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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.