University of Cape Town (UCT) Registrar, Royston Pillay, has reassured the campus community that management is working flexibly around a range of deadlines amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Pillay said allowances had to be made given the unprecedented times the country is going through. UCT was balancing multiple complexities but would align its deadlines and decisions with the prescribed government requirements.
He said UCT was keeping “an open mind” about extending the deadline for admissions for first-year students beyond 31 July 2020.
“We do think that if Grade 12 students are back at school on 1 June, there’s less of a need to extend the application deadline beyond 31 July. But we are considering the fact that students in less resourced schools may need more time for assistance to complete the application process and navigate their way through the system.”
Pillay said there had been a slight lag in applications to study at UCT, relative to the first week of May 2019. He attributed this to the lockdown situation, but expected it to correct itself when schools reopen for Grade 12 learners in June.
National Benchmark Tests
The National Benchmark Tests (NBT), which most university applicants write every year, are under discussion at UCT. Stellenbosch University recently announced that it would not utilise NBT scores for selection and placement purposes for the 2021 intake of students, given the uncertainty due to COVID-19.
“We are currently in discussion with our Centre for Educational Testing for Access and Placement at UCT, as well as our faculties in terms of how UCT is going to deal with the NBT requirement, which has become a fundamental part of our admissions regime in most of our faculties,” said Pillay.
He said UCT management was also considering how final-year undergraduate students who were applying for their honours would be affected if course deadlines extended beyond 2020, but that the university was making plans to ease the situation.
Advice for postgraduate applications
Results from the first semester in 2020 are due to be posted by the end of July.
“We advise students that they should apply for honours on the basis of these results. We are expecting that final results will be available by 18 January 2021.”
UCT would make allowances to accommodate late results from students applying from other higher education South African institutions, to study at postgraduate level.
Plans for exams
Exams in 2020 would be based on the revised 2020 academic calendar. In terms of the updated calendar, first semester exams would largely be online, while in the second semester, the university planned on “invigilated exams in November and December 2020, with some deviations from that”.
He said the university was acutely aware of social distancing requirements, particularly in the case of invigilated exams, but that it was confident that appropriate safety arrangements could be made.
There had been some concern about social distancing in large centres, such as the UCT Sports Centre and the Sarah Baartman Hall, but a reduced number of invigilated exams this year would help.
2021 academic year
UCT has shifted the start of the 2021 academic year by two weeks. The original date for the beginning of the 2021 academic year was 15 February. This has provisionally been moved to 1 March.
“It is important to stress that the calendar has been revised based on the best information at the time it was developed. Things remain fluid, but at this stage it has gone through the appropriate structures and has been approved by Senate.”
Meanwhile, Pillay said fee-related adjustments for the dropping of courses were currently under consideration.
Accessing degree certificates
Pillay also responded to queries from students and graduates about how to access degree certificates. Graduation ceremonies in April were suspended shortly before the lockdown kicked in.
“We set up a system to issue the degree certificates. There was reasonable take-up and students came in to fetch them, but we had to stop that after the lockdown commenced,” explained the Registrar.
Graduates would be able to collect their certificates once they were allowed back on campus, and, he said, he was aware that students who had already qualified would need certification for job applications and potential further study at other universities.
“The important point to stress is that transcripts are already available to all affected students online via Peoplesoft. These are official documents and students can access them remotely. The link to it is via the Student Record office online and the details are on the web.”
Engagement and consultation
Decisions had been made through a process of engagement with the Deans Advisory Committees in each faculty; by working with groups of faculty members and with faculty board members at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. UCT’s Senate Executive Committee, which is empowered to act for the Senate in emergency circumstances, has also been hard at work.
“In addition, statutory bodies, including the university Senate, the Institutional Forum and the UCT Council, have each had formal meetings to consider the university’s response to COVID-19.”
Pillay was commenting and responding to questions during an online staff assembly, hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng on 14 May 2020.
Phakeng and other members of the UCT executive provided updates on the university’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic at the online staff assembly, attended by over 3 000 staff members.
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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.