Undergraduate Teaching and Learning at UCT First Semester 2021

07 December 2020 | DVC A/Prof Lis Lange

Dear students and colleagues,

University of Cape Town (UCT) staff and students have managed well with emergency remote teaching, but we know this is not the ideal way for us all to work. Congratulations to all who have persevered despite the unique challenges that 2020 brought.

The progressive opening of UCT campuses relies on everyone, staff and students, to exercise joint responsibility to take care of each other and to obey health directives to avoid the spread of the virus at the university. We all rely on your personal sense of responsibility and solidarity to follow health directives and to remind others to do the same.

It is understandable that you may have questions about how UCT will function during the first semester  of 2021, particularly in light of the high likelihood of the increased spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa. We are currently witnessing the impact of “super-spreader” events at several South African universities, and naturally we want to ensure that UCT students and staff remain healthy and safe from infection as far as possible.

At the Senate meeting of Friday, 21 November, we made a number of decisions related to the 2021 academic year. I share these with you as it relates to my portfolio as Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning.

Thank you very much to everyone who has been involved in helping us come to these decisions. Staff and colleagues have worked incredibly hard to allow us to continue our academic work despite very challenging circumstances.

Teaching and learning

All undergraduate UCT students who are resident in South Africa, and all international students who can return to South Africa, are expected to be in Cape Town for the start of the academic year on 15 March 2021. (Students in the Faculty of Health Sciences will need to be here earlier.)

During the first semester of 2021, UCT will offer all undergraduate courses in a physically distanced learning (PDL) mode. In practice this means:

  • All undergraduate lectures will be offered online, with the exception of courses in the performing and creative arts, architecture and the languages.
  • Faculties will be able to exercise their discretion in offering contact lectures for final-year courses, depending on the capacity of available venues.
  • The Faculty of Health Sciences will manage its various programmes through a combination of online lectures and PDL in laboratories and on the clinical platform, according to COVID-19 health protocols.
  • Laboratory and studio work will be organised to offer sessions both in the mornings and the afternoon, to accommodate everyone while allowing for physical distancing.
  • Face-to-face tutorials will be provided according to faculties’ capabilities and the availability of approved venues. This means that students will be asked to come to campus on a rotation basis to attend tutorials.
  • Fieldwork and internships will be accommodated to comply with both the needs of the different programmes and COVID-19 health protocols. Faculties will communicate the details directly to their students.

Volume of work, exams and academic rules

Students’ workload volume will go back to the pre-COVID demand of 45 hours per week. Special accommodation might be made at the discretion of the faculty when it is considered necessary.

All academic rules will be operating as per normal. Faculty Examinations Committees and Readmissions Committees will be duly constituted.

All courses will be assessed as required by departments. Results will be shown as grades and will contribute to the calculation of grade point averages from course level 1000 to exit level courses.

Space and university services

Sessions that involve physical contact, whether in a laboratory, studio, tutorial or final-year lecture, will be held under strict health protocols. Students and staff members not wearing masks will not be allowed into a venue. On registration, students will need to sign a commitment of adherence to COVID-19 health and safety protocols before being allowed on campus. 

UCT will identify study spaces on campus that meet health protocols for the use of day students. These will be announced before the end of the year and again at the beginning of the academic year.

Computer laboratories that are serviced by Information and Communication Technology Services 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.

UCT Libraries will open for staff and registered students according to approved health protocols, staffing, spatial layout and seating capacity at the different library sites. The comprehensive Virtual Library Services will continue, and on-site services and facilities will be adapted to support the 2021 Teaching and Learning programme.

Residences space will be allocated according to the existing policy, which gives priority to minors, first-year and financial-aid students. There will be no shared accommodation. Physical distance and health protocols will be applied and students in residence accommodation will need to sign a commitment of adherence to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

We will communicate with you the details of courses, timetables and venues when they have been finalised, soon after the beginning of 2021. The details of your specific courses will be communicated to you through your faculty.

Special communication about enrolment and registration for the academic year 2021 will be sent by the Office of the Registrar.

I trust in your ability to take care of yourself and all the members of the UCT community by following these directives. I wish you a successful exam season and a restful holiday to prepare you for a productive and enjoyable 2021.

Thank you again for your hard work, commitment and support.


Associate Professor Lis Lange
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

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Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

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


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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.

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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.