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Half of South African universities ‘will struggle to finish year’


Ten of country’s 26 universities are in distress and need assistance, says minister

South Africa’s higher education minister has admitted that half the country’s universities might not finish the 2020 academic year. Blade Nzimande was speaking at a joint virtual news conference with the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, on 30 April.

By June, all universities should be teaching online. “We will not sit back in the month of May, we are going flat out,” Nzimande promised. But he admitted that the department “debated and agonised” over the disparities between different universities. Some of the better resourced universities have already begun online teaching, while others are struggling.

“We discovered that among our 26 universities 14 are going to battle. Four [are] not bad but 10 are really in a bad situation. They need assistance,” Nzimande said. He said that these “institutions in distress” will be assisted by re-prioritising both the department’s and their own budgets. He said, for instance, that funding intended for travel can be redirected.

Still, delays are to be expected, he said. “We are not saying the academic year will be finished for everybody [this year]. We are hoping it won’t be later than April [2021].” 

Nzimande said that the department is mulling plans to have libraries and municipal offices made available for teaching in institutions where online facilities are lacking. The department is also consulting with the University of South Africa on models to provide distance education via the post office.

Ultimately, he said, universities and students will have to be flexible as nobody can predict exactly how the coronavirus pandemic will pan out in South Africa: “We can plan and do everything but [it depends] how the virus behaves.”