The restriction of movement in South Africa (lockdown) that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on the 23rd of March may possibly mean the end of numerous students' academic year. South African universities had a shaky start to the academic year as only eight out of the 26 universities nationwide did not experience some form of disruption. Thus far, no academic activities for 2020 have taken place at four of these universities.
If lockdown does come to an end on the 16th of April, the universities where everything went smoothly already lose three weeks of academic time. For most universities, the second semester commences on the 13th of July, which means that all missed academic work must be caught up before that date. Should the lockdown continue for longer than that, the prospects are even bleaker.
The universities that succeeded in starting their academic year without any disruptions are Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Metro, Johannesburg, the Durban University of Technology, Sefako Makgatho Medical University and the Rhodes University in Makhanda (Grahamstown).
Classes have not yet commenced at the universities of KwaZulu Natal, Fort Hare, Zululand and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. At the 14 other universities, the disruptions range from mild to serious and it also varies from campus to campus.
While academic activities at the universities of the North West and the Free State, for example, were interrupted, there were no disruptions at the Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein campuses.
The above information was gleaned from the response by the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, to a parliamentary question posed by the FF Plus.
Complaints that lead to the disruptions also vary from university to university. And yet problems with the financial aid scheme, NSFAS, as well as the exclusion of students based on poor academic performance and historic debt repeatedly come up.
The FF Plus is concerned that the universities that already struggled to get their academic year off to a good start will not be able to sustain their students' careers in the face of the additional challenge of the Covid-19 lockdown.
That means that the gap in the quality of academic activities between the country's top universities, where online academic support is already a general practice, and the disrupted universities will only increase.
The FF Plus is worried that numerous students do not realise what a privilege it is to study at a university and that they may now lose an entire academic year due to a natural disaster combined with the disruptions that they themselves caused.
While contact lessons in education may remain popular, these events may very well also provide momentum for the educational model of private higher education institutions, like Akademia. This institution offers degree courses in various fields, based on a specific culture and value system, with classes that are broadcasted to various educational centres across the country.
After 2020, university education will never be the same again. Universities, and students, must do serious introspection to determine how the consequences of the disruptions that occurred at the beginning of this year can be overcome and prevented in the future. Otherwise, South Africa will end up with yet another "lost generation" in the academic arena.
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