The covid-19 pandemic has not prevented the faculty of commerce, law and management, and the faculty of health sciences from commencing classes in January as in previous years.

The Wits University faculty of health sciences in Parktown was full of life on February 18, as students moved between practicals and labs, while others socialised outside the campus lawns during the lunch hour.

This hive of activity was a big contrast to the almost deserted main campus in Braamfontein where classes for the faculties of engineering and the built environment, science and humanities are set to commence only on March 8.

The 2021 academic calendar is starting later than usual for undergraduates because matric results are only going to be released on February 23. Only then can South African universities be able to register first years.

Classes at the faculty of health sciences resumed on January 8, except for first-year students. The first-year calendar for the faculty has always aligned with the rest of the university.

The other years of study do not follow the rest of the university because, “In order to qualify in certain professional programmes (MBBCh, nursing, physiotherapy, clinical associates, dentistry, occupational therapy and pharmacy) students have to satisfy certain professional requirements, that include the length of clinical training and the completion of clinical hours, which exceed the standard academic year,” the faculty’s registrar, Sandra Benn, told Wits Vuvuzela.

“Our programmes were impacted by covid-19 just like other faculties in 2020.  [The faculty] committed to [2021] final-year students that we would do everything within our power to ensure that they finished the year timeously so that they could start their internships and community service on time,” Benn continued.

A week after the health sciences faculty, on January 16, classes commenced for the faculty of commerce, law and management at the Wits Business School (WBS) and the Wits School of Governance (WSG).

According to WBS communications manager Jane Balnaves, “The academic programmes at the Wits Business School are intensive, and require a large volume of curriculum material to be worked through over a short period of time. As a result, Wits Business School, like most business schools traditionally, starts their academic programmes early each year.”

The WBS mainly caters for the postgraduate market, most of whom have been in the working world for a number of years. The postgraduate diploma in management (PDM) is the only programme that caters for people without work experience, who are fresh out of undergraduate studies.

“The PDM application process takes into account applications based on all academic results to date, with applicants given provisional offers onto the programme pending their final marks. In addition, the PDM usually starts in mid-January, but this year, it was pushed back to [February 8] to accommodate those Wits students starting later due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Balnaves told Wits Vuvuzela.

However, for all faculties, arrangements have been made for students whose supplementary and deferred exam results were released between February 10 and 12, and for students awaiting outcomes from the Wits Re-admissions Committees (WRC) meetings. Final outcomes from the WRC will be released on March 1.

According to the health faculty’s Benn, “Online registrations for all students readmitted by the WRC will be open on the day following the WRC outcomes.”

The two faculties are being compliant with current lockdown regulations. In order to accommodate all their students while adhering to covid-19 protocols, “[WSG] modules are being taught online and will continue in that way until there is a return to normal teaching and learning regarding covid-19,” said Professor Ivor Sarakinsky, the academic director.

Fourth-year medicine student, Tracy Libidike (21), told Wits Vuvuzela that although she was pleased that classes have resumed, being on campus before everyone else returned did not feel usual.

“I am happy to be back because this means I can hopefully finish the year on time, unlike last year whereby I finished late. Even though being back on campus feels good, it does get lonely being back before everyone else,” Libidike said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Students at the faculty of health sciences during a lunch break. Photo: Khuleko Siwele