We find ourselves in significantly challenging and difficult times: a constantly changing world which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. With these uncertain circumstances we all need to rapidly adapt to change. Like many other organisations, SAICA finds itself in the position of having to make some very difficult decisions, particularly about the upcoming SAICA professional examinations.
This communication seeks to provide clarity and set out the changes that have been approved by the SAICA Initial Professional Development (IPD) Committee in relation to all professional exams (ITC and APC) to be written during 2020 and 2021.
With the June ITC scheduled to take place on 24 and 25 June 2020, we feel it is only fair to provide candidates who are preparing for this exam with sufficient warning of changes to these dates. It is also important to note that any changes to the June 2020 ITC sitting will have a knock on effect on the timing of the subsequent exams. Given the level of uncertainty prevalent, the fact that we have not yet seen the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and lessons from countries who are ahead of us in the cycle of the pandemic, SAICA has adopted an 18-month view for its exams. We have done this in order to take into account the sheer effort and quantum of the work that will need to happen to re-start operations post the nationwide lockdown period as well as attempting to limit the knock-on effects these changes will have on our exam candidates.
SAICA has to date grappled with determining the best possible way forward. When the President clarified the different levels of lockdown for the country, SAICA was able to begin objectively evaluating and weighing up options. With the President clarifying the different lockdown levels for South Africa (as based on scientific facts), SAICA is now in a position to evaluate the best possible way forward for the ITC and APC. The President has set out five levels that will be applied on a national level as well as on separate levels for each province, district and metro in the country to ensure that government’s response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible. The National Coronavirus Command Council is expected to determine the alert level based on an assessment of the various regional infection rates and the capacity of South Africa’s health system to provide care to those who need it.
Further, the Minister of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Minister of Basic Education outlined their plans for the sector last week, and this has enabled SAICA to make reasonable predictions on the impact Covid-19 will have on the professional exams.
It is Important to note:
- We have all been, and will continue to be, impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This unfortunately means that stakeholders may be disappointed and upset about the decisions SAICA and its mandated IPD Committee have made. We understand this and sympathise with the disruption this may cause to each and every one of you.
- There is no doubt that everyone will have their own diverse views (based on their perspective or vested interest) however, the IPD committee considered the bigger picture for all exam candidates before coming to any decisions. This included looking at a number of different alternatives before deciding on our current position going forward.
- SAICA’s IPD Committee can only make a decision based on what is known today – our plans may need to change as time passes and the situation evolves. We are, therefore, committed to being agile and adaptable in our approach to the professional exams. Having said that, we have made some assumptions based on what we know to be likely.
- No matter what decision we take, there will be unintended consequences which, unfortunately, we will identify and try to mitigate as these present themselves.
What is known:
- Due to regulations around conference venues and social distancing, SAICA is unable to secure exam venues for the June 2020 exam on the set dates.
- University students are not going back to campus (physically) in May. (Instead, May will be used for deep clean and preparation of universities.) No formal dates have been set for return dates and students will return in batches. Some universities are not planning to return to campus before September.
- The DHET has indicated that there is no certainty as to when students can return to campus and therefore there is no certainty as to when the academic year might end for undergraduate students. Reference has been made to extending the academic year to as late as April 2021. There is a push to complete the postgraduate programme exams by the end of 2020, however this will not be possible at all universities given the significant challenges many students face.
- Some universities have worked hard to continue preparing their students, while others have been severely constrained by their resources and have been unable to do anything as yet until the correct resources have been put in place. There are a number of students who have no access to data or network coverage and have very unsuitable study environments. The DHET Minister has made it clear that no student will be left behind, which means putting the right resources in place and extending the academic year so the correct academic support can be provided.
- Very little formal testing (none in some cases) has taken place at the universities to date (i.e. formal tests and traditional exams).
- Universities are unable to undertake formal venue based testing (specifically summative assessments) until students are physically allowed back on campus.
- All students will be eligible to write year end exams irrespective of whether they meet the universities requirements to enter the exam or not. (The implication of this is that fewer students will pass first time and many will have to write supplementary examinations which will take place even later in the year.)
- Given the nature of both the ITC and the APC, SAICA is only able to write venue based exams as verification of the candidate and their response is required.
What is likely (reasonable assumptions):
- Students are only likely to start going back (and not all at once) once a lower stage is announced. This will be different for every university as each province may change levels at different times and thus, some universities may be in a position to go back earlier than others.
- The peak of the spread of Covid-19 is likely to be September (this as per Minister of Health) and the physical return to campuses is unlikely before then. This means that formal venue based assessments for postgraduate students are unlikely to be written before then.
- The start of the 2021 academic year will also be later (due to the late end date which could be up to April 2021 and due to the Matric exams being shifted to no earlier than November / December 2020). This will have an impact on the 2021 start date of the PGDA (and other programmes).
- As conference centres are currently not able to open at all (under any of the levels), SAICA realistically will only be able to hire exam venues from November 2020.
Other factors that need to be taken into account:
- Running an examination of this size and nature requires significant planning and exam preparation spans over a number of months. Planning includes securing suitable venues, contracting with invigilators, and after writing the exam, marking and adjudication needs to take place before exam results can be released.
- Resources available to ensure the security of the examination scripts, the robustness of the marking process, implementation of social distancing and safety protocols are restrictive and there is no feasible way to ensure this can be implemented in a shorter period of time.
- It is, therefore, only realistically feasible to run one exam at a time.
SAICA’s IPD Committee has approved changes to exam dates based on the following:
- Being as fair as possible to all exam candidates.
- Preserving the order of the exams (ITC second sitting, then APC before the 2020 sittings of ITC and so on) so that candidates can complete their qualification journey.
- Preserving the current opportunities for assessment (i.e. a second sitting of the ITC): We feel that it is important that the June 2020 candidates be given an opportunity to sit their exam in 2020. This is because of currency of knowledge as well as the emotional impact this has on students who were expecting to re-write the ITC in two months’ time.
- This will also allow us to run an examination with the smallest expected number of candidates so as to test what is practical and feasible in terms of any social distancing measures that may have to be put in place.
- APC candidates will be given an opportunity to gain a few months of further practical experience which will address concerns raised by some training officers about practical experience opportunities lost during the lockdown.
- All universities must at least have a cohort of students who are eligible to write the ITC as their first attempt at the same time. As there is uncertainty when all universities will have a cohort ready to write the ITC as first-timers, it is prudent to delay the January 2021 ITC sitting. It is hard to justify reasons for allowing some candidates to write and not others based on the university that they would have studied at given that, in all likelihood, this is driven by socio-economic factors.
- UNISA supplementary students, who historically may only have had the June sitting as their first attempt, will likely be able to write with other first time candidates based on the revised dates.
The revised and approved dates are set out as follows:
|Exam name||Current exam date as published||New exam date as approved by SAICA’s IPD Committee||Proposed exam results release date|
|ITC June 2020
|24 & 25 June 2020||18 & 19 November 2020||26 February 2021|
|APC November 2020||18 November 2020||17 February 2021||23 April 2021|
|ITC January 2021
|27 & 28 January 2021||10 & 11 March
14 & 15 April 2021
(These dates are provisional – see **NOTE 1** below)
|18 June 2021|
|ITC June 2021
|ITC 23 & 24 June 2021||1 & 2 September 2021||5 November 2021|
|APC November 2021||APC 17 November 2021||1 December 2021||As per normal Mid-February 2022|
|ITC January 2021
|ITC 26 & 27 January 2022||No change has been discussed as yet and this will be reviewed on a regular basis and may change depending on how circumstances change||Depends when exam is written|
**NOTE 1**: Regarding the provisional dates for ITC January 2021 deferral
Given the extent of the uncertainty around the 2020 academic calendar at universities (exam and supplementary exam dates), SAICA has agreed to consult further with academics and training officers on the impact of the change in date. Two dates, which are provisional, are provided in order to assist universities with their planning. The final decision on the date will, therefore, not be provided at this stage, however, we hope to stick to one of the two dates provided.
|Caution: While the above revised dates have been based on what is known today, it is SAICA’s intention to stick to the dates provided unless absolutely necessary. As more clarity is provided or if circumstances change (i.e. levels of lockdown, etc.), we may be forced to change the dates provided. The situation will be reviewed regularly and communication sent as soon as any updates are available.|
We are on this journey together and SAICA will make every effort to ensure that the changes made resulting from by the Covid-19 pandemic cause as little disruption as possible. Every reasonable effort will be made to support candidates during these challenging times.
Should you have any comment on the proposed changes kindly communicate this to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document will also be posted shortly on the SAICA website.
Your understanding of the unique circumstances that have caused these changes as well as well as the necessity for the proposed changes is highly appreciated.
Senior Executive: Professional Development