JAMEO CALVERT AND SUSANNA ANBU
UP management drafted a response to the Student Representative Council’s (SRC) concerns regarding the announcement of online completion of the academic semester. A letter was submitted by the SRC to management on 9 April following numerous concerns raised by students. These concerns included tuition fees, accommodation fees, meal fees, access to data and devices, academic matters, and international students. Prof Themba Mosia, Vice Principal: Student Life responded in a letter addressed to the SRC by highlighting some of the plans to resolve the various concerns raised.
The letter acknowledges the uncertainty around financial matters and states that the adjustment of fees will be dependent on whether the academic year will be lost due to the national lockdown. Prof Mosia says UP could only provide definitive answers once all the complexities of the current situation has been assessed but that the University is determined to complete the academic year even if “we may have to forfeit the holiday periods, so that we make up for what could be the lost academic time”.
Prof Mosia states that time lost due to the lockdown will be considered when residences and leased accommodations are opened again. If necessary, residences and leased accommodation will stay open until the end of the year or even January 2021.
The letter stated that all NSFAS students in residences private accommodation, or at home, will receive their meal allowances of R1500 during the month of April.
Internet enabled devices
In response to the lack of accessibility to internet enabled devices, Prof Mosia reminded the SRC that the university is currently in the process of procuring devices that are strictly meant for students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and not those who could afford it. Prof Mosia called for discipline amongst students to ensure that the devices made their way to students who really needed them. Furthermore, it was stated that strong disciplinary action will be taken against students who procure the devices via corrupt means. The devices will be provided on a loan basis and will be returned at the appropriate time so other students could also benefit as the need arises.
It was confirmed that engagements with telecommunications companies had been successful in enabling the UP portal web address to be 0 rated. This feature is to be fully functional after the Easter weekend. MTN and Cell C are amongst the service providers that have agreed to 0 rate fees with responses from Telkom and Vodacom still pending. Students should use their portal credentials at https://connect.up.ac.za.
In relation to degrees that have practical components that form an integral part of the qualifications, it was stated that all activities related to the practical work would be undertaken as normal. These include practicals, work integrated learning, laboratories, and patient and animal care.
The letter stated that UP did not anticipate problems with integrating international students as some were either currently placed in residences, or with relatives and friends. “There will be no differential treatment of students based on their places of origin. They are all UP students”, says Prof Mosia.
SRC Secretary, Ryan Haines, told PDBY that “unfortunately, the SRC was not included in the decision to adopt an online approach to teaching and learning”. Director of Institutional Advancement at UP. Rikus Delport, said that “the success of their students is their priority and to this end and in these uncertain and fluid times, we consult with all UP community representatives, including the SRC, where necessary and appropriate.” Delport added that members of the UP executive are in regular contact with the SRC and are working closely with them on issues they raise.
Haines believes an online system adversely affects all students, some more than others. He said that it is important to note that any decisions made by universities in response to the Covid-19 virus is informed by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology and its’ directives and that “the department has deployed a task team to deliberate possible plausible measures for implementation during this time”. He added that “if this task team resolves that a complete online approach is simply not feasible, it will most probably have to overrule the university’s decision in this regard.”
According to Haines, “the South African Union of Students do not agree with a complete online approach”, he added that “they have submitted their grievances to the department and we [they] all await a response.”
Prof Mosia acknowledged that many students are anxious about what is going to happen to their studies and whether they will graduate on time. Students were assured that the university management is committed to ensure that no student is left behind or disadvantaged due to online learning measures put in place in response to the national lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students are encouraged to make use of the virtual counselling services offered by UP. The UP Careline is available 24/7 to assist students and staff at 0800-747-747 or via SMS on 31393. The Student Counselling Services are available during office hours on 012-420 2333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The UP 24-hour Crisis line is 0800 006 428.
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