The Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) have disagreed with the implementation of the Virtual Online open day, advocating for the previous method of a physical Open Day to be used instead. On 24 April, the EFFSC released a statement saying, “We reject completely the notion that this is an attempt to engage more actively with stakeholders, and if truly this is something that management believes will help, it speaks volume[s] of people leading this institution.”
The EFFSC believes the Virtual Online open day will negatively affect disadvantaged prospective students who do not have access to the internet and technological devices. In a statement the EFFSC said “…the decision to no longer hold a general open day and moving towards a “virtual campus” system signals that this institution is adamant on finding new ways of excluding the poor mases [sic] from gaining access to the institution.”
“As a branch, together with students and various personnel who are against this new ‘Virtual campus’ system. We will put the necessary pressure so that this decision is overturned,” added the EFFSC.
Student Representative Council (SRC) Deputy Secretary Kutlwano Mositi said, “The SRC is not impressed no[r] satisfied with the university’s stance on making the open day virtual. We believe having a physical open day is very important for prospective students to get to admire the university and get to know more about [sic] by having physical interactions with Faculty Administration staff members and the to [sic] view the various residences which they may want to reside in. We are therefore of the view that should the university proceed with this open day, they should have both physical and virtual open days, this is to ensure that no student is affected, in terms of technological apparatuses. We also believe that since the university is a public institution, that entry to campus should not be reinforced to this level.”
Mositi told Perdeby, “We believe the poor and marginalized would be affected more, especially those who do not have access to technological apparatuses, but on a broader scale, all prospective students will be affected by this decision based on the response provided above.” He said that the SRC will follow all the necessary channels to get UP management to change their perspective on the implementation of the Virtual Online open day.
UP Spokesperson Rikus Delport told Perdeby, “With the virtual campus we will be offering more, not less and it is in line with world class university trends using digital technology to create greater access. Technology developments have made it possible to give students and their parents as well as other members from the UP community a far better interactive experience of all the University’s facilities, including lecture halls, residences and sport amenities. A more focused open day called #ChooseUP Day, where students who have been provisionally accepted, will be hosted to assist them with their specific needs and requirements. This approach ensures a more meaningful interaction with prospective students to prepare and equip them better for student life at UP.”
The university’s website states that the new method of a Virtual Online open day will assist the University to “engage effectively with its stakeholders” while providing an overview of the university’s academic offering to prospective students. Delport said the new method of hosting an open day will make the campus more accessible to a wider and diverse group of people who are interested in the programmes offered by UP. Delport added, “To provide information to all students, including postgraduates[sic]students and international students, and also to other members of the community who wish to know more about the university in terms of academic activities, research opportunities etc. Providing prospective students with a holistic experience and information so as to equip them to make a more informed decision based on the excellent facilities and programmes we offer.”
Faculty houses have also criticised the implementation of a Virtual Online Open day citing its disadvantages to prospective students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Law House vice-chairperson Caroline Letsoalo said, “Virtual open day does not take into account the resources discrepancies in the country. Although more and more people have access to smart phones and internet cafés. Data in South Africa is still expensive and this will hinder prospective students who come from poor background from have [sic] the full on virtual world experience.” Letsoalo said normal open days provided students from disadvantaged backgrounds with first-hand experience of University and campus life. “In general this can be seen as an exclusionary tool by the university to keep out poor students from entering the university space since the announcement of Fee Free Higher Education. This is a move to keep the university space exclusive for the rich,” she added.
Commercii (EMS faculty house) Chairperson Remofilwe Dikoma said, “Most of the time you find that all students from rural areas who come to the UP Open day find out everything for the first time only on that day. Dikoma said the Faculty of EMS completely disagrees with the notion of a virtual open day as it limits students from disadvantaged families and rural areas. When asked about mechanisms the Faculty of EMS has in place to assist prospective students in navigating their way around the virtual online open day system, Dikoma said, “The EMS Faculty has created short clips of everything and anything in the Faculty, from an explanation of the various degrees and it’s outcome to the student life in the Faculty. Furthermore, we are in the process of sending out brochures and pamphlets about the Faculty to various high schools in the country. That way we reach as many students as possible.” She added, “Definitely the number of applications will be threatened due to not many students having access to the Virtual Open Day and Applying. Furthermore, the racial intake of the university will be affected because the struggling black child couldn’t view the open day or apply at the university due to not having internet or having money to go to a [sic] Internet café. Students with no access will be greatly affected and it will lead to them not being able to come study at the university.”
House Humanities chairperson David Kabwa has rejected the implementation of the Virtual online open day. Kabwa said “My stance on the Virtual Open Day is that it is exclusionary towards disadvantaged prospective students. For students to participate, they would need a smart device and an internet connection. I personally do not believe that the Virtual Open Day is a good idea in theory. I am yet to see how it will operate”.
Kabwa added “It may result in certain marginalised groups of prospective students being unable to participate in the Open Day which may result in a decline in the number of students that become students in the future”.
Delport noted,“The virtual campus will be user friendly and easily accessible from students’ homes and computers at community and school libraries. Prospective students who have any difficulties accessing the tour will be assisted by a call centre. There will also be a text only content version option for those students who have data access constraints. In addition to the virtual campus and to support more remote schools, the different UP faculties, including deans and as well as staff from the Student Recruitment division are regularly visiting rural schools to provide prospective students with as much information about the university as possible and to assist them with the application process. This includes assisting pupils with completing their application forms as well as applying for financial aid through NSFAS.” He added, “The cost for creating the virtual campus is far less than that for the continued hosting of an open day on campus, which benefits a few students.
Illustration: Zanna Linde