Compiled by: SUSANNA ANBU
The University of Pretoria (UP) sends out a notice informing all graduates of the cancellation of autumn graduations, mentioning that all qualifications will be awarded in absentia. This comes in light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement on 15 March that prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people.
The notice assures students that access to qualifications will be communicated during May and April, going on to stipulate that “the graduation office will courier your qualification to you at no cost at least 7 working days after the graduation date stipulated in your K02/KO3/K04/K05 letter” (own emphasis). PDBY received confirmation from graduates that the student portal allowed registration for the aforementioned service of free couriering of qualifications. A petition is created to counter the cancellation of graduations, imploring UP to consider postponing graduations as opposed to cancellations. Student Representative Council president, David Kabwa, confirms that a meeting was held to discuss the said matter. PDBY reported on this, in a 20 March article (Graduations at UP Cancelled).
An update regarding graduation ceremonies is sent out to UP graduates, acknowledging that both a virtual and physical graduation will be held.
The announcement acknowledges that “UP management has heard the concerns raised by students regarding the cancellation of graduation ceremonies”. Furthermore, the notice confirms that “in order to ensure that those who would have graduated at the Autumn graduation ceremonies can receive their certificates and academic records as soon as possible in order to proceed with their further studies and enjoyment of the rights and privileges associated with their qualification[s]”. The statement goes on to confirm that the university will proceed with both an online ceremony and a physical graduation ceremony to be held at a later stage when it is safe to do so in conjunction with national lockdown regulations.
The start of virtual graduation ceremonies. A notice posted on the university website states “students will receive their printed certificates during the ceremonies set to take place later this year. More information on obtaining printed copies, for those who need them sooner, will be communicated as soon as the national lockdown has been limited.”
Vice Chancellor of UP, Professor Tawana Kupe, states in his congratulatory message to graduates, that once the virus has been defeated, “UP will hold celebratory ceremonies where graduates can walk across the stage in the presence of family and friends, take photographs, and go home for further celebrations.”
Prof. Kupe echoes the sentiment that graduates will not be delayed by lack of access to their qualifications, promising that graduates will receive their certificates and qualifications.
In a virtual interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Prof. Kupe states, “[…] do the formal legal ceremony, so people can continue with their lives, they have their certificates, which we’ll get to them, their degrees and so on formally conferred by the Vice Chancellor”.
Similarly, in a virtual interview on eNCA, Prof. Kupe states, “[…] these [virtual graduations] are an important step in that, being conferred your degree is a formal legal thing that has to be done, so you might notice that some people often don’t miss their graduations or do not go to their graduations, they still get their degree conferred on them, then they can have their certificates and so on”. He further states that “what we did yesterday so that our graduates can continue with their lives, use their certificates and the qualifications, was to actually in a sense do that formal part”.
A notice is sent out to graduates requesting a submission of proof of payment to obtain a printed copy of their qualifications. The notice states that “the University is pleased to inform you that you are now able to request that your certificate, diploma or degree, as well as the official academic transcript and the official graduation programme be couriered to your preferred physical address at a reduced rate”.
Prices as per the different categories are stipulated in the notice. The reduced rate mentioned in the notice is only seen in the South Africa category of couriers, while the courier fee of the two other categories, namely, Africa and the rest of the world, remain unchanged. PDBY questioned the motivation behind the fee reduction pertaining only to the South Africa category and not the international categories, but did not receive a response regarding this.
PDBY receives a response from UP, stating that “[UP] apologises for the confusion that arose regarding the use of a courier service to deliver your qualification certificate. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and related unforseen financial costs, the University is currently unable to courier certificates to each and every student. Please accept our sincere apologies for this. In the meantime, we have negotiated a reduction of almost 50% in courier fees. In addition, we will announce plans on how you can collect your certificate in person soon.”
PDBY queried the almost 50% reduction claimed in the university’s statement, as the pricing difference (R300, as stated in the portal, to R203 as stated in the announcement issued on 27 July), indicated a reduction of 32.33% as opposed to almost.
PDBY receives a response from Rikus Delport, the Director of Institutional Advancement at UP, that the reduction is “R97 = 47.78% which is almost 50%”. PDBY countered the statement with calculations that the current reduction of R97, equates to 32.33% as opposed to 50%. PDBY received a response from Delport stating “that wasn’t the original price”, promising confirmation from the graduation office that this the case.
As of date of publication of the article, PDBY has not received a response about what the alleged original price is that led to the aforementioned reduction of 47.78%.
MA graduate Emma Paulet, who was to receive her degree during the graduation period, says “a brief search of the available courier options in South Africa shows that it should not cost this much to courier” the certificates, and that this decision “goes against UP’s initial promise”.
PDBY’s request for comment and queries: PDBY undertook an exhaustive effort to direct its queries to the relevant parties, and received a response from Delport. In response to emails to the Graduation, PDBY and Paulet have received automated responses that Paulet says “did not even attempt to answer [questions]”.
Concerns: The notice sent to graduates on 27 July, indicates that the mentioned courier fees will become applicable from 1 August. The notice further indicates that proof of payment of the said fee needs to be emailed to email@example.com . Upon emailing the proof of payment, graduates receive an automated response (the same one that PDBY received when attempting to reach out to the graduation centre), that states “the Graduation office requires at least 10-15 working days after receiving your proof of payment to process and courier your certificate to your preferred physical address”. Paulet shares the sentiment of many graduates that not all students have the “luxury or security of being able to wait” for their degrees, or for the university to permit collections. The university’s lack of “transparent” communication has also been problematic to graduates.