Covid boosts Maties to break own academic record

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jun 6, 2021

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STELLENBOSCH University (SU) has broken its own record for the most qualifications awarded at the institution in an academic year.

The latest figures show that Maties conferred 9 234 degrees, certificates and diplomas in 2020 – up from the previous record of 9 133 set in 2019, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

When contact tuition was suspended on university campuses nationwide in March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19, SU responded by pivoting to emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment (ERTLA), said SU rector and vice-chancellor Wim de Villiers.

“This is a remarkable achievement, considering the difficulties caused by the pandemic...The crisis pressed the fast-forward button on our plans to slowly but surely include more online and hybrid elements in our learning and teaching offering. What we had been planning to do over five years, we had to get done in five weeks.

“It was a tremendous team effort. Everyone pulled their weight – from lecturers who had to repackage their courses, and students who had to get used to exclusively online class attendance and assessments, to overloaded ICT systems that had to be upgraded in record time,” said Prof De Villiers.

The university had procured more than 1 700 laptops, which were made available on a loan basis to students who needed them.

“Considering we were in a hard lockdown, we obtained special permission for courier services to deliver the laptops to addresses across the country. The university provided mobile data to students to ensure they would have access to the internet. And we created a dedicated support site to help students with various aspects of the new, online mode of learning and teaching,” said De Villiers.

All of this paid off when the university held a first set of graduation ceremonies for the academic year in December 2020, and a second set in March/April 2021. (Qualifications awarded at the March/April Graduations Ceremonies count towards the 2020 academic year.) While, initially, the number of qualifications awarded was slightly less than in 2019, it became apparent that some master's and doctoral students who had been on a trajectory to graduate just did not manage to complete their research in time because of the impact of Covid-19. They could, for instance, not do field research during the stricter levels of lockdown.

A dedicated support site was created to assist lecturers with the switch to ERTLA, and daily webinars were well attended.

“Congratulations to everyone concerned. These achievements speak volumes for SU's ability to be agile in the face of adversity, as well as for the can-do attitude of our staff and students,” De Villiers said.

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