Student leaders are saying first year tertiary students would battle to come to terms with online learning.
Student leaders are saying first year tertiary students would battle to come to terms with online learning.

Call for universities to allow first-year students on campuses

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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Durban - STUDENT leaders from KwaZulu-Natal tertiary institutions have called for universities to allow first-year students access to campuses for registration and lectures, saying they would battle to come to terms with online learning.

The leadership said the first years were facing a huge challenge when it came to registration, and they feared that the students would not be able to adapt to the online teaching and learning environment. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, on-campus registration has been halted, with students being advised to register online.

Zabelo Ntuli, Durban University of Technology Student Representative Council (SRC) member, said they had received a number of complaints from first-year students on their Facebook page. “Registration is an issue and most (students) can’t manoeuvre around the system. We believe that if they come to campus, everything will be easy. If they struggle with just registration, it is clear that they won’t be able to study online,” he said.

“We are busy at this stage writing to the university to request that they allow students to come to campus. In this regard, we are not only focusing on the first years, but we want all students to return to campus,” said Ntuli.

University of KwaZulu-Natal SRC president Siyabonga Nkambako said they believed that “no first-year student should study at home”. Nkambako said they had already communicated with the institution, urging them to allow students – especially first-years – to access the university.

“We come from different environments and some have never been exposed to studying on their own, let alone using a computer. We believe that students are being thrown in the deep end to drown. This is just a set-up for failure,” he said.

SA Union of Students spokesperson Thabo Shingange said they had received complaints from SRCs regarding the challenges faced by first-year students. Shingange said the union’s leadership would be meeting soon to plot a way forward regarding the return of students to campuses.

Universities South Africa (USaf), the umbrella body for higher education institutions, said it was concerned about how first-year students would adapt to the new way of learning. USaf chief executive officer Professor Ahmed Bawa said most universities were committing themselves to allowing as many first-year students to access the campuses as possible.

“This is to give them the experience of being on campus and to learn how to use all the teaching and learning platforms. The issue of first-year students is concerning and there is fear that they might struggle, which might affect their academic performance.”

Bawa said each university would determine how many students would be allowed to return and when.

Mangosuthu University of Technology spokesperson Bheki Hlophe said after registration, new students would be trained on digital literacy to expose them to online learning.

Alan Khan, DUT senior director of corporate affairs, said the university would be guided by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s pronouncement on the matter. “The safety of our students and staff is vital, and we await further guidance from Minister Blade Nzimande,” said Khan.

UKZN’s acting Executive Director in Corporate Relations Normah Zondo said the university would not be able to return to large-scale, face-to-face teaching at this stage. As a result, Zondo said, the institution would continue with online teaching and learning for the first semester of 2021. Zondo said this decision would be reviewed as the situation regarding the pandemic unfolded and in line with government pronouncements and regulations.

“Approximately one-third of students will return to campus. This process will be guided by the already established principles for a phased-in return and in keeping with the necessary Covid-19 health and safety requirements,” she said. The provision of data to students would continue and NSFAS-funded students would be provided with laptops as part of their funding package.

Zondo said first-time entry students who required assistance with remote online registration and online teaching and learning would be assisted.

“Those who have paid registration fees or received confirmed funding decisions will be contacted ... to complete their registration telephonically. Firstyears will also be assisted on campus from 22 March to 1 April,” she added.

The Mercury

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