University of Pretoria vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe addressed the National Press Club.
University of Pretoria vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe addressed the National Press Club.

Pretoria University weathered the Covid-19 storm

Time of article published Nov 20, 2020

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University of Pretoria vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe addressed the National Press Club.

UNIVERSITY of Pretoria (UP) vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe believes the university has done well to cope with the impact of Covid-19 this year and that some students should return better results due to new teaching and learning methods.

He said the hybrid and blended teaching and learning approach which predated the pandemic and lockdown, helped the university weather the storm, and would be continued in the new academic year, with some courses having contact classes, some online classes and some with a mixture of both.

Prof Kupe was speaking at the National Press Club networking event hosted by the University at the UP-Javett Art Centre on Tuesday.

While UP had taken its classes online during lockdown when students could not access the campus, it was not the intention for the university – a residential and contact university – to go entirely this route.

But it was also not the plan to go back to 100% of contact classes: rather the philosophy was for “something in the middle”, with almost all undergraduate modules to have an online element.

Even before Covid-19, teaching and learning had been in transition because of digital transformation, Prof Kupe said, and the move to blended teaching and learning took a step forward as campuses were barricaded during the Fees Must Fall protests of 2015 with academics teaching online.

But, he stressed the importance for a contact and residential university like Pretoria of interaction and collaboration with students, noting university was about more than a lecturer standing in front of the class which took notes.

He said attention would be paid to which courses and classes were best suited for which type of teaching method, as well as to examinations for online courses which, he said, had to be designed differently.

Explaining why he believes some students would do better despite the disruptions of 2020, he said that a recorded lecture could be returned to, and this assisted in deepening understanding.

Even before this year, the university found that the most engaged students online outperformed others and that online learning helped prepare students for the future.

Research did take a knock during lockdown, but Prof Kupe said the full extent could only be determined later when one could compare output this year to previous years.

UP is recognised for its research, with the highest percentage (10.9%) of the total research output units of South African universities, 15 A-rated researchers and 90 young researchers recognised by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The university attracts students from across the country and beyond and is one of the largest producers of graduates in fields including engineering, financial sciences and health services as well as all the veterinarian graduates.

Prof Kupe said a concern about lockdown had been the impact on students and parents, some of whom lost jobs or income and could not afford to pay their fees, as well as the reduction in government subsidies. – Val Boje

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