The University of Pretoria (UP), through its Department of Comprehensive Online Education Services (COES), is targeting October 2019 to pilot a new series of fully online academic courses through a partnership with Higher Ed Partners - Africa (HEP Africa).
In a recent briefing to the UP Executive, Professor Norman Duncan, Vice-Principal: Academic, whose office heads this project, said COES is being led by Professor Linda van Ryneveld, a Professor originally from the Faculty of Education. He explained that one of the reasons for UP offering online programmes is that the University wishes to broaden the pool from which it recruits its students.
Prof Duncan said: “We also need to pay attention to growing the UP footprint and extending the reach of the UP brand beyond South Africa.” The UP Executive is “excited about the new route we are taking. The additional route of online provision is important for sustainability.”
Prof Van Ryneveld emphasised that the quality of and recognition for the fully online qualifications would be on a par with what UP is currently offering in the traditional face-to-face mode of delivery. The obvious benefit with the upcoming, fully online study option is that students would not be required to attend lectures on campus and would be able to conduct their studies online anywhere in the world. Prof Van Ryneveld also emphasised that having this online study facility would “improve our international visibility and brand as it opens up the scope for UP’s reach and access”.
With universities constantly facing challenges and restrictions on how many students they can accommodate on campus, “the fully online study options assist to eliminate this. There will be no additional strain on our current facilities and physical environment, and the initiative is also in line with our current vision for 2025, as it enhances our goal to make education more accessible to a broader range of students,” Prof Van Ryneveld added.
She said the following four programmes are currently being developed for online delivery:
• MEd in Leadership and Management, Faculty of Education
• Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management , Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences
• Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences
• Postgraduate Diploma in Nursing Education, Faculty of Health Sciences
Since all of UP’s academic programmes are accredited by the Council for Higher Education (CHE), the same rigorous process applies to the online programmes. “UP has a long lead time to develop and pilot these online programmes while it awaits CHE accreditation,” Prof Van Ryneveld said. It is foreseen that the first fully online accredited programmes will go live in the second semester of 2020, but that individual modules will be offered as fully online short courses from October 2019.
Prof Van Ryneveld explained that this is an entirely new mode of teaching. “Students in a traditional setting register once a year for four or five modules that they then take concurrently. In the online model, we will take in new students every eight weeks, with six intakes a year. Students will enrol for a single module at a time and only pay for the module that they are busy with. Students will be assessed continuously and at the end of the eight weeks, they complete the module in its entirety before paying for and moving on to the next one.”
She explained that HEP Africa has the technical and professional expertise to recruit and retain online students. For example, if a student has not logged into ClickUP for a few days, “the contact centre will follow up with the student to check if he/she needs support”.
UP has undertaken multiple internal projects to ensure that all the support structures are adapted to embrace the offering of fully online programmes with many starting dates throughout the year. System changes in PeopleSoft and Blackboard are being developed as the University prepares for this new mode of delivery.
Brian Naicker, Managing Director of HEP Africa, said the intention is not to take over face-to-face academic offerings, nor to cannibalise what UP offers, but to rather open space for learning. HEP Africa assists the University with programme-level planning, instructional design and module conversion, by providing professional support for academic staff in online teaching and learning methodologies.
He said students enrolled in fully online programmes select this modality because they tend to be working adults seeking the flexibility provided by online accelerated programmes. “Research has shown that online students are typically older than their on-campus peers, work full time, often have family obligations and therefore have limited time to attend classes on campus. So it is unlikely that students choosing an online programme would be able to enrol and attend an on-campus programme.”