UP support programmes ensure no student is left behind during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted on May 29, 2020

In an effort to continue supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic, various faculties and units at the University of Pretoria (UP) have rolled out projects and initiatives to make this difficult period more manageable for our student body.  

At the beginning of April, UP’s senior management launched the UP Solidarity Fund to assist students who do not have access to internet-enabled devices. “Our faculties contributed more than R3 million to the fund, and senior management supplemented this with sufficient funds to allow for the purchase of about 3 000 laptops for students in dire need of internet-enabled devices,” says Professor Norman Duncan, Vice-Principal: Academic.

Since the beginning of April, UP has dispatched over 1 500 devices to students around the country and are currently screening additional applications for laptops. The devices are on loan to students, with the intention that they will be provided to other students in need in future. UP is also looking to introduce a telephonic tutoring and academic advising service to assist students who have not been able to continue with their studies online due to connectivity issues.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said UP would continue its efforts to ensure that no student is left behind. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created large-scale disruptions to our everyday lives. While we recognise how challenging it is, it is important that we remain agile and work together to save the academic year. We are committed to finding innovative solutions to ensure that no student, regardless of their financial position, is left behind.”

As for fees, the payment deadlines for student accounts have been extended by two months, to June and September, and arrangements are being made for those who have been financially affected by the virus and lockdown.

Many students were also unable to return home during lockdown, and the Department of Residence Affairs and Accommodation has been supplying 236 of them with meal allowances. “These students have and will receive their meal allowances in their bank accounts on a month-to-month basis as opposed to the residence meal cards,” says Michelle Viljoen, Executive Operations Manager, Office of the Vice-Principal: Student Life UP. “The huge delivery of food toiletries and fruit recently received from the local branch of the Union of Jewish Women has also been distributed to these students.”

Internet data is a significant cost for students; the university also addressed this. “UP’s students and staff are able to access UP-related websites for free for the remainder of the first semester via a new platform created to facilitate online learning in the midst of COVID-19,” explains the director of UP’s ITS unit, Xolani Hadebe. “Called UP Connect, the platform was specially designed to allow staff and students access to all UP-related content as well as the university’s digital systems without incurring any data charges.

To further help students, the University has also offered students a 20GB 30-day data bundle to help them continue the semester online.

The pandemic and lockdown have created a tremendous amount of stress for everyone in the country, and the university is keenly aware of its impact on students. That is why UP has continued to provide psychological and medical support to students. Dr Nontembeko Bila of the Department of Social Work and Criminology advises that we must be sensitive to the needs of those living with the dual burden of COVID-19 and mental illness. “The COVID-19 pandemic poses an urgent threat to both the physical welfare of individuals and the collective economic health of our communities. But there is also a looming mental health crisis just waiting to erupt.”

 

Make your mark

The UP Solidarity Fund is asking staff, alumni as well as companies for support. To make a donation in your personal capacity, click here and use “Solidarity Fund” as your reference.

 

UP experts have continued to provide advice on maintaining your well-being during lockdown:

Exercising during lockdown

Why it’s necessary to get the flu vaccine

Maintaining psychological well-being

- Author Xolani Mathibela
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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