(Published - 8 May 2020)
Dear Campus Community
The implementation of the flexible learning and teaching plan for our academic programme has been progressing steadily – albeit in different shapes and forms across our faculties.
Academics have been working very hard to identify students who are still inactive on our Ikamva Learning Management System. We will be reaching out to those students in different ways, one of which will be to provide data to 3 000 students we have identified. They will then be able to access the Ikamva learning management system, which is zero-rated, and will be able to communicate with the University.
As far as our Academic Planning is concerned, we have devised a flexible return to campus with a phased-in approach to learning. This will include the catch-up period for students that will be in alignment with a revised Academic Calendar. These documents will serve at next week’s Senate Academic Planning meeting as well as the Senate Executive Committee for approval. These committees comprise various stakeholders who are representative of the Faculties and also our students.
We have noted the feedback on various communication platforms regarding the issue of the provision of laptops to support remote learning and teaching access. We have listened to you and have reconsidered the position. But it is important to clarify key aspects that have given rise to some misunderstandings.
We have submitted a resource request to the Department of Higher Education and Training for their consideration. We are hopeful that by the end of next week we will have some indication from the Department as to the extent that they will be able to assist us to re-prioritise grant funding towards laptop provision, among other relief measures for students.
Based on the above consideration, the Executive Management Committee has also agreed on a proportional allocation of funds approach that is reliant on the funds raised by the #NoStudentWillBeLeftBehind appeal. Several departments and units are also redirecting unspent budgets. All of these measures will contribute to the reduction of the cost of the laptop package to students.
The costs of the laptop package deal are broken down as follows: laptop R4 449.00; delivery R149; 2-year fetch and return warranty of R249; LTE Modem of R700; and, VAT of R832.05. The total price is R6 379,05. These prices are fixed, with the only exception being the modem that is subject to currency exchange fluctuations. This is why a previous communication spoke of a cost not exceeding R7 000. The laptop is preloaded with a 30-day trial version of Microsoft Office. Once the trial expires, the student can use Microsoft Office 365 – available free to our students.
The University has about R21-million in the #NoStudentWillBeLeftBehind fund. About R2-million of this fund was donated by individuals, NGOs and corporates. The UWC Foundation Trust – a University entity – has provided R5-million. The balance of R14-million represents funds redirected from the University’s annual budget. A significant portion of these funds has already been spent on data provision for about 4 000 of our students.
The funds raised by the #NoStudentWillBeLeftBehind appeal will be spread across all students who take up the device offer. Fundraising efforts continue, and if more funds are raised, devices will eventually cost less and such reductions will be offset against individual student accounts.
The cost of the laptop is linked to sourcing devices that are reliable, and this is important because many students are not close to service centres, should they experience problems with their laptops. There will be transparency about the actual cost of devices, and in making this intervention the University seeks to balance reliability and affordability.
I wish to underscore the fact that this is unfamiliar territory for the higher education sector and our approaches to the situation will differ based on our respective contexts. It is for this reason that we will constantly review UWC’s practices based on our unique circumstances. Our solutions are also based on what UWC, as a historically disadvantaged institution, is able to afford.
During lockdown, it has been complicated to source the number of laptops required. A single unit may be differently priced on an e-commerce website, but that doesn’t mean that e-commerce sites selling similar devices have sufficient stock in the numbers that are required. An e-commerce purchase is also a transaction where you would have to pay upfront.
The COVID-19 lockdown, and South Africa being downgraded by ratings agencies, have also affected the Rand and the currency exchange and have impacted UWC’s negotiations with the selected service provider. Because of the urgency to ensure that the flexible learning and teaching programme can continue with the necessary infrastructure, UWC was fortunate to be able to source a service provider that is able to supply stock of a single packaged deal with a 2-year-warranty.
UWC has not yet purchased any devices. The service provider is keeping the stock in reserve for UWC and will operate on an order-by-order basis. Devices will be delivered directly to students’ homes.
The University will have to clarify whether NSFAS will make a further contribution to NSFAS-funded students for a device. In this case, the fundraising will not cover NSFAS students who will be liable for the full cost of the laptop package deal.
The DVC: Student Development and Support is drawing up criteria for students most in need, and these will determine the proportional allocation to be used to offset the cost of the laptop. These details will be sent in a separate communication from her office.
Laptops for postgraduate students, which make up a smaller proportion of our students, will be covered by separating fundraising. Details of this provision will be communicated by the DVC: Research and Innovation in a separate communication.
I know that people are really trying to learn and teach under trying circumstances. I am grateful for the UWC community’s resilience. It is something we have in bucketloads. This morning, the Mail & Guardian reported on yet another innovation UWC has contributed to the fight against COVID-19. You can read about it here.
I urge all of our students and staff to keep safe, and appeal to students in particular to make use of the free student counselling number 0800 222 333 available to them 24/7. Please continue to heed the safety measures previously communicated. We will keep you updated as and when things change on campus.
Prof Vivienne Lawack
Acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor