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Fort Hare students battle resource constraints in race to finish academic year

Students at the university have accuse management of not offering enough support since the beginning of the lockdown.

One of the entrances to the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Facebook

JOHANNESBURG - With the relaxation of lockdown regulations and the return of more services, public universities will this week continue to open in phases in line with COVID-19 management plans.

Over the past two weeks, institutions of higher learning have been welcoming more students back on campus to resume on-site academic programmes.

In August, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande expressed concerns about some universities’ ability to manage the risks based on their operational plans.

They were placed in low-, medium- and high-risk categories.

The University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape is one of six which were deemed high risk and students there have been affected by severe resource constraints.

Students at the university accuse management of not offering enough support since the beginning of the lockdown.

And they’re anxious, as Chulumanco Jantjies explained.

“We only just received laptops recently, including data and online learning also just started. It’s been very hectic. I feel we did not receive any support at all.”

The university had already started the year on a bad footing, with student protests delaying the start of the academic programme. The lockdown was a double blow.

“We received 10 gigs and per lesson, one used 500 megabytes. Now imagine if you have two classes a day, 1 gig is gone, and the 10 gigs is for the whole month. Data was the main, main challenge.”

The university said that it tried to offer all the necessary support to students, including a combination of remote lecturing and learning modalities.

The Higher Education Ministry wants the academic year for all universities to be completed by February 2021 and with time not on their side, it’s hoped that the institutions’ catch-up programmes will meet the tight deadline.

SOME INSTITUTIONS LAGGING

While some universities are faring better with the resumption of on-site studies, others are lagging far behind, including the University of Fort Hare.

“We practically have 45 days to complete a semester. We are going to have a lot of causalities – academically and mentally.”

For first-year students like Lindokuhle, the next few weeks will be some of the toughest in their academic careers.

The return to campus was marred by delays while officials dealt with the issuing of permits.

Students will need to absorb a semester’s work in half the time and work through January and February to complete the second semester.

“A lot of them are first years, most of them come from high school, they are going to be overwhelmed.”

An estimated 15,800 students, mainly from disadvantaged communities, are enrolled at Fort Hare.

Exams are expected to run over a shortened period of 10 days, while supplementary exams are only scheduled for six days.

The university said that it was doing its best to ensure that all the necessary planning was in place to afford students equal opportunities.

Counselling services are also being offered to support those who are struggling to cope.

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