Higher Education Sector Dealing With Impact Of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a considerably dire impact on the functioning of the Higher Education sector. As a result, many of the universities across the country had to adopt online learning, despite much of the country's households having no access to internet connectivity.

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The arrival and rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on higher education. This was such that many institutions were forced to resort to online education. But what is the extent of the challenges that have come with the adoption of the online learning model?

In an interview with eNCA Linda Meyer from Universities South Africa says that although the Higher education sector has gone to great lengths to accommodate students with online learning. The reality is that many students still need to be on campus in order to have access to internet connectivity.

You must remember that in a country where only 10 % of households have an internet connection and many don't have water security or electricity, they are left with very few options. And so we find that this model of having students on campus works best for us. 

She adds that the situation is much needed in rural campuses and thus they have been able to provide internet connectivity to some of them. Meyer also states although there is always an oversubscription in some programs in some universities, there has been a slight decline of about 1.6% in overall applications.

In terms of the provision of resources that accommodate online learning, Meyer said that the broader systemic issue revolves around NSFAS allowances.

This year we have spent approximately R44 billion out of the R113 billion that the Department of Higher Education and Training had budgeted for NSFAS grants. This has meant that block grants have had to decline and that universities are getting less government subsidy funding.  

According to Meyer, this has meant that many parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic. There is a large cohort of students in the system in the second, third and fourth years of study who did not apply for NSFAS funding but are now eligible candidates. This has in turn placed the entire system under huge financial pressure.

As part of its strategy to combat any further rise of Covid-19 variants, UniversitiesSA is working with the Department of Higher Education and Training as well as Higher Health to ensure that they have fully functional vaccination sites.

She adds that universities have also come up with alternative ways of availing digital equipment to students, although some of them still prefer their material in printed format.

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