UCT reaches agreement with Cell C, Telkom to zero-rate data for academic sites

A cyclist rides on the University of Cape Town (UCT) campus in Cape Town, South Africa, 23 March 2020. Picture: EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

Deputy vice-chancellor assures students that they won’t have to pay data costs for the sites.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has reached an agreement with mobile network companies Cell C and Telkom to zero-rate data for certain UCT sites for the students to access as the academic calendar will continue online.

Deputy vice-chancellor professor Lis Lange issued provisions for the students who might not be able to learn remotely and said classes would commence on Monday, 28 April.

“As indicated in a previous communication from the three deputy vice-chancellors, the University of Cape Town has bought laptops which have been allocated to students based on financial need.

“These computers are ready to be delivered to those students who indicated in PeopleSoft that they wish to receive a loan laptop. We are awaiting clearance from government for the courier service.

“The Department of Higher Education promised that we will have news about this by Monday, 20 April, at the latest. As soon as this is approved, we will communicate with you,” Lange said in a statement on Friday.

Lange assured the students they would not have to pay data costs for accessing the sites.

“So far, UCT has established agreements with Cell C and Telkom to zero-rate data for South African sites.

“This means you have free access to certain UCT sites necessary for your academic work: Vula, video lectures, the UCT Libraries websiteOpen UCT and UCT’s main website.

“You won’t have to pay data costs when you access these sites. Once the negotiation with MTN and Vodacom is finished, we will let you know,” she said.

The deputy vice-chancellor said the university was setting up a call centre and referral system to handle the student’s queries about connectivity as well as health and psychosocial issues.

“For the past two weeks we have been contacting those students who did not respond to our survey, which will allow us to better understand your needs.

“From next week we will start monitoring your participation in remote learning through Vula, and we will alert your faculty when it seems you are not able to connect.

“We are establishing a team of people who will be taking care of your questions. In a few more days we will have this information ready for circulation,” she said.

Lange said the university expected the students to engage with learning for about 30 hours per week.

“This may be considerably less than what you would have done on campus, but it takes account of the unusual circumstances. The learning materials, lectures, readings, etc, will be uploaded to the course sites on Vula.

“You can engage with these materials in your own time, but lecturers will provide a structure and suggested pace for your studies. There is no lecture timetable to guide you – you will have to take responsibility for developing the necessary discipline to learn,” she said.

The professor said things such as laboratory work, field work, studio sessions and some specific courses would not be taught remotely.

“For example, the Faculty of Health Sciences will use the online option while it is working on the necessary adjustments to clinical training.

“This will be communicated directly to students. All faculties will communicate directly with students in relation to practical work,” she said.

Lange said the the second term would start on 20 April with an orientation week while classes would start on the 28th.

“Formal teaching starts on Tuesday, 28 April. We have planned to teach remotely for the second and third terms. The academic year will extend well into December and will continue for some students during January and February 2021,” she said.

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