What does the Post-Pandemic Future of Higher Education look like in South Africa?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Before the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, started to spread around the world, South African universities had already recognised the need to change their way of imparting education to prepare students for a digitally mediated world. The pandemic caused universities to implement those changes faster than expected. 

What Long-Lasting Changes has the Pandemic brought to South Africa’s Higher Education System?

The vice-chancellors from three South African Universities were asked to share their thoughts and insights about what these changes could mean for the higher education system and how those changes might affect the way universities deliver teaching and research.

University of Cape Town
The University of Cape Town’s vice-chancellor claimed that teaching methods will go between face-to-face and fully online learning. It is not a decision that came all of a sudden. It was certainly brought forward faster because of the current situation, but the University of Cape Town had already recognised the need to prepare students for a digital world long before COVID-19. A clear example of this forward thinking was that at the beginning of this year, about 60% of lecturers had already decided to record their lectures.

COVID-19 has forced this process not only to come faster but also to be fully implemented, that’s for sure. Educators all around the world had to turn to other methods of teaching in order to keep the education system going and not lose the whole year. Many UCT academics have claimed they will never teach in the same way they did before.

At the end of the day, there are some positive perspectives to the pandemic, for it helped the world innovate in education in a way that will prepare students in a best way: we all know the future is digital.

Of course there are challenges. It’s not as easy to sit through exams, and some students may not have full data access and electricity provision at home. The UCT is conducting surveys to students and academics in order to monitor each of their experiences and polish this kind of lesson for the future.

University of Pretoria
Because of the fact that some higher education institutions lacked resources to implement digital technologies or online education, or that students lacked access, they were pushing it off before the pandemic.

Now, they can see that returning to purely contact learning is not going to be possible. What the world has experienced during these past few months seems more relevant to a future marked by increasing globalisation and technology. Universities will need resources that allow them to move to hybrid or blended teaching and learning with greater speed.

University of the Witwatersrand
Like the other two universities previously mentioned, Wits University also claims that a shift to blended learning is inevitable. According to evidence, students are performing better in the online environment than face-to-face. 

There are certain degrees that obviously require face-to-face interaction but this will also need to be re-imagined.

Do Universities have the Human and Financial Resources to answer these changes on a long-lasting basis?

University of Cape Town
New ways of teaching means new kinds of benefits as well. They will release human capacity by allowing lecturers to manage their course loads more effectively. It will be possible for more students to enroll, which means they could bring more income to the institution to help finance human capacity or infrastructure developments.

University of Pretoria
Most universities have not been adequately funded for decades, which means they don't have the human and financial resources to respond to these changes. 

The University thinks the government should include them in the stimulus packages that are meant to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

In order for the transition from contact to hybrid teaching to be successful, the training of staff who manage information technology infrastructure and of academic staff who teach and do research is key. 

University of the Witwatersrand
Many professors and academics were able to adapt pretty quickly to the new online mode of teaching. This won't be the real issue. What will actually be a burden is how to finance higher education. 

Job losses will cause a growing "missing middle" and providing support to that students will be imperative.

These Universities have been addressing the issue of COVID-19 and its potential impact on education with a clear perspective: the Virus has come to bring the future forward and we need to get used to the fact that we will never go back to the way we were before.

Change is here to stay, and it is not a bad thing.

Are you interested in learning more about these three top universities in South Africa? Visit Top Universities to find out more information. 

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