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Unisa students most in need continue learning thanks to generous French donation

In response to a heartfelt appeal by Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof Mandla Makhanya, the French Embassy in South Africa donated 25 laptop computers to Unisa students who normally rely on visits to Unisa campuses to access their study resources.

Notebook computers donated by the French Embassy will allow 25 students to continue with their studies.

The French Ambassador, His Excellency Aurélien Lechevallier, handed over the learning devices to a Unisa delegation at the institution’s Muckleneuk Campus on Friday 19 June 2020. He was accompanied by his wife, Monica Lechevallier, French Science and Technology Attaché, Dr Moncef Meddeb, and the embassy’s Press Attaché, Janke Tolmay. The Unisa delegation, headed by the VC, comprised of, among others, Tendai Farirai, Director of International Advancement at Unisa, and Amanda Tlale, the university’s Acting Dean of Students.

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (right), receives the French Embassy’s generous donation from the Ambassador, His Excellency Aurélien Lechevallier

"Our appeal was essentially a bid to assist in ensuring that students continue to learn, examine, research and, ultimately, succeed in life," said the VC on formally receiving the generous donation on behalf of student recipients. "Today is one of those joyful moments of celebration that are all too rare at a time when most of us remain under lockdown, watching with sadness and dismay as Covid-19 takes hold of our country and the death toll creeps up on a daily basis. It is becoming increasingly important to ensure the safety of students while ensuring that the academic year is not lost by moving swiftly to an online delivery mode."

Remarkable progress made with online examinations

Unisa never closed during the lockdown because of its open, distance and eLearning (ODeL) nature, and examinations are currently ongoing. "I can tell you, with some pride," said the VC, "that we have made remarkable progress with our online examinations. We recently had a successful, fully online examination session for 27 000 Unisa College of Law students. Bear in mind that our online examinations are for quality assured and accredited qualifications. I believe that this is a first on the continent and, indeed, in the world."

The VC said that Unisa students can write their examinations wherever they are. "Systems and applications have been developed where students are able to use their cell phones to scan their work and upload the material to send to the Unisa system," he said.    

The glaring gap between the "haves" and "have-nots"

While there is increasing transformation to digitisation globally, this has brought home the reality of the huge gap that exists between those who have and those who do not. "The poverty gap can no longer be hidden or denied and this is especially true within the Unisa student body and in the higher education," said the VC.

An estimated 400 000 students are enrolled with Unisa and almost 40% of Unisa’s student population are unemployed and getting increasingly younger over the years. They, however, lack appropriate devices for use in their studies. Unisa students are supported in 24 learning centres throughout the country which enable access to learning materials and computers for learning and research purposes.

"Most of the disadvantaged students made use of the computers at our various centres, and those were closed due to the pandemic," said the VC. "We were able to realise the sheer scale of this lack amongst our students." 

Sound relations ensure that Unisa cannot fail

The VC thanked the French Embassy on behalf of the Unisa Council, executive management, the Unisa Senate, and the institution’s staff and students. He said that the generous response from the embassy demonstrates that they understood the challenge facing Unisa and highlighted the mutually beneficial and collaborative relationship between France and South Africa.

Ambassador Lechevallier also reiterated the importance of working together to strengthen relations with France and that country’s universities. "France and South Africa stand together to face the pandemic and to, through cooperation, continue building bridges and forging bonds. The French Embassy thought it to be their responsibility to answer Unisa’s call. We hope that the devices will be helpful to students. We want to show how close we are to you and your vision, and we hope the material will be used for students with great results and merit."

* By Busisiwe Mahlangu, Communication Coordinator, Unisa Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020-06-22 00:00:00.0