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Uqhuba kanjani – How are you doing?

Unisa attracts students from all walks of life, including first-generation students (FGS). There are varied definitions for FGS. At the Student Retention Unit (SRU), we adopted one that defines this category of students as those whose parents either have no further education after high school or have not graduated from a tertiary institution.

These students face many challenges when entering higher education and, even more so, distance education. FGS students generally are less prepared for the demands of higher education and are characterised as having limited access to information about university environments and expectations. They are hesitant to seek help as they are engulfed with self-doubt. They also have a lower graduation rate.

The SRU identifies FGS during the application phase, through the completion of the FYEMOOC101 feedback form. Those who successfully complete the registration are contacted telephonically in a process to find out: Uqhuba kanjani? The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that they are aware of the variety of student-support services provided by the university and how to access them. Furthermore, this serves as an opportunity for them to express if they need any resources that can assist them as they embark on their first year at Unisa.

Overall, over 200 students were called via Microsoft Teams on their cell phones. The conversations lasted 15 to 20 minutes each if there were no network coverage or loadshedding issues during the call. Thereafter, a follow-up e-mail was sent to the student which included all the identified resources they needed.


Being the first in one’s family to enter higher education can be overwhelming and challenging, particularly for distance-education students who experience unique challenges in their academic journey. The initiative by the SRU has proven to be a promising one not only to understand challenges experienced by FGS in Unisa but also to address them as a student support mechanism.

The feedback from FGS has enlightened the unit about the varying needs of the FGS and the support services they require. As we move forward, we have learnt to be inclusive, proactive and empathetic to our students to cultivate an environment where they feel supported in every way to pass their first year and obtain skills to be responsible South African citizens.

* By Ntokozo Zulu-Sigwane, Student Success Practitioner, Student Retention Unit

Publish date: 2024/05/21

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