11 March 2021 | Story Lacea Loader

In an effort to further ensure the successful continuation of the 2021 academic programme, the University of the Free State (UFS) has implemented a number of measures related to financial support to students and the academic programme.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many challenges to universities across the country; for instance, to find innovative ways of completing the 2020 academic year without leaving any student behind and, at the same time, keeping safety, health, and well-being a top priority. The pandemic also provided ample opportunities to embrace technology and introduce new innovative learning and teaching approaches in 2020, as well as a first-ever online registration process for all our students in 2021. Although we have been experiencing challenges with the process, one needs to emphasise that any substantial change-management process will pose challenges,” says Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor. 

Watch video from Prof Francis Petersen below: 

Extension of online registration process for senior undergraduate and first-year students

Since the UFS is aware that some students (particularly senior undergraduate students) have been experiencing challenges to register for several reasons, and also that this has created unprecedented levels of anxiety among students and staff, a number of measures – such as additional staff capacity. Furthermore, the online registration process has been extended until 12 March 2021 to allow senior undergraduate students who have not yet registered, to do so. 

“I am satisfied that faculties are now dealing with questions and queries in an effective way. All the faculties are doing well with the registration of students. Certain faculties have already registered 100% of their senior undergraduate students, while the registration rate of other faculties is above 80%. Dedicated teams in faculties and academic support services are assisting to accelerate the registration process,” says Prof Petersen. 

In line with the announcement by Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, on 8 March 2021, the online registration process for first-year students has been extended to 19 March 2021. The academic programme for first-year students will start on 23 March 2021. “We are aware that first-year students will experience university life differently and have put several programmes in place to support them,” says Prof Petersen. 

Adjustment of academic calendar

“Students who have not registered yet will receive full support to be able to register. The pace we are following to ensure that students receive their material and curriculum content has been adapted to ensure that no student is left behind,” says Prof Petersen. 

To mitigate the risk of not completing the 2021 academic programme the following has been put into place:

1. A differentiated and flexible approach has been adopted for the commencement of classes for students whose registration has been delayed. This will allow faculties to adjust the academic pace and approach to bring students on par with where other students are in a specific programme.
2. The academic calendar for the first semester has been adjusted to alleviate the pressure on senior undergraduate students, a grace period for assessment has been instated, and assessments have been postponed until 1 April 2021. 

“The tremendous effort, dedication, and commitment of university staff and the way in which the Institutional Student Representative Council (ISRC) has worked with the university management during this time, are deeply appreciated. Both our students and staff are embracing substantial change in our processes – especially online registration. In the end, our collective goal is to ensure that our students succeed this year, and that no student is left behind. We are also focusing specifically on our most vulnerable students and the challenges they are facing; therefore, we have developed a dedicated programme to support them,” says Prof Petersen. 

Financial concessions to assist students to register

“The university management is aware of the challenges that students are experiencing with funding – specifically in respect of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) – and is working with NSFAS to resolve the funding challenges of students. We follow a pro-poor approach to the registration of students and are highly sensitive and committed to leaving no student behind,” says Prof Petersen.

Since the beginning of the 2021 academic year, the UFS has made a number of concessions to assist students in registering, especially for those students with outstanding debt.  

These concessions include:

1. All students with outstanding debt, but who have approved funding from NSFAS for 2021, are allowed to register without any first payment.
2. All non-NSFAS students who have outstanding debt of up to R 20 000, may register provisionally by paying R2 050 (non-residence) or R7 290 (residential).
3. All non-NSFAS confirmed final-year students who have outstanding debt of up to R25 000, may register provisionally.

In addition, the following concessions were granted to 2020 NSFAS bursary students who have not yet received approval from NSFAS for 2021 or who may not have met NSFAS requirements. 

These students may register as follows:

1. If a student has no outstanding debt from 2020, he/she may register provisionally without any payment, on condition that they meet the academic requirements for registration.
2. If a student has outstanding debt for 2020, he/she may use the provisional registration option to register.
3. The university will not be able to pay any allowances or private accommodation costs until confirmation of NSFAS approval has been received and funds have been transferred from NSFAS.
4. If no allocation is made by NSFAS, the student will need to fund his/her own studies or deregister, with no debt accumulation.

The university management is aware that first-time entering first-year students (FTENs) who have applied for NSFAS funding are also encountering challenges with funding, as they are still awaiting an outcome from NSFAS. 

The following concessions were made for FTENs to whom an offer has been made and the offer was accepted by the prospective student: 

1. Proof of application to NSFAS must be submitted to the UFS (this will be verified) by providing a copy/image of student’s status on the MYNSFAS portal to Finaidenquiriesbfn@ufs.ac.za. If NSFAS has already rejected the application, no consideration will be given.
2. If NSFAS has not provided an outcome for the application, the student will be allowed to register provisionally without payment. This will only apply to programmes funded by NSFAS.
3. The UFS will not be able to pay any allowances or private accommodation costs until confirmation of NSFAS approval has been received and funds have been transferred from NSFAS.
4. If no allocation is made by NSFAS, students will need to fund their own studies or deregister, with no debt accumulation.

“These additional financial concessions come at a huge cost to the university and are placing severe strain on the resources of the UFS. The university will be unable to provide any further financial assistance. Furthermore, the concessions are again proof of the university’s pro-poor approach to ensure the successful registration of our students,” says Prof Petersen.

The arrangements will be implemented from 11 March 2021, noting FTENs will need verification if an application is in place.

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