Postgraduate studies at UCT in 2021

24 February 2021 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear postgraduate students

Welcome or welcome back to postgraduate study at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2021.

For many of you starting out at UCT, your introduction will be a virtual one. This makes it more complicated to welcome you to the university than we would like, but the welcome is no less heartfelt for being virtual.

As indicated in my final DVC Desk of 2020, we will continue with a combination of remote learning and in-person activities in the postgraduate arena this year, with all face-to-face activities being physically distanced and on a low-density campus. Over the course of the last year, we introduced and tested new online systems that support our staff and students to work remotely, only using on-campus facilities where our work requires us to.

Our postgraduates are a critical part of the UCT research community. You represent the future generation of researchers, leaders and experts at this institution and in our wider country and continent. Enabling you to complete your degree in good time is a top priority for us. We remain committed to working with supervisors and programme conveners to support our postgraduate community through what is and will be a challenging period.

This first DVC Desk of 2021 is a chance to give you a sense of what to expect for this academic year:

How postgraduate studies are run during COVID-19

There is not a one-size-fits all approach to running postgraduate studies during the pandemic. The diverse level of coursework requirements, type of equipment used (if at all), focus on research and degree of hands-on supervision involved makes it impossible to run all the postgraduate programmes we offer in the same way. The pandemic is also evolving, with waves of infection and the potential of vaccination, and we need to adapt in response to changing lockdown restrictions.

UCT has adopted a flexible approach; this proved essential last year, because it enabled departments to meet the particular needs of their students rather than trying to cater to a centralised operating system. It included different approaches to coursework, facilitating fieldwork where possible and making alternative plans where not, enabling students to use on-campus studios, labs and workshops under COVID-19 regulations and being innovative about ways of sharing ideas, progress and plans through virtual means.

We will continue with this flexible, decentralised approach this year, which means that you need to monitor your official UCT inbox for announcements and updates.

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Communication from your faculty and department

If you haven’t received the relevant information yet on how your programme is running this year, communication from your individual departments and/or faculties will be forthcoming soon.

The COVID-19 lockdown has delayed the academic calendar and many administrative processes, which means some department-level communication (such as an outcome on whether you’ve been accepted into one of our degree programmes) that is typically announced at year-end is happening now, at the start of this year.

NOTE: Keep in mind that official communication from UCT will always be sent to your myUCT inbox. If you are unlikely to check this inbox regularly, it’s a good idea to automatically forward all the emails from your UCT inbox to the mailbox that gets your frequent attention.

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Physically distanced registration

Students will register and re-register using physically distanced processes in 2021. Key information (including timelines) for registration has been collated on the UCT website. Each faculty has a different process, so make sure you check your faculty’s process that is associated with the postgraduate degree for which you intend to register.

If you have any questions about this, please contact the designated postgraduate administrator in your faculty.

New master’s and doctoral students: If you are registering for a dissertation or thesis you will be asked to submit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU is an agreement that is established between you and your supervisor and it sets the stage for the year ahead.

  • If you are registering for the first time with a confirmed research topic and supervisor, you should complete the online MoU via the PeopleSoft Student Administration System.
  • If you are registering for the first time and have not yet finalised your research topic, you should complete the online MoU via the PeopleSoft Student Administration System.
  • Need help? You can access an online guide to assist you with completing the online MoU, which can be accessed via Vula using your student number and network password. If you need further support to get logged into Vula, please check the guide that contains the instructions you need.

Returning students: if you are re-registering for the dissertation component in a second or subsequent year, you do not have to complete the MoU. Instead, you must complete the online progress and planned activity (PPA) form via the PeopleSoft Student Administration System.

  • Need help? You can access an online guide to assist you with completing the online PPA form which can be accessed via Vula.

New and returning postgraduates: Once your online MoU or PPA form has been approved, you will be required to complete your online registration via the PeopleSoft Student Administration System.

NOTE: If you encounter any technical problems with completing your registration on PeopleSoft, please email the Student Systems Support Helpdesk.

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Six-month fee waiver for postgraduates whose research has been delayed by the lockdown

The UCT Council has approved a concession in the form of a six-month fee waiver for master’s and PhD students whose completion has been delayed because of the lockdown. Only master’s and PhD students whose submissions/examinations have been delayed until after the 15 March deadline by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their research are eligible. All applications will need to be motivated by both the student and their supervisor.

To apply, follow this 6-step procedure.

For more information, read the FAQs for Postgraduates on the Postgraduate Hub website.

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Managing your data costs

Because most of you are not able to access the free Wi-Fi on campus, here are some tips to help you manage your data costs:

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Access to UCT facilities

Your departments will indicate whether you will be using facilities on campus (such as studios, labs, workshops and teaching venues) and whether you will need to be on campus at times. We have ensured that all venues have appropriate ventilation. All health protocols, such as compulsory wearing of masks, physical distancing and sanitation, are in place and mandatory to ensure that we fight the pandemic together.

The normal academic rules will apply to manage situations where students are unable to return to campus, and each case will be looked at by the relevant faculty committees.

Those who have residence accommodation will have good internet and data access. If you are not in residence, UCT will continue to provide data where needed, to students who did not select the opt-out option in PeopleSoft in 2020.

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Key information for our international students

We have been communicating actively with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to provide the most up-to-date information on visas, travel and the pandemic. A summary of regulations and concessions granted by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) can be found in communication from UCT’s International Office.

Please note that information from the DHA is subject to change. Please monitor your email for the latest updates.

Pre-registration and registration can be done both from your home country or in Cape Town, provided that you meet the specific document requirements. For more information on pre-registration, consult the student guide. The current turnaround time for processing pre-registration requests is up to seven working days.

South Africa’s borders are open to incoming travellers who have valid long-term visas for study, work, academic research and permanent residence. As mentioned above, if your programme requires you to be in Cape Town and access campus and you are unable to travel, it is important that you communicate with your programme convenor to work out the best path forward.

Our International Office is conducting a survey to keep track of the status of our international student body in terms of their travel plans, visa delays and on-campus course requirements. Please complete the survey if you have not done so already.

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Online resources

Here is an overview of some of the online resources available to postgraduates:

  • UCT Postgrad Hub | This website is a one-stop shop for prospective and current postgraduates at UCT, so do familiarise yourself with it.
  • FAQs | Keep an eye on these FAQs, which address a range of COVID-19-related topics and are continually updated.
  • @UCTpostgrads | Follow this Twitter account for scholarships, fellowships, mental health tips and answers to your questions (Mon-Fri).
  • Tech & Computing Support | As a student at UCT, you can access a wide range of information and communication technology services to support your academic endeavours. Check out Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) Guide for Students.
  • Financial support | While the deadlines for most of the scholarships and bursary opportunities to fund your studies this year have already passed, new opportunities will be advertised on the online noticeboard and @UCTpostgrads. If you have been awarded a bursary or scholarship, the Postgraduate Funding Office will email you directly about the process involved in claiming these funds.
  • Psychological & emotional support | Completing a postgraduate degree is hard; completing one during a global pandemic can make it feel even harder. If you need support, then:
    • contact the UCT Student Careline by calling 0800 24 25 26 (free from a Telkom line) or send an SMS to 31393 for a "call-me-back" service. It offers 24/7 telephonic counselling, advice, referral facilities and general support to those facing any mental health challenges
    • read more about our counselling services.
  • Academic Support | You can access a variety of academic support services and resources throughout your postgraduate degree journey:

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I wish you well for a successful and productive start of the new academic year. While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly sent new challenges our way, I am energised by the many learnings it has created in our UCT community and the new opportunities it brings. Let’s harness these collectively towards a productive and successful year of postgraduate studies at UCT in 2021.

Warm regards

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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