Student affairs

30 October 2023 Read time 10 min.
Pura Mgolombane, executive director of the Department of Student Affairs. <b>Photo</b> Lerato Maduna.
Pura Mgolombane, executive director of the Department of Student Affairs. Photo Lerato Maduna.

The Department of Student Affairs (DSA) forged ahead in 2022 in its quest to “liberate the soul for well-being and academic success”. Guided by the our motto: 3R=F[Ad Infinitum]. Thus, in line with the University of Cape Town’s Vision 2030, which is to “Unleash human potential for a fair and just society”, we need to: rekindle the dying embers of the soul; rehabilitate the soul for it to radiate. Once we radiate, we have a capacity to flourish ad infinitum.

The DSA held its annual Strategy Plan Review from 28 to 30 November 2022 at the UCT Graduate School of Business, Breakwater Campus. As part of the review and deliberation, the DSA leadership thought it necessary to add two key strategic areas (KSAs) – KSAs 4 and 5 – listed hereunder. The purpose and aim were to ensure that the DSA’s strategy remains relevant and fit for purpose. The following are the DSA’s KSAs through which the DSA strategy is implemented:

  • KSA 1: Grow a culture of ethical self-organisation.
  • KSA 2: Establish an academy for leadership development.
  • KSA 3: Develop a system of integrated, responsive and agile support.
  • KSA 4: Transform the environment through social cohesion and social justice.
  • KSA 5: Create a system for food sovereignty and health-promoting practices.

The following are among the projects and programmes that the executive director’s office (EDO) implemented in 2022:

#FMF – The Aftermath Exhibition

The DSA, in partnership the Human Science Research Council (HSRC), hosted the Aftermath Photo Exhibition between 3 and 5 May 2022. The focus of the exhibition was on violence and well-being in the context of the Fees Must Fall (#FMF) student movement. The exhibition took the shape of a photovoice exhibition by students from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of the Free State (UFS), University of Venda (UniVen), University of Fort Hare (UFH), and Durban University of Technology (DUT).

There was also a panel discussion about “Restoring Well-being after Protests: Lessons from #FeesMustFall”. The chair of the session was Dr Keamogetse Morwe, and the panellists included Pura Mgolombane, Siya Plaatjie, Asanda Lobelo, Tshepang Mahlatsi, and Prof Thierry M Luescher.

TransGariep Student Leadership Programme

TransGariep is an inter-institutional and inter-provincial leadership programme. It ran over two weeks as a collaborative partnership between UCT and Sol Plaatjie University (SPU), from 11 to 22 July, with a total of 60 students (30 students from each university). The underlying philosophy of the TransGariep Leadership Programme is to use Self as a starting point of true leadership. The approach invites the participants to address issues from the inside out. The programme covered a wide range of historic and existential themes, concepts, activities and ideas, such as:

  • Ethical Leadership and Training
    • Self-Awareness in Leadership
    • Relational Transparency in Leadership
  • Transformation and Inclusivity in Leadership
    • Diversity Management
    • Cultural Intelligence

The DSA worked tirelessly towards maintaining and enhancing the health, wellness and safety of students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our humanising approach we ensured transformative human encounters as and when providing services to students. Our resolve was tested but we take solace that as the DSA, we would rise to the challenge. Throughout these challenges, the DSA remained resolute to ensure a humanising student experience driven by healing, nurturing, resilience and (wise) counsel in pursuit of the agenda of the soul, from Student Wellness Services (SWS), Student Financial Aid (SFA), Student Development (SD) to Student Housing and Residence Life (SH&RL).

SWS continued to implement isolation procedures for students in residences to prevent large cases of community transmission of the coronavirus in line with the approved protocols by the COVID-19 Coordinating Committee. A walk-in service was initiated at the clinic on upper campus. SWS also conducted the two campus-wide health promotion campaigns, one in each semester. These campaigns managed to attract approximately 3 000 students, 17 external stakeholders, and some of the internal UCT stakeholders.

SWS also embarked on a healthy lifestyle activity through UCanToo running, mindfulness sessions and promotion of various dynamic stress-relieving techniques.

SFA continued to be a glimmer of hope for most of the students through the provision of the following programmes and interventions:

  • Student Laptop Programme
  • NSFAS funding
  • Gap funding: There was a slight increase in the Gap funding applications from the previous year.
  • UCT Loan Scheme: The National Credit Regulator approved UCT’s registration as a credit provider:
    • Major efforts went into putting the systems in place with the service provider Student Funding Solutions.
    • The efforts were to ensure NCA compliance, and to ensure the agility and efficacy of the process.
  • Fee debt appeal: Fee debt appeals opened on 10January. By 7 February 2022, the DSA received 208 appeals, of which 188 were fee debt appeals.
  • Allowances: New requirements were put in place to try and meet the NSFAS requirements to combat private accommodation. NSFAS also communicated its intention to pay allowances directly to students in 2023.
  • SRC support: SFA assisted the SRC with the management and disbursement of the SRC Assistance Fund and Afrifund for students with debt.
  • Donor funding: The provision of these funds made it possible to cancel debt loans for some of the qualifying Accordingly, donor awards reports were sent to funders.
  • UCT Bursary: UCT improved its funding policy, and these improvements were approved by the Undergraduate Studies Funding Committee. The positive impact of these improvements translated into theimprovement of the funding being provided to UCT.

SD began its work with the 2022 Student Orientation. It proceeded with the hybrid format of presenting the orientation since the COVID-19 outbreak. Approximately 4 500 first-year students participated in orientation. The Welcome Festival was held on 10 February on the rugby fields. The welcome festival was themed “Flourishing through Transformative Human Encounters”.

In 2022, the office depended on donor funding and contributions to ensure that monthly care packs were distributed to 500 students. SD also ensured that each month students who were registered for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education / Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting and Postgraduate Law received a cash send voucher of approximately R1 200. Up to 130 students were supported monthly.

SD is also responsible for Student Governance. In this regard, SD, SFA and the SRC disbursed R1 million to students facing fee blocks. Accordingly, 22 students were assisted through the SRC Assistance Fund and 21 students were assisted through the Afrifund. The SRC hosted a successful fashion show as a fundraiser on 30 September that was well supported by the university executive and the chancellor; R3 million was raised from the event.

The Election Commission hosted a successful faculty councils’ election as well as SRC elections. The poll was achieved for the SRC elections with a 26% turnout. Pertaining to SD’s role for sports and recreation: In 2022 SD piloted the concept of Friday Night Lights for indoor sport. In this respect, Friday evenings were set aside for basketball matches. This initiative created opportunities for the UCT Basketball men and women to play against other universities.

SD is also responsible for the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) scholarship. In 2022 the scholarship of R40 000 was awarded to Ayabulela Mhlahlo, a master’s student in social science.

SH&RL had to carefully navigate the process and practice of housing students considering the overwhelming effect of COVID-19. This careful navigation included a constant provision of secure, hygienic, and well-maintained residences. The emphasis was on holistic student development, which involved reigniting the residence governance structures and creating residence communities that promote humanising the student experience, foster student academic support and transformative human encounters together which created conditions to liberate the soul for well-being and academic success.

Student Wellness

Memory Muturiki
Dr Memory Muturiki, the director of SWS. Photo Lerato Maduna.

Student Wellness Service (SWS) continued to offer health services to all students on campus in 2022 during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the highlights and key figures for the year:

  • SWS provided services from Mowbray’s main Primary Health Care clinic. In addition, during 2021, most of the counselling points in facilities that had operated virtually during the height of COVID-19 resumed onsite, providing a combination of virtual and onsite options.
  • The Ivan Toms Clinic remained under construction in 2022 due to renovation work. However, the upper campus clinics located in Steve Biko Students Union and the Sports Centre SWS Satellite Clinics reopened.
  • SWS continued to provide a COVID-19 medical response for students with a 24-hour COVID-19 line available for students who required medical advice, tested positive or those requiring vaccination counselling and information. The All Africa House Isolation Facility closed in April 2022 and staff returned to provide medical services at satellite clinics.
  • Students could access a clinical nurse practitioner or medical officer on the same day. No waiting lists needed to be created thanks to the accessible online booking system.
  • Students could access the following health services by booking appointments directly from the SWS website or UCT app: medical services rendered by nurses, doctors, and a specialist medical psychiatrist, and counselling services rendered by a team of registered counsellors, psychologists and social workers.
  • The medical consultations were more than 8 000 and just over 10% were consultations with the medical specialist psychiatrist.
  • Close to 18% of the consultations were made by students seeking sexual reproductive services.
  • The outreach activities of the unit reached out to students on various platforms for health promotion, education and awareness, and targeted prevention services. The outreach teams reached over 6 000 students through virtual webinars, onsite health talks, and social media campaigns.
  • More than 2 000 students were reached through the SWS peer counsellors’ social media pages.
  • Just over 281 psychiatric emergency callouts from students to the Crisis Intervention Service (CIS) were psychiatric emergencies. The CIS team of psychiatric-trained nurses provided mental health support after-hours and on weekends.
  • Some of the interventions introduced were collaboration with the Panda app and the Ollie Health platform to avail additional 24-hour counselling services.
  • Same-day psychological services were available through the virtual and 24-hour telephonic counselling modalities and the walk-in service at the Sports Centre where booking an appointment is not required.
  • The 24-hour telephonic counselling service, in collaboration with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, is still ongoing and throughout the year the service received on average 400 calls a month from students. The increase of calls to the telephonic lines over the past few years is indicative of how acceptable this mode of counselling is to students.
  • Virtual online support groups and mindfulness sessions were continued during the year.
  • A total of 12 234 counselling sessions were conducted by the team during the year, indicating a decrease compared to the past two years during the height of the pandemic.
  • The SWS ICAS Crisis app was launched in September and enabled students to access counsellors immediately on their mobile phones from anywhere in the country.
  • The licencing application for the Student Wellness Pharmacy was successful. An inspection was done by the South African Pharmacy Council, and the Student Wellness Pharmacy was graded an “A”, the highest grade that can be obtained. The pharmacy was subsequently recorded by the Department of Health. As a result, we are now able to dispense over-the-counter medication without a prescription, which increases access to medicines for the students and presents an opportunity to generate revenue.
  • The pharmacy team promoted services at the UCT student wellness drive in August 2022.

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