Update for postgraduate students

20 April 2020 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear UCT postgraduates

The last three weeks of lockdown have seen the UCT leadership and senior management teams working actively to ensure that we support our postgraduate community. We are aware that a lot of this work has been happening behind the scenes (or screens) and, although many critical issues remain to be resolved, I would like to share the progress we have made up until now.

Our postgraduates are an important part of the UCT community. You represent the future generation of researchers and experts at this institution and in our wider country and continent. Enabling our postgraduates to complete their degrees is a top priority for us. We are committed to working with supervisors and course conveners so that they can support our postgraduate community through this challenging period.

There is a high level of uncertainty and unknowns about what lies ahead, which requires us to be flexible as we plan the continuation of the academic year and each of the different degree and diploma courses.

Unfortunately, we do not have all the answers, but we are working hard to develop plans to support you and your research. Here are a number of developments thus far:

Taught programmes

Our taught postgraduate degrees and diplomas are now either ready to go online or already active online, with course conveners exploring varied approaches to deliver these courses. We recognise that there will be teething problems, and challenges to deal with. These include working with students who have limited access as well as re-envisioning fieldwork, lab and studio components to match available time yet fulfil their needs when we are able to re-convene on campus. We will continue to work to find solutions for these and the small number of programmes such as those in the performing arts that are not able to run online.

The orientation week that starts today has been designed to give everyone the opportunity to adjust to these new delivery modes. Some of you have been involved in building and optimising the new virtual platforms and teaching tools, and we greatly appreciate your involvement.

We are aware that many of you are facing enormous data limitations, so we are also working to use data-efficient delivery tools. I recommend you consult the tips provided in our FAQs to make sure you’re minimising your data use.

If you have not already received communication on your programme going online, please contact your course convener. In addition, should you have difficulty with online access or with being able to take part in academic activities due to family or other commitments, please also contact your course convener or the postgraduate administrator in your department. We realise that for a number of our students, studies at this time will be difficult and we will look for ways to support you.

An earlier DVC Desk presented the amended UCT calendar for 2020, providing our best estimates with current information on COVID-19. Most importantly, we are committed to completing the academic year; however, end dates are likely to push out – for some into early January 2021 or even later. While this calendar provides a framework for both under- and postgraduate programmes, many postgraduate programmes work on customised timetables and these are available from your course convener.

Research degrees

Postgraduates involved in research degrees are advised to contact their supervisors and set up an arrangement for continued supervision if this is not already in place. Many of you will not have access to your on-site research environments and this will require you to reorganise or reorder your work. Please discuss this with your supervisor so that, where your personal environment allows, you are able continue to make good progress in your research.

Some of you will be facing the reality of limited access to supervision because your supervisor is actively working in the frontlines of this pandemic. If you are impacted in this way, we are working with the different faculties to make sure that there are solutions.

International postgraduates

Over a quarter of our postgraduates come from other parts of the globe. Some of you will be having to find a way to continue your studies in countries where internet access and electricity are not easily accessible. As you are probably well aware, there is not a quick fix to remedy this situation and we encourage you to stay connected to your supervisor. The International Office is playing an active role in the relevant working groups and I am ensuring that the specific challenges faced by our international postgraduates are on the agenda.

Resources for working remotely

Working remotely raises the need for resources: laptops, data and connectivity. UCT is working to help with this. Please do ensure that you have completed the online survey, which we are using to identify postgraduates to take part in our laptop loan scheme for South African students as well as gauging the connectivity and ability of our postgraduates to do academic work in their home environments. We have a 55% response rate to date amongst our postgraduates and would like to increase this well above 80% to ensure we are aware of the circumstances of our postgraduates. Also refer to the DVC Desk indicating UCT’s approach to secure zero-rated academic sites – so far this is in place with Telkom and Cell C and negotiations continue with MTN and Vodacom.

Further tips on improving your access and solving your ICTS issues are found in the recent postgraduate announcements.

Fees and funding

While we encourage those in a position to do so to keep up the momentum of your studies to enable you to complete in good time, we realise that this will not be possible for everyone. UCT is actively engaged, both internally and with funders, to look for paths forward to address, where possible, the many concerns voiced around fees and funding, but answers to these questions require more time and will require give and take. These will be communicated as soon as possible.

NRF postgraduate funding call

Looking forward to 2021, the NRF postgraduate funding call has opened. There are many changes in this call for 2021, outlined in the postgraduate announcement, and it is important to note that the UCT internal deadline is the one you need to work towards, rather than the deadline published by the NRF. For master’s and PhD programmes the internal deadline is mostly 30 June, but a small number are early, so it is best you check for each opportunity.

All NRF postgraduate funding, including grantholder, SARChI and Centre of Excellence bursaries, will be processed through this call, so it is a key call for students and supervisors alike.

Application for NRF funding, where eligible, is a prerequisite to be considered for UCT postgraduate funding through the 10a application.

Frequently asked questions and accessing support

COVID-19 issues have led to questions on a range of topics from our postgraduates, some of which I hope are addressed here. We have tried to answer many of your other questions in the postgraduate FAQs, which are continually updated; please also watch out for the UCT postgraduate announcements, which will arrive by email but can also be found on the website. These will also point to useful resources to support your studies such as the resource document prepared by the Academic Development Programme and the services provided by UCT Libraries operating virtually. We are also in the process of establishing mechanisms for ongoing communication, referrals and support for our postgraduates and will let you know more about these.

I wish you well for a successful and productive Quarter 2 of the 2020 year. These are strange and demanding circumstances, but I am confident that we can work together to rise above them.

Warm regards

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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