17 April 2020
Dear UJ Community
As indicated earlier this week, the COVID-19 pandemic is, without doubt, a defining global crisis of our time and the most significant challenge we have faced in a long time. Higher Education, like many other sectors, is reeling under the impact of the disease, which has caused unprecedented levels of social upheaval, uncertainty and anxiety.
As was expected, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently extended the initial 21 days national lockdown by a further two weeks, until the end of April. In his address to the nation, the President made a passionate appeal to the nation. He said that we should "in the coming weeks and months massively increase the extent of our response and draw our strength, our advanced infrastructure, proven capabilities in information and communication technology, and the depth of talent among our people", if we are to overcome this challenge. He further said that "we [should] draw on our proven capacity for innovation and creativity, our ability to come together in a crisis, and our commitment to each other and our common future".
The President could not have said it better, because the pandemic is challenging us to do things differently, in an innovative way, if we are to sustain our University operations. Indeed, these are difficult times for us all, and many of our students are anxious about the impact of this lockdown period on their studies.
In recent weeks, we have extensively communicated our plans regarding shifting from the familiar contact, face-to-face teaching and learning to an online form of delivery of the academic programme. We have also accordingly reviewed the 2020 Academic Calendar to assist our students in completing their studies. As communicated to students through our various platforms, including emails, Blackboard and the UJ website, the second term of the first semester will start on Monday, 20 April 2020, through online platforms. We are making a plea to all of you to embrace this form of remote teaching and learning, so that we may minimise the time lost in the academic year. For more information regarding learning, teaching, research, and working remotely, visit www.uj.ac.za.
We are aware of the anxiety and uncertainty caused by this mode of learning and working remotely. We are attending to the challenges regarding data and internet access, as well as access to appropriate computing devices. This year we have distributed 1750 laptops to first-year NSFAS students, and we have a further 4000 to distribute. We realise that some of you operate in environmental conditions that are not conducive to learning. Our success is dependent on how we respond to this as a community. We are committed to addressing as far as it is reasonably possible the matters that you have raised, and others as they emerge.
We continue to work closely with telecommunications providers to provide data solutions to assist our students so that they may access University information at no cost during this period. Please check for updates here https://www.uj.ac.za/studyatUJ/Pages/zero-rated-data-to-students-and-applicants.aspx
Additionally, faculties and the College of Business and Economics will communicate with students regarding practicals, WIL and clinical training activities. Similarly, on matters of assessment, academics will communicate via uLINK and Blackboard.
Graduates are reminded to access their digital certificates via https://digitalcertificates.uj.ac.za. Further details regarding graduations and certificates are available here. Given that a graduation ceremony is such a momentous occasion in a student's life, the University will have virtual graduations shortly, so that graduates may have the opportunity to experience some elements of a graduation ceremony with their loved ones.
We remind NSFAS funded students residing in Privately Owned Student Accommodation (POSAs) that the University can only pay landlords upon the instruction of the student, as the contracts exist between the students and the landlords. As such, students need to effect rental payments through the SSD Code instruction sent to them. We caution students that the landlord may have legal claims against them if they fail to pay the rental amounts. The remedies of the landlords to enforce their claims may include termination of the contracts and attaching the property of the students that can be found in the POSAS as security for unpaid rent.
I wish to thank the representations made by the Interim SRC regarding online teaching and learning. As a University that embraces inclusivity, I am pleased to announce that the President and Secretary-General of the Interim SRC are invited to the COVID-19 Coordination Committee online meetings, as full members of the committee.
I also reiterate my gratitude to the tremendous work that is being done by our academic and support staff in recent weeks, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that our operations continue uninterrupted. Special thanks to our academic and administrative staff for their efforts to ensure that our transition to online learning and teaching is as seamless as possible.
The University leadership will continue to monitor the situation, and any decision may be reviewed, as required. We appeal to all to practice the recommended precautionary measures, such as hygiene and social distancing, all the times. We wish you strength in this challenging time and are here to support you as we navigate these changes.
Should any of you experience difficulties, please use the National Hotline of 0800029999 or WhatsApp line 0600 123456 or go the following link for more information:
Only information issued via the University's official communication platforms is legitimate. This information may be verified by visiting: https://www.uj.ac.za/coronavirus
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg