UFS expands virtual support for students

Prof. Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State

The University of the Free State (UFS) will expand its virtual support services and will be providing students with additional, holistic support to ensure no student is left behind during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the university, the Covid-19 pandemic has left students and educators with new challenges as many are overwhelmed by online teaching styles and students with previous access to academic support on campus are now forced to go at it alone at home.

The institute aims to go beyond meeting the academic needs of students by bolstering initiatives aimed at providing mental health support, tending to future career anxiety, and upscaling mentorship.

The UFS introduced the Keep calm, #UFSLearnOn campaign for students and the #UFSTeachOn campaign for staff during April 2020. The projects the university will implement aim to build on this campaign and help tackle students’ new realities.

The initiatives include extended one-on-one tutoring via the university’s A_STEP call centre, which will enable the upscaling of tutorial support for the most vulnerable students who are experiencing challenges with learning due to a lack of resources, scaling of e-mentoring to provide socio-emotional support to the broader student population and to create additional capacity for more accurate tracking of students’ support needs.

Other projects that will benefit from the funding include a dedicated toll-free 24-hour student mental-health helpline to better equip the university’s psychological support services to assist students who are experiencing mental-health crises and more.

Prof. Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, said in a statement that the university has adopted an online learning approach.

“Although indications are that students have adapted to this mode of learning and teaching, the additional services will assist tremendously in ensuring that the university succeeds in completing the academic year. These projects are funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and we are grateful to have a committed and likeminded partner embarking on his journey with us,” said Prof. Petersen.

“Providing a supportive, encouraging environment is imperative for students to achieve academic success. This is truer now than ever before, as online learning has tasked students with taking their academic careers into their own hands, often with limited opportunities to receive personalised advice and support.

Our hope is that the initiatives brought to life by UFS will serve as a catalyst for both short and long-term benefits for the students most in need,” said Dr Thashlin Govender, program director, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation South Africa.

Pierce van Heerden