The 19 May 2015 editorial “What didn’t tell us in the brochure” (sic) refers to “the stigma attached to extended degree programmes”, the isolating experience of many students and staff at the University of Cape Town, and the agony of students who fail, not “because they were ‘lazy’, but because they were not given adequate academic support”.
This is a real struggle faced by many students, and it deserves serious examination. The use of generalisation and inaccurate information is not helpful, though. You state, for instance, that “countless students face academic and financial exclusion and are forced to leave mid-year”. The Registrar’s office, however, confirms that no student is asked to leave mid-year, or prevented from continuing with new courses in the second semester. In fact, it is often the mid-year exam scores that help to identify students who are in need of more academic support. And it is worth mentioning that despite the hard slog many students go through at UCT, we have the highest pass rate of all the universities in South Africa.
The editorial criticises UCT for its glossy marketing brochures, while it could have also acknowledged the many different ways the university and faculties seek to assist students who might be struggling. Publishing such information in Varsity would be useful to a student who may be quaking at the prospect of mid-year exams. These include the First Year Experience programme, various mentorship programmes, psychologists and advisors embedded in the faculties, Writing Centre consultants, career advisors, and staff working in extended degree programmes, to name a few; all seeking to offer very different kinds of information and support across campus.
That doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. UCT advisors and faculties are deeply aware of the stigma that many students experience in the extended degree programmes. We acknowledge that any perceived stigma is real. Staff in faculties and in the Centre for Higher Education Development who are involved in these programmes are constantly seeking to develop models that would reduce or even overcome such stigma – ways to make academic support more flexible, to serve students according to their need – while still qualifying for essential government funding within the current national policy guidelines.
A large part of this information and support is to acknowledge the difficulties of being in an isolating world. And on that point, we are certainly in agreement with Varsity.
Manager: Communications & Media Liaison
Communication and Marketing Department
University of Cape Town