University students in a panic as UJ phases out course

Confusion reigned this week as students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) feared being excluded from a particular course following government’s decision to scrap national diplomas this year
Confusion reigned this week as students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) feared being excluded from a particular course following government’s decision to scrap national diplomas this year

A 2016 directive setting out changes to academic programmes is nearing its implementation date at the university, leaving affected students up in arms

Confusion reigned last week as students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) feared being excluded from a particular course following government’s decision to scrap national diplomas this year.

A group of UJ students, who are studying for an extended civil engineering national diploma, told City Press that they were being prevented from completing their course because of a directive that was signed by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande on June 27 2016 (in his capacity then as minister of higher education and training).

Nzimande’s directive formed part of government’s revised legislation, the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework, in which drastic changes were made to academic pathways and new qualifications were introduced at higher learning institutions.

The sub-framework provides new academic pathways especially for the country’s universities of technology – which are mostly merged traditional and historically black institutions – by scrapping national diplomas and Bachelor of Technology (BTech) qualifications.

These are being replaced with a mix of new qualifications.

This means that a student at a university of technology can now progress from a diploma to an advanced diploma, a postgraduate diploma and a master’s degree before studying for their doctorate.

In the past, a student would study for a national diploma and BTech to reach a master’s and doctoral qualification.

According to the revised legislation signed by Nzimande, these changes will enable institutions of higher learning to “pursue their own curriculum goals with creativity and innovation in order to produce graduates who will contribute to the social, cultural and economic development of South Africa and the global economy, while at the same time being compatible with international standards”.

In the directive, Nzimande announced that “the last date for first-time entering students enrolling in academic programmes that are not aligned with the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework” was December 31 2019.

At least one student has said she was prevented from continuing with her course on the grounds that UJ was complying with Nzimande’s directive

However, Xoliswa Ntuli*, who is studying for the extended civil engineering diploma at UJ, said she was prevented from continuing with her course on the grounds that UJ was complying with Nzimande’s directive.

UJ offers an extended version of the course, which entails six years of study. The original course, known as the mainstream course, entails five years of study.

The difference between the two is that the extended version allows a student to use an extra year to prepare for modules taught as part of the mainstream course. It is similar to a bridging year.

Ntuli, a single mother of two from Soweto, said she enrolled for the course in 2016 in the hope that she would graduate and find a job: “The university excluded all students. We are now left with outstanding modules. Most of us only have one or two modules to go, as well as our practicals, in order to graduate.”

Since the beginning of the year, Ntuli added, students had been trying to find out from UJ how they could resolve the matter, without success. Now panic was setting in as registration closed on Friday.

Ntuli said UJ had communicated with students about phasing out the qualification “at the last minute”.

I have spent more than R150 000 paying for a qualification that I may never get. So much money has been lost.

“The university’s rules and regulations state that we have a maximum of six years to complete our extended diploma. This means that, because this is year five, we are still within our rights to complete the diploma.

“UJ can at least give us referral letters to complete our studies elsewhere. I have spent more than R150 000 paying for a qualification that I may never get. So much money has been lost. The university should give us solutions as students.”

UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen confirmed that Ntuli’s course was among those affected. But he allayed her fears by saying that this year would be the last for those studying for the mainstream course.

And, he added, 2021 would be the last year for the extended version of the course.

Esterhuizen said the phasing-out process began in 2016, which was the last year of enrolment for the course.

He denied Ntuli’s allegation that students were notified at the last minute about the course being phased out, saying students were informed as early as 2014.

“Subsequently, letters about the phasing-out of these programmes were regularly issued to students,” he said.

City Press has seen a letter, dated May 2019, detailing modules that were being phased out in the faculty of engineering and built environment.

City Press has also seen a memorandum that students sent to UJ last month detailing their frustrations.

In part, they claimed to have been regarded as “F7 students” – meaning those who have been excluded from pursuing their studies because of poor performance.

“We are not an F7 group, but the group which is excluded simply because the course is discontinuing. We ask to be considered as such instead of being generalised,” the memo reads.

*Not her real name

In their memorandum to UJ, students requested:
  • That they be allowed to register for outstanding modules along with their practicals to enable them to graduate in 2021;
  • That they be granted referral letters to complete the outstanding modules elsewhere; or
  • That they be refunded.

Esterhuizen said referral letters could be issued to allow students to go elsewhere: “The faculty will adhere to the requirement that qualifying students complete their qualification in the set time. But, in doing so, academic regulations need to be adhered to, to maintain the integrity, reputation and accreditation status of the national diploma programmes.

The last cohort of students will not be unfairly advantaged compared to the previous groups of students. Finally, for legal, financial and accreditation status reasons, all national diploma programmes in the faculty need to be entirely discontinued by the end of 2021.”


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