Maverick Citizen

COURSE CORRECTION

Unisa social work students celebrate two-year extension of programme following Daily Maverick report

Unisa social work students celebrate two-year extension of programme following Daily Maverick report
The University of South Africa building in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Unisa has announced that bachelor of social work students who failed to complete their studies before the programme was phased out will have until 2026 to do so. The university claimed a Daily Maverick report contained distortions but correspondence with the university proves otherwise.

Students affected by the University of South Africa’s (Unisa) decision to phase out its old bachelor of social work programme are celebrating its two-year extension.

This comes after Unisa announced on Friday, 12 April, that the Council on Higher Education (CHE) had agreed to extend the programme until December 2026.

In 2015, Unisa told bachelor of social work students the programme would be phased out by 2023 following the CHE’s national review of programmes offered at various universities in 2014.

Following the review, the CHE approved a teach-out plan to enable and support students registered for the programme to complete the qualification. That plan expired at the end of the 2023 academic year, leaving students who hadn’t completed the programme at a loss.

In a statement intended to “set the record straight” following a Daily Maverick report on 9 April on how students still struggling to complete their studies were left in the lurch at the end of 2023, Unisa said the teach-out plan had been extended.

The university also finally revealed details of a new social work programme it is offering after it was unresponsive to previous Daily Maverick enquiries.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Students left in lurch as Unisa phases out social work programme, NGOs warn of ‘critical’ impact

CHE chief executive Dr Whitfield Green confirmed on Tuesday, 16 April, that the extension was granted after Unisa requested an extension of the teach-out plan.

In making the decision about extending the teach-out programme, Green said the CHE considered the following:

  • The case made by Unisa for students affected by the discontinuation;
  • The university’s commitment to engage stakeholders including the professional body, the South African Council for Social Service Professionals, a regulatory body entrusted to set and maintain standards of education and practice of social service professionals; and
  • The registration of the qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), which allowed for a last date of achievement of 30 June 2030. The NQF is a legislative system governing classification, registration, publication and articulation of quality-assured national qualifications.

“The teach-out date requested by the institution of 31 December 2026 falls within the last date of achievement of 30 June 2030,” Green said.

In correspondence with Daily Maverick in March 2024, Unisa said it planned to make formal requests to the CHE to extend the teach-out plan but they had not yet been approved.

Ecstatic students respond

Students who are affected by the phase out of Unisa’s old bachelor of social work degree, who spoke to Daily Maverick anonymously in fear of reprisal, said on Tuesday, 16 April, that they were aware of the extension.

“Thank you very much for helping the social work students at Unisa,” said a student.

She said they only received the response that Unisa will extend the programme after the story was published and that affected students would receive information on the way forward. 

“We are currently waiting for communication on when to register or how they will assist us to complete outstanding modules,” she said.

Some students, she said, enquired at the university, but staff members are waiting for formal communication as well on how to assist with registration. 

“We hope to receive more information soon. We are very grateful for your assistance, and the impact it made for us.”

A second student said they only learnt about the extension last week after the story was published. 

“The student representative council also sent an email to one of the students explaining that the qualification has been extended until 2026. What we do not know is when registration will be opening for students to register.

“They are just saying that they will formally email affected students. We are still waiting… I would also like to thank you for the article that you wrote. I’m speaking on behalf of all students. We really appreciate your efforts and hard work in assisting us in completing our studies.”

A third student said: “I’m glad that you came back to us. I’m aware. I don’t not know what we would have done without you.”

She said Unisa only responded positively after the story was published. 

Unisa did not respond to questions on Tuesday relating to the extension.

Damage control

In its statement on Friday, 12 April, Unisa noted with “concern” the article published by Daily Maverick, claiming that it contained distortions while the publication was provided with sufficient correct information. 

Unisa said a new programme has been offered by the university since 2018, which “has replaced the old one, which was de-accredited by the CHE”.

It needed to be replaced with a new, revised programme. At the time of writing earlier in April, Unisa failed to respond to enquiries regarding the new programme.

A teach-out plan for students affected by the phase-out of the old programme, Unisa stated, was approved by the CHE and implemented to support and enable students who were in the pipeline of the old programme to complete the qualification within stipulated timeframes, which were:

  • 2018 for first-level students;
  • 2021 for second-level students;
  • 2022 for third-level students; and
  • 2023 for fourth-level students.

During the entire period of the teach-out plan, Unisa stated, it communicated constantly and provided support to the affected students to ensure they were able to complete the programme within the required timeframes.

Upon realising that some students were unable to complete the old programme within the stipulated timeframes, Unisa said it approached the CHE with a request for an extension until 31 December 2026. 

“This was done precisely because the university has the interests of the students at heart and wants to ensure that all students are afforded adequate opportunity to complete [the] programme.”

Unisa stated that the CHE has granted the extension of the teach-out plan to 31 December 2026.

“The CHE has also commended the university for its commitment to engage with all stakeholders pertaining to this matter. The university will communicate formally with the affected students; and also urges them to rely on official university communication for accurate and correct information,” Unisa wrote.

However, in its statement, Unisa failed to disclose that Daily Maverick made several requests for information on a number of issues without any success and the story published on 9 April contained its detailed response. 

Unisa’s delays

While Unisa accused Daily Maverick of failing to note that it had introduced a new bachelor of social work programme in 2018 and had extended the teach-out programme for students in the old course, the university repeatedly failed to respond to requests for information.

The first request regarding the new programme was sent on 4 April but Unisa never responded. A second email was sent on 10 April reminding the university about the enquiry. This email was not responded to either.

It was only after an enquiry was sent on 11 April, after the university postponed a media briefing, that an official acknowledged a list of questions relating to the matter as well as questions about broader issues at Unisa regarding maladministration. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: High court overturns Blade Nzimande’s appointment of administrator for Unisa

Later that day, on 11 April, Unisa indicated that all the questions would be answered at a media briefing that would be held “in a few days”.

This response was followed by the university’s statement on Friday claiming that the Daily Maverick story did not contain details shared with the publication. There were no such details shared about the new programme. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • I am pleading with Daily Maverick to help engineering students we were unable to complete our diploma in time now the course has phase out no one is saying anything and Unisa is saying they are right legally because we were notified before time.The problem is that before march registration period closes some engineering students receive emails telling them to come register for elective module when others did not get those emails apparently because they said they are short staffed and that they had to go through each and every student we are left hanging just like that even registration period has passed. We wrote angry emails to different departments but nothing ever helped.

  • Unisa is failing students this days they fail until their degree face out the are students who failed MAC commercial students for more than ten years now with this online exam they always flag them saying they copied the standard of education in our country is dropping each year our government should do something about this

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