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A university student in South Africa takes a break from studying

Collaboration is Key to Reaching At-Risk University Students

Thashlin Govender

South African students from low-income backgrounds face barriers on the road to university graduation and a meaningful career. There is a great deal of pressure to succeed in an environment that is overwhelming and fluid — and the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting virtual learning have made it even harder for at-risk students to succeed.

In addition to challenges with accessing lectures online, COVID-19 has also made it difficult for university students to receive support in areas like mental health, career counseling, graduate employment marketing, tutoring, and mentoring. Without these support services that nurture more than just the student’s academics, many are in danger of not completing the academic year or graduating without a solid employment plan.  

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, most universities saw an overwhelming increase in the number of students requesting services to cope with anxiety and mental health concerns, overcoming challenges with online learning, and planning for their career. With most students off campus, universities are leveraging technology to find alternative ways to provide these essential support services. Financial support for virtual services falls outside most university budgets as no one planned for COVID-19 (or the pandemic), which inevitably affects students from low-income backgrounds who rely on this support.

Supporting the Students Who Need It Most

Our work centers on supporting the student’s entire experience – from academics to graduate employment, and everything in between. Our partners share that focus and create programs that help students in areas where they might be struggling. It is this collaboration that is key to providing the right resources at the right time for the students we collectively support. 

Here are a few examples of the types of support our partners are offering in this virtual university world.

  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology is hosting an online helpdesk for students to access academic resources and tutoring, offering remote mental health services and counselling, extending curriculum and employability support, and launching online tutorials to help students with disabilities.
  • Stellenbosch University is enabling virtual academic tutoring, mentoring, and mental health support, launching technical support to manage online learning queries, and developing educational multimedia material in dual languages.
  • University of the Western Cape  is enhancing its #NoStudentLeftBehind campaign by launching virtual remote emergency tutoring and an online transition and mentorship program.  
  • University of the Free State is building on its #UFSLearnOn campaign by bolstering initiatives aimed at providing mental health support, tending to future career anxiety, and upscaling mentorship.
  • University of Cape Town is supporting students with situational and wellness counselling, offering career advisors for student consultations and employer partner management, and providing peer student mentors for adjustment and transition issues.
  • University of Pretoria is providing virtual academic support with faculty student advisors, offering situational and wellness counselling, expanding a counselling mobile application to provide group-based online help for students, and offering support for students with special needs and disabilities.

COVID-19 has united us in remarkable ways, making us all more creative in how we offer support services to our students. I am grateful for the universities in South Africa that have stepped up to ensure their students — and especially their students from low-income backgrounds — have what they need to be successful.