A number of international students find themselves without access to the remote online learning currently underway.

Wits International students who vacated their residences before the lockdown have raised concerns about being excluded from the transition to remote online learning. In preparation for remote online learning, Wits had  arranged for students without laptops to receive one via the South African Post Office while 30GB of data was sent to students via the MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom service providers. International students though, have not been able to access these resources.

Seotlo Kantoro, the transformation officer at the International Students Sub-Council (ISSC), presently back in his home country of Lesotho, told Wits Vuvuzela, “The international network that we have is Vodacom Lesotho, which is futile with respect to the initiative that the school (Wits), has made of providing students with data to their South African numbers.”

Lehlohonolo Moqekela, media organiser of the Basotho Student Association (BASA) which represents over 60 international students, the majority of whom have returned to Lesotho,, explains that learning online is expensive given that many international students are self-sponsored and they have to buy their own data.

“As an international student stranded at home (Lesotho), online learning is very difficult. I had to convince myself that it’s not easy for the school to reach beyond South Africa and give devices to my colleagues who need such, but I expect the school to at least address all of us on their plan to combat the problem,” Moqekela adds.

Simphiwe Vilakati, a third year Biomedical Engineering student currently living at home in Swaziland, told Wits Vuvuzela that he sometimes misses important emails from Wits because he did not have data all the time. “As an international student, I am concerned about how fellow international students are expected to be able to attend these online lectures and do assignments without any assistance from Wits or local network providers.”

Tumisang Nkhasi, a second year Biological Sciences student who is currently living in Lesotho, is also having issues with internet access, “Today [Monday, 20 April] I missed all virtual classes because of data shortages and an outdated smartphone. My phone is too old for this new generation technology and my old laptop malfunctions too,” she tells Wits Vuvuzela.

Nkhasi also expresses that she is anxious because she has two written assignments due this Friday, 24 April, even though the university has sent out correspondence that assignments are not allowed to be due before May 4.

“The school of MCB (Molecular and Cell Biology) decided 5% of my year mark will come from attending and participating in online meetings and forums. I won’t be able to fully participate even if I genuinely want to. This means I don’t have a fair shot at full 5 percent like most students” she adds.

Jerome September, Dean of Student Affairs, told Wits Vuvuzela, “Faculties are finalizing plans to ensure students who are unable to participate in the online academic programme, are given the opportunity to finish the academic year. This will include boot camps, and additional classes.”

With respect to data provisions and laptop support, September added that, “The University is unable to courier laptops to over 100 countries and to negotiate data support arrangements in these jurisdictions. International students who are unable to participate in the online teaching and learning programme, will thus be included in the academic arrangements put in place once contact learning resumes.”

Moeketsi Khomo, Deputy Secretary of the ISSC told Wits Vuvuzela that the communications sent out by the university in the past weeks have only addressed local students and not international students. “We have been trying to address our problems from school societies BASA and also ISSC. None of our concerns have been addressed.”

September reassures the students that that the university is addressing their concerns and says a town hall is set to take place later this week with international students and the head of the international office. “This is an attempt to better hear and understand the concerns of international students, and explore ways that we may be able to provide appropriate support,” September said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits has allocated 5000 laptops to students in need as well as 30GB of data to all Wits students to assist in their online learning. However, international students are unable to access these benefits.