Red tape still a bind for students

Against all odds: Jeffrey Choma pictured outside CNS, is one of the few students successfully registered for Wits  WiFi services.              Photo: Luke Matthews

AGAINST ALL ODDS: Jeffrey Choma pictured outside CNS, is one of the few students successfully registered for Wits WiFi services.
Photo: Luke Matthews

By Lameez Omarjee and Rofhiwa Madzena

Despite the introduction of online registration to make the experience “more convenient”, Witsies still complain that administrative processes are tedious and discouraging.

Claiming back money

Sinoxolo Msomi, 3rd year BEconSci, said claiming money back from Wits “just took too long”. It took a month to resolve her issue with the fees office.“Everyone I would talk to would refer me to someone else.  They first told me I could claim back money via telephone and just give my bank details but then I found out I had to fill in a form.” She speculated that the cause of the delay was due to the fact that the sum of money was large. 

To claim money back, students are required to get a stamped bank statement and verification from their parents or the person or entity that paid their fees, as well as certified copies of their IDs. Students say this means a great deal of running around. 

Lengthy waiting periods

Students also complained about the time it took for their cell phones and tablets to be registered for WiFi access on campus.  Rosina Mabapa, 3rd year BA, said: “I don’t think it’s amazing, [and] it could be better”. Xolani Hadebe, acting director at Computer and  Network Services (CNS) said: “I’m aware that the process of registering online for WiFi access is a tedious one so we are phasing that out.”  Students will in future be able to gain access to WiFi using their login details.

Carol Crosley, deputy registrar of enrolment, acknowledged that students are often sent from “pillar to post” because staff did  not feel empowered to address issues or make decisions about problems that did not fall within their capacity.  But she said staff referred students to people who were better able to solve their problems.

The registration process

Online registration was introduced as a pilot project this year, in order to give students the “freedom and flexibility to register from home”, said Crosley.  Some students found it a great improvement.

Bambi Stewart, 3rd year BA, said, “I feel that it’s [online registration] much better now, especially the registration process for BA students because I felt it was the most tedious process ever. I managed to do it in two hours whereas in first year it took me two days, but everything is a bit better now.”

[pullquote]”although online registration was effective in reducing queues, it would not always be possible to remove human interaction entirely.”[/pullquote]

But other students still complained about having to come to campus to reregister manually because their subject choices did not show when they registered online.

Crosley said that, although online registration was effective in reducing queues, it would not always be possible to remove human interaction entirely.  Many students still needed career guidance and help with subject choices.    

Service survey facilities

Electronic survey facilities are available to measure service delivery at admin points like the Student Enrolment Centre, the Fees Office and some faculties. However, only a small number of students fill in these surveys, according to Crosley. 

The majority of students approached by Wits Vuvuzela were either unaware of the survey facilities or were unsure about what they were when they saw them on campus.

International students’ registration

International students have also complained about the services at the Wits International Office.Manager Gita Patel said the process became lengthy when documents had to be sent through to Home Affairs for verification. She added that, because students had to wait for Home Affairs, the office “allows students to register with acknowledgement of receipt [from Home Affairs]”.

Patel also said that it was up to students to follow up with the office to make sure their registration was on track.


Endless WiFi woes at Wits

ITS A STRUGGLE: Kgothatso Mamabolo, 2nd year BSc struggles to secure his WiFi connection. Photo: Rofhiwa Madzena

ITS A STRUGGLE: Kgothatso Mamabolo, 2nd year BSc struggles to secure his WiFi connection.
Photo: Luke Matthews

Wits students are finding the WiFi coverage on campus far from satisfactory – and are not likely to see an improvement for at least the rest of this year.

Internet accessibility and reliability has become an increasing issue as the growing cost of staying connected has led many students to rely heavily on campus WiFi. Computer staff at Wits recognise the problem, but “budget constraints” and the fact that the “budgetary cycle has passed this year”, mean improvements will not happen before next year.

Acting director of Computer and Network Services (CNS), Xolani Hadebe, said the department was in the process of completing a blueprint. This is “a plan which looks at what needs to be done at the university to improve the WiFi systems [and] get blanket coverage of the whole university”. The blueprint would also assess how much work needed to be done to improve WiFi on campus.

CNS understood the need for accessible WiFi, he added. “WiFi is mandatory”. Commenting on the availability of WiFi at different hotspots around campus, Naeem Vallee, 1st year MBBCh, said the best place to get strong WiFi signal was at the Matrix. “It’s pretty fast when you get it but it’s not always accessible. When it’s too slow I have to use my own mobile data which is inconveniencing.”

Nishal Dullabh, 1st year MBBCh, said he did not use the Wits WiFi often because of the difficult registration process. Other students reported using mobile data because the WiFi access points were few and far between. There was no accessibility in some of the lecture halls in Umthombo building, Senate House basement and the Oppenheimer Life Sciences building.

Princess Khumalo, 3rd year BA, said: “It’s a problem if you’re in class and you want to follow [the lecture] along with the slides [which are posted online for students]. It would help if they could just make the network more accessible in places that are underground.”

Wits students pocketing processing power

Wits has invested substantively in technologies that make its core functions of the generation, custodianship and transmission of knowledge easier. But how far has it come?

The first computer owned by a South African university occupied a large part of the first floor of Senate House and had the same processing capacity as a cellphone.

Today, more than 80% of Witsies have access to mobile computing devices according to Professor Yunus Ballim, deputy vice chancellor of knowledge and information management. Last year, the Wits senate resolved that all students from 2nd year upwards will own a mobile computing device.

The Student Computers and Networks initiative will facilitate this plan. Ballim said it was “unacceptable” that poor students were left out and the university plans to engage the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to invest in devices that may offset the cost of textbooks and lecture notes.

Ballim said Wits provides “fairly free” internet access for staff and students, but the Parktown campuses do not have this yet. A R16-million project is under way to instal a fiber cable that will improve the quality of access on the Parktown campuses.

“I think the reality is that the modern university from a research point of view cannot do without high quality internet access. We’re not where we should be but we certainly are getting there,” Ballim said.

The current situation

Kgomotso Selowa, 2nd  year engineering, said he enjoyed the virtually uncapped internet that some other universities did not provide, but that the computers were slow.

Otshepeng Letlape, 2nd  year BA visual and performance, said she does not use the labs since she got a laptop because she found them crowded and the printers and fans were often not working.

Despite these conditions, there are some students who find the labs helpful. Shalini Lala, 2nd year applied maths, said “some people don’t have access to the internet at home” and the labs are “convenient for many”.

Ballim said the Science Stadium was a learning curve on how technologies can make learning in large classes more effective.

“One of the challenges is getting people used to chalk to use an electronic touch pad with a projector,” he said.

By Akinoluwa Oyedele and Nandi Ndlazi

HIGHER ACCESS: A student hard at work outside the CNS computer labs using the wireless network provided by Wits to students for free. The university provided cushions to make the concrete seats more comfortable. Photo: Nandi Ndlazi

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 13th edition, 11th May 2012.


Related article: Making e-learning a reality