The University of South Africa (Unisa) has issued a statement to the public which addresses several issues affecting the school with one of them being poor communication and response times from staff in terms of student queries.
The statement is entitled “Unisa is focussed on ensuring that the academic project succeeds” and can be read here as a PDF. This is written by principal and vice chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula.
LenkaBula addresses the fact that Unisa students air their concerns and problems with Unisa on social media, something we’ve covered many times in the past. Whenever Unisa will make a statement on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook the replies usually usually have nothing to do with the subject matter, but instead focus on problems students are experiencing.
“I therefore would like to implore all Unisa Academic, Administrative and Professional Staff to ensure that they do their work in support of the success of the academic project. In this regard, any staff member who will be found non-productive in their area of responsibility and duty will be subjected to the university labour processes,” LenkaBula writes.
At this point we must provide context to why student queries are such an issue for Unisa. It is not uncommon for a Unisa student to find it impossible to actually speak to a Unisa staff member. Despite having hundreds of phone numbers listed students often find these phones left ringing indefinitely with no one to answer the calls.
Things are no better when it comes to emails as students are again left unanswered. It’s not uncommon for replies to these emails to take weeks, months or even years to arrive. This is no exaggeration as we’ve personally experienced replies finally arriving more than 12 months after the initial email, even if the student follows up with additional emails.
We’ve also heard that, several times, students finally receive a reply to their emails after they have already graduated.
We discussed these problems with Professor Mandla Makhanya, Unisa’s previous Principal and Vice Chancellor, back in a May 2020 interview. At every point Unisa promises changes on these fronts but in May 2021 they continue.
And now we can arrive at the promise of a 48 hour turnaround from LenkaBula:
“To facilitate improved communication between the University and the students, I have directed (i) that a contact list of all relevant university contacts/staff be placed on our website for students to access, (ii) that a multi-disciplinary technical team headed by the Registrar and CIO be established to immediately look into and address all student queries and complaints as they arise, as well as solving the persistent historical complaints/queries and (iii) that all staff dealing with student queries be compelled to answer their phones and emails; and to respond to student queries on time and no less than 48 hours.”
We find it strange that the first point here is a list of contacts. As previously mentioned that already exists on the Unisa website, but as we’ve alluded too, this list is not too useful when the staff attached to phone numbers and email addresses fail to respond.
With LenkaBula now in charge we sincerely hope that communication can finally improve at Unisa as we’ve seen the stress and endless problems it can pose to students.