SA varsities deploy chatbots, online portals for 2024 admissions

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer
Johannesburg, 26 Jan 2024
South African universities experience a surge in online applications.
South African universities experience a surge in online applications.

South African universities are witnessing a surge in online applications for the 2024 academic year, as digital student engagement streamlines the institutions’ workload.

The varsities say the transition from traditional walk-in applications to digital platforms not only enhances convenience for students but also addresses safety concerns.

Prior to online portals, walk-in application periods were often chaotic, with students camping overnight and fighting for limited spots, with injuries and even fatalities documented in the past.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ), University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Cape Town (UCT) are among the universities experiencing this online application boom.

UJ reveals it has received over 280 000 applicants for the 2024 academic year through its online portal.

The intake of undergraduate first-year students for 2024 is capped at 10 500. UJ has also introduced the MoUJi WhatsApp-based chatbot, assisting more than 93 000 applicants – an increase from the previous year's 89 000.

The chatbot helps applicants and current students to access their personal details, academic and residence admission status, class timetables, assessment results and financial statements.

“In an era where digital communication is essential, we constantly seek to bridge the gap between applicants, students and the university,” says UJ’s registrar, professor Bettine van Vuuren.

“This chatbot is a testament to the university’s commitment to be at the forefront of innovation in the higher education sector.”

Wits says 146 000 undergraduate 2024 applications were received through its online portal – a rise from the previous year's 129 000.

For those unable to apply online, Wits provides alternative methods, including digital forms sent via e-mail. Students can also come to campus in person and complete the form at the enrolment centre or computer lab.

The institution says the shift to online applications is convenient because it reduces expenses and allows students to submit their forms wherever they are without having to post it or coming to campus.

UCT reported 92 841 applicants for the 2024 intake, with the faculty of health sciences receiving the most applicants (19 029).

It is set to welcome 4 500 first year students this year, says the university. This figure represents the total number of applications received, not individual applicants, as students often apply to multiple courses.

While most admissions processes at UCT are now online, the university accommodates a small number of physical applications for exceptional circumstances.

UCT says the shift towards online applications offers several advantages for universities and students, such as streamlining the application process, allowing applicants to track their status easily, and providing a convenient platform for feedback communication.

Interim UCT vice-chancellor professor Daya Reddy says: “At UCT, we believe education is not just about earning a degree. Certainly, a certificate helps to open doors to a career, but what is most important at UCT is what people do with what they learn.

“We believe the most important goal of education is to unleash human potential, to build a fair and just society.”