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Wits University extends data offer to international students

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The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has extended its data allowance to international students for the rest of the academic year.

The Student Representative Council (SRC) announced yesterday it had negotiated with Wits management, and the university will now provide data to an estimated 250 international students currently located in Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.

With the arrangement, students living in Lesotho will receive 30GB of data, while students in Zimbabwe and Eswatini will receive 10GB of data.

“Following intensive deliberations, we are pleased to announce that the university has successfully completed negotiations with Vodacom, MTN and Econet,” said Wits dean of student affairs Jerome September, in a letter to international students.

Responding, Wits SRC tweeted: “It is under our administration that the goal of #1laptop1student will be realised. All students will also be receiving free data. We will continue to fight for the waiver of academic exclusions and for more flexibility around the issue of fees, amongst other things.”

Wits SRC international representative Mahau Ntahli also commented: “It was the SRC who proposed the provision of data. We worked tirelessly with international CSOs [civil society organisations] to find service providers to suggest to the university management.”

The announcement by Wits management follows the COVID-19-induced national lockdown, which began in March and affected international students who had to return home and were unable to benefit from data distributed to local students.

Most institutions of higher learning in SA, including Wits, University of Johannesburg, University of Western Cape, University of South Africa (UNISA) and Stellenbosch were among those that offered their students up to 30G of data to use for online learning.

When president Cyril Ramaphosa announced measures to protect the country from the spread of COVID-19, school and university holidays were brought forward, impacting the learning schedule.

In an effort to assist learners, government and institutions of higher learning stepped up efforts to ensure virtual learning during the nationwide lockdown.

Professor Veronica McKay, vice-principal for teaching and learning at UNISA, in an interview, also urged telcos and electronic equipment manufacturers to provide discounted options for services and products targeted at students.

UNISA spent almost R60 million on data for its 380 000 students but international students weren’t catered for.

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