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Universities bring free data to remote learning

Two South African universities have partnered with mobile network providers to give students free data for mobile data to learning resources, but there’s a catch for some, writes BRYAN TURNER

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To help address remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis, Vodacom has agreed to provide each student from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) with a 30GB data bundle, while the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has partnered with Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom Mobile to provide each UJ student with a 30GB data bundle.

However, the Wits deal requires students to become Vodacom customers, whereas UJ has allowed students to retain freedom of choice of provider.

“We can all agree that success begins with education,” says William Mzimba, chief officer for Vodacom Business. “For many students, remote learning is a challenge as they do not have the means to access online learning materials.

“As remote learning becomes a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vodacom Business is proud to partner with Wits to support education and the development of tomorrow’s future business leaders by keeping students connected. Investing in education and improving connectivity plays a key role in fast-tracking our country into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Shirona Patel, Wits spokesperson, said: “Wits University is committed to ensuring that its students can access online teaching and learning through the provision of devices and data. This partnership with Vodacom provides our students with the data required to continue with their education and to move forward with their studies.”

The recurring data bundle provides Wits students with access to learning sites for up to a maximum of 30GB per month. Non-Vodacom Wits students were given the option to purchase a R5 Vodacom SIM card and then RICA it at any Vodacom-accredited outlet. To receive this data allocation, students needed to update their new Vodacom phone number as part of their student record with the University. As part of the package and agreement with the university, Vodacom agreed to reimburse students for the cost of the sim card with airtime to the value of R5.

This offer is valid from 5 June on a rolling month-to-month basis and is made up of 10GB any time URL data to access specific University sites for e-learning and home study, and 20GB night owl data, valid between 00:00 and 04:59 daily.

If students deplete their free bundle, they will have to top up their data by dialling *135# or visit MyVodacom app if they are a Top Up or Prepaid customer.

The University of Johannesburg has taken a more aggressive approach by reaching an agreement with MTN, Cell C, Vodacom, and Telkom Mobile to provide all undergraduate, Honours and Master’s students, registered in a formal (subsidised) programme, with 30GB (10GB anytime plus 20GB night owl data) for a period of 30 days.

In a statement, it said: “As communicated in recent weeks, the national lockdown is an unprecedented decision that has necessitated that we shift to online teaching and learning. We have been steadfast in our commitment, as we embrace this remote form of delivery of the academic programme from 20 April 2020, to ensuring that all our students have access to the necessary devices and data.

“As we were acutely aware of the anxiety and uncertainty caused by this mode of teaching and learning, we kept reminding our students that we were working closely with telecommunications providers to assist us in providing data solutions.

“This provision of data is in addition to the 1,750 laptops that have been distributed to all qualifying, first-year NSFAS students this year alone, and a further 4,000 available to distributed. It is also worth noting that the university has issued 21,000 devices to qualifying students since 2015.”

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