Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has stated that the government is working with mobile networks for the long-term provision of data to students.
In a media briefing on Monday 18 January, Nzimande said that while networks had provided data to students as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government was tired of “begging” for data during times of crisis and that the provision of data should be long-term.
“Our intention is to make sure that no student gets left behind during these turbulent times of the pandemic, but also find a sustainable long-term strategy that ensures the PSET sector does not revert back to pre-COVID status in relation to access online resources by students and lecturers,” he said.
“Unlike in 2020, we were dealing with one academic year, at this point in time we are dealing with the completion of the 2020 academic year and the opening of the 2021 academic year.”
Nzimande said that consultations will take place with Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom with the intention that data becomes accessible to students.
Additionally, he said the government will also ensure that the zero-rating of educational websites remains a critical point.
“Lastly, where students cannot be granted data and connectivity in areas where poor network infrastructure, we will be working towards innovative mechanisms for ensuring that that they (can) access teaching and learning support material.”
Free data and laptops
Following the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown, a number of universities entered into agreements with mobile networks to offer students a free allocation of mobile data of 10GB or more.
Institutions including the University of Cape Town, Wits, and the University of Johannesburg offered students monthly mobile data allocations and many more zero-rated access to their student portals.
Laptops were also supplied to students around the country, although this initiative soon took the limelight as a alleged corruption scandal.
The tender process was first delayed due to being rejected as a “non-emergency” by National Treasury.
Then the procurement process was flagged due to unclear parameters, including a failure to verify whether the laptops would be donated or loaned to students, as well as how many students would receive devices.
After this, the bidding process was cancelled after all 150 bids that had been submitted were found to be defective.
A tender process was eventually submitted that was valid, but the above issues resulted in months of delays for students who needed laptops to study remotely.