Anger over R7,000 laptop deal at University of the Western Cape

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has disputed allegations it is buying laptops using funds raised from alumni and other donors and then reselling them to students at a profit.

UWC told MyBroadband it is not selling laptops at all, but has instead arranged an offer with a third-party supplier which students may choose to take up if they wish.

MyBroadband contacted UWC for comment after students expressed anger over an offer from the university to buy a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop and LTE modem for under R7,000.

Students asked why UWC could not arrange a loan programme like they have seen implemented at other universities, while others accused the university of withholding R30 million in donations and trying to profit off of students.

“No Student Left Behind” initiative

UWC said that it has raised R21 million with its #NoStudentLeftBehind initiative, R14 million of which was money diverted from its annual budget.

“The money will be used to offset the cost of the university’s flexible learning and teaching plans and infrastructure, which includes data and devices,” a spokesperson for the university said.

A portion of the money raised will go towards providing 7,500 needy students with mobile data bundles. Similar to the bundles offered by other universities, these comprise 10GB anytime data and 20GB after-hours data.

Some of the money will also be used to send printed modules to students where their circumstances or courses require it.

So far, 4,000 students have already come forward for the data offer, UWC said.

Not enough funding for a laptop loan scheme

UWC said its initial plan was to raise money to buy enough laptops to launch a loan system for students.

However, a survey of students that was conducted before the lockdown revealed that over 30% of UWC’s 24,000 students – around 7,500 – are in need of data and devices.

“You’ll find that our reality is very different from other universities,” a spokesperson told MyBroadband.

“Many of our students are first-generation students, the first in their family to go to university, and many can’t afford devices.”

When it became clear that its funding drive would not raise enough money to allow it to buy laptops for all its needy students, the university made another plan.

“As you can imagine, it has been a challenge to source laptops in great numbers during the lockdown, due to stockouts and currency exchange challenges,” UWC stated.

“The university has done all it can to broker a deal where the laptop can be delivered to a student’s home with the necessary backup and support. We have been fortunate to find a service provider that is prepared to reserve stock for UWC as and when students choose to opt into the deal.”

UWC laptop deal breakdown

When asked about the cost price of the deal, UWC provided the following breakdown:

  • Lenovo IdeaPad S145 (15-inch screen, 4GB RAM, Celeron or AMD CPU, 500GB hard drive) – R4,449
  • Delivery – R149
  • 2-year fetch and return warranty – R249
  • LTE Modem – R700
  • Value Added Tax – R832.05
  • Total – R6,379

UWC explained that it did not give out an exact price for the laptop and LTE modem bundle, because the final pricing may vary slightly and is dependent on the supplier.

It informed students that the price would not exceed R7,000 to ensure it managed expectations, but the final price students will pay will be less.

Students also do not enter into a relationship with the university to support the laptop, but with the supplier directly, UWC emphasised.

“The university hasn’t purchased stock, but students order directly from the supplier,” UWC said.

“On receipt by the student, the university settles with a supplier on a purchase-by-purchase basis. The amount paid for the package will then be added to the student’s account.”

Students may then make an arrangement to pay back the amount interest-free.

Another benefit of the deal it has brokered, UWC said, is that the supplier has committed to delivering the laptops and modems to students wherever they are. This includes students who are at home in rural areas.

The supplier has also committed to supporting the laptops under a two-year warranty.

“What this arrangement guarantees is that someone from Lenovo will drive out to students in rural areas and sort out [hardware problems with] the device,” UWC said.

Now read: Free data for university students in South Africa

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Anger over R7,000 laptop deal at University of the Western Cape