Student and staff experiences during the CoVID-19 pandemic: Implications for planning, funding and quality assurance

Published On: 23 June 2022|

Findings of two studies undertaken in higher education on Students’ Access to and Use of Learning Materials (SAULM) in 2020 and Staff Experiences of, and Perspectives on Teaching and Learning and its Future (SEP-TLF) in 2021, and their implications for planning funding and quality assurance, will be the subject of a half-day symposium that is scheduled for Tuesday, 28 June 2022.

Organised by Universities South Africa’s Teaching and Learning Strategy Group in collaboration with the University of the Free State (UFS) and the Council on Higher Education, the symposium will be a hybrid event physically hosted at the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) Chief Albert Luthuli Auditorium in Pretoria. Virtual attendees will link to the event via zoom.

In 2020, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) commissioned the study titled Students’ Access to and Use of Learning Materials (SAULM), which explored students’ experiences before, and during the lockdown. The study was administered by the University of the Free State’s Centre for Teaching and Learning in 24 out of the 26 public universities. It focused on a) students’ access to learning materials, b) access to devices, c) data and connectivity and students’ engagement with educational technology. The study also investigated students’ challenges with technology-mediated learning and its benefits. The SAULM survey, which paid particular attention to NSFAS-funded students, attracted 48,981 respondents, yielding a solid quantitative data set and 3672 pages of rich qualitative data.

After the SAULM study, the Council on Higher Education, Universities South Africa and the University of the Free State collaborated in 2021 over a similar staff-focused study titled Staff Experiences of and Perspectives on Teaching and Learning and its Future (SEP-TLF). The study included 1851 academic staff respondents, representing 3,4% of the total teaching staff within the sector. This time around, findings generated essential insights on a) remote teaching and learning experiences of teaching staff, b) the future of teaching and learning, and c) academic leaders’ perspectives on their staff experiences.

The findings of these two studies were found to be mutually complementary. For example, the SAULM study found that most students had access to learning materials during the lockdown as 77% of student respondents reported that their study modules had moved to remote learning, even though the respondents from universities of technology reported that fewer of their modules had moved online. Even though 96% of respondents reported owning a study device in 2020, for the vast majority (90%), that device was a smartphone which was reported to pose difficulty when used for study purposes. Device ownership was also lower for NSFAS-funded students, 65% of whom had to purchase data bundles to maintain learning, while 48% relied on institutional data.

From the SEP-TLF perspective, 76% of teaching staff respondents reported reliable access to the internet when working off-campus. Up to 70% of the respondents’ access to the internet was self-funded; 25% shared financial responsibility with their institutions, and 5% received full funding for their remote internet access.

While both studies acknowledged the benefits and challenges of online teaching and learning, the findings of both attested to institutions’ ability to adapt and engage with technologies to create new modalities for delivering teaching and learning. The findings of both studies were found to have shared important insights informing future higher education policy.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022, will mark the first time that Deputy Vice-Chancellors: Teaching and Learning, senior leaders overseeing institutional planning and funding, the CHE leadership responsible for quality assurance as well as policymakers from the Department of Higher Education and Training come under one roof to explore the implications of these studies on the future direction of teaching and learning policy and practice.

Delegates wishing to join the symposium online are invited to Please register for the event using this link.

Inquiries on attendance / registration: Ms Ntswalo Ngobeni: 012 030 0651 /