Please accept my sincere hopes that you and your loved ones are safe and well during this distressing and disruptive pandemic.
And I hope you will forgive me for dispensing with the usual courtesies by making a direct appeal to you. Simply and bluntly, your University needs your help. Please bear with me while I briefly outline our predicament.
Of all the many qualities of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the one that brings me the greatest pride is our commitment to the nation’s Transformation Agenda. Towards this end, UKZN has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that qualified students, regardless of family income, should still secure a place and not be burdened with excessive debt repayments that would effectively stymie their careers. But the cost to the institution is very considerable in terms of the amount of student debt we carry—it covers some 79% of the student body. So even at the best of times, our financial viability requires continuous, close monitoring.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit. You are no doubt aware that as part of the national lockdown, we have closed the entire University; and even as I write, academic staff are working to transfer course content onto virtual platforms so that the disruption to our students’ education can be minimised. But this is not a simple matter—and it has already entailed very considerable expense. Please allow me to explain why our urgent financial need is not something that a well-managed budget can absorb.
We are determined that no student will be left behind—a fundamental and powerful principle for us, but that means ensuring that all of them have the means to receive the online course content and to engage with it. So we need to provide many thousands of laptops to those who could otherwise not afford them, together with accessible and affordable WiFi access. At University level, we are working as fast as possible to secure the necessary infrastructural capacity, staff instruction and harnessing of goodwill services from far and wide.
The financial burdens are at least the equal of the urgency. The start of the second semester will shortly be upon us and although I am immensely proud of the commitment of our staff to ensuring a smooth transition to online teaching, the expenses are already more than we can afford—and with the future of the pandemic uncertain, the financial impacts are likely have a long ‘tail’.
In addition, when the national lockdown ends, we have a duty of care to ensure that our transition back to normal campus life will be safe for all of our staff and students—so it will almost certainly be phased and the precautionary regimes we will need to put in place will also be expensive.
I sincerely wish I could appeal for something ambitious and future-oriented, like funds for a new laboratory or lecture theatre.
But this is vital: without extra resources, I have good reason to fear that thousands of bright and ambitious men and women will, despite our proud record and best efforts, be left behind.
We appeal to all of our many thousands of graduates to assist your University and its current students in their hour of need.
Contributions both large and small—financial, physical and in kind (including professional services)—are all sorely needed. All of you appreciate the positive, life-enhancing experience of achieving your degree. The difference this makes to a generation and to the wider South African society is now under threat.
Please contribute what you can and please contact us if you have a query about how you or your organisation can help.
It pains me to write to you in this way, but my anguish is as nothing beside the stress and anxiety being endured by a considerable portion of our student body.
So I appeal to your fellow feeling, generosity of spirit and appreciation of the difference a University education can bring to individual and community life. Please help us to ensure that the current generation of students—and the University of KwaZulu-Natal—can continue our work.
PROFESSOR NANA POKU
VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL
For donations of food, cloth masks, sanitizers and sanitary products; redundant but functional laptops and other office sundries; and other products that will enable our least well-off to live and study:
The University is grateful for the response from the community to date, with a number of individuals donating to the UKZN Hardship Fund to support our financially vulnerable students and staff. Thank you to those who have so generously donated.
For financial contributions you can donate securely using your credit/debit card, or you can do an instant EFT via your bank by clicking donate below.
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