UCU admissions perspective: From in-person hustle and bustle to on-line service
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/09/ucu-admissions-perspective-from-in-person-hustle-and-bustle-to-on-line-service/
By Eleanor Ithungu
According to the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. These data, which are part of an August 2020 policy brief, include that 94 per cent of the world’s student population have been effected because of institution shutdowns. In low-income countries like Uganda, the impact is 99 percent.
As a Uganda Christian University (UCU) worker in the admissions office over the past five years, I am among those who have had a front-row seat to the enrollment impact. The Mukono campus’ normally noisy reception area near a small office I share with one other staff is silent.
It’s been this way since March 20 when Yoweri Museveni, the president of the republic Uganda, ordered the closure of schools as one step to contain the corona virus outbreak. At the time, we presumed that the closure would take only 32 days, and we would return to our normal schedules. Such was not the case as roughly one month turned into six.
The majority of universities in Uganda, including UCU, rely on aggressive outreach activities, sending institutional representatives out into communities, secondary schools and literally “scavenging” for students to join institutions. This year, that couldn’t happen because of the country’s lockdown with social distancing measures in place.
Around February, the peak season for the admissions section starts following the release of Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) results. In normal years, this is a season of many inquiries by phone and in person with applicants – mostly soon-to-be secondary school graduates – walking in and out of the academics building where admissions is housed.
While the majority of Uganda’s universities have had online platforms that prospective students would utilize to submit applications for admission, most of the institutions would still get the bulk of their students through manual processes whereby students pick up application forms, fill them out, and return them.
This year, our intake season never had a chance to peak. We barely started the 2020-21 year application and admission processes when the government closed institutions, including UCU. The excitement of prospective students walking the campus to see the library, classrooms, housing and exercise track didn’t exist. There were no academic counselors around to help students make decisions based on their scores and career aspirations.
For the past six months, not only were students not permitted on the campus, but they also could not travel to the university. When our travel restrictions were eased, transportation costs accelerated to further negatively impact the pockets of already financially strapped people, and curfews remained in place.
The closure of the schools disrupted UCU’s planned schedules, required staff reductions and caused us to think differently about how to serve current and future students. The admissions section where I work needed to work harder to find a way of reaching out and serving potential applicants. Luckily, the University Management Information System was ready to be used for online applications. Phone calls involved directing interested youth to the Web site to look at program offerings and download forms.
Another shift from face-to-face to the virtual world has been with pre-entry interviews for admission into the Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and Bachelor of Dental Surgery programs. This time round, we held the interviews virtually instead of in person. We held Zoom interviews and written assessments on our e-learning platform for over 800 applicants for the Bachelor of Laws program. This was successful. We also relied on technology to admit students in different programs like Bachelor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Social work and Social Administration.
With adjustments to online learning, our education system has been able to focus on what is working well rather than what is not working at all. Those of us left on campus work diligently with appreciation for reduced pay as we are loyal to the unique education of a Christian-based higher education institution like UCU.
Together, we pray for our students who didn’t finish exams before the government’s education suspension order in March, and that the on-line examinations go well. We pray for our colleagues who are not working and are in need of food in their cupboards. While missing the embrace and community of believers and learners in person, we give thanks to God that our on-line learning was in place to save students travel time and money that might have been spent for campus housing and enables students to learn and obtain job skills.
UCU may look different when it bounces back, which it will. But what won’t change is the faith-based focus. To God be the glory.
(Eleanor Ithungu is a 2015 graduate of UCU with a bachelor’s degree in Business Computing. While working at UCU, she is pursuing post-graduate studies in Information Technology.)
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