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Are You Just a Number at UCT?

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The “Big Number Concern” for incoming students. Are you just a number at UCT that will be lost in the system with no support and help?

For the past two years I’ve had the privilege of being employed by the University of Cape Town as a Commerce Orientation Leader. The job description – plan and execute a three-day orientation program for students entering varsity life for the very first time. The program, amongst many other activities, includes a campus tour, a treasure hunt, guest lectures from UCT professors and support services, promotion video screenings by societies, Ikey’s war cries and small group information sessions.    

I get asked thousands of questions by students during the course of the program. And what I’ve found is that most of these questions revolve around a central concern. I call this the Big Number Concern which I’ve summarised below: 

Unlike high school, at university I am just a number.

Nobody cares about or supports a number. 

Therefore, nobody will care about or support me.        

Without the support and care that I’m used to from high school, I will probably fail.

Many students at UCT believe that because they receive a student number, coupled with UCT’s size of over 24,000 students, it must mean that their identity is lost in a vast bureaucratic black hole. Consequentially, many believe that this must imply that nobody really cares about them and nobody will support them. This will then lead to their failure. 

THIS IS NOT TRUE. Although you’re given a student number, this does not even remotely imply that nobody cares about your performance or success. And here’s why: 

Your very own tutor.

1) Lecture venues can sometimes be packed with over 500 students. Lectures are taken by one lecturer, usually a professor. The ratio is 500:1. This is called a lecture and is presented by a lecturer. I know, it’s not very personal and no-one probably cares if you’re there or not. However, before you give up, keep reading. All these students are then divided into many smaller groups of students. These groups are small enough to fit into a normal classroom. These sessions are usually presented by a Third, Fourth or sometimes a Honors student where homework assignments are reviewed and content from lectures is covered again. The ratio is 20:1. This is called a tutorial and is presented by a tutor. Students therefore have the luxury of interacting with someone who has a practiced understanding of the work on a one-on-one basis. Unlike your lecturer, your tutor does care about your attendance and participation. In fact, if you’re absent for more than three tutorials you won’t be allowed to write the course exam and will therefore fail the course.     

Your very own residence tutor. 

2) Each first-tier residence at UCT has it’s own academic portfolio that manages a group of residence tutors. These are senior students in the residence that are available to provide assistance with homework assignments or difficult content from lectures. This program is usually supplemented with evening workshops for the more technically challenging courses such as Mathematics and Economics which is presented by professors and tutors. 

A few minutes with the expert. 

3) Every lecturer (this is the professor/expert that lectures the group of 500 students) makes available a few hours during the week to answer any specific queries. Students therefore have the opportunity to approach the lecturer outside of lecture times. The time that the lecturer makes available during the week for individual queries is called the lecturer’s consultation hours

It’s called the Hotseat… and it really is HOT. 

4) Once or twice a week all the tutors of a specific course team up, open a classroom and for a few hours run an intense tutoring session. This is called a Hotseat. Essentially, you have a host of tutors that lead you to an understanding of the material, each doing so in their own and unique way.      

Get out your thinking cap with University Workshops. 

5) A week or so before the majority of your class tests the university will run a workshop. This is similar to a lecture except it is usually presented by a head tutor. The session is fairly fast paced since the head tutor always tries to cover all testable material. These sessions are fantastic if you’ve already reviewed all the content and just want to perfect your understanding. The sessions are also helpful if you’ve done no studying whatsoever and you foresee a sleepless night of cramming. 

It’s back to school… Writing School, that is.

6) Many courses in UCT involve, at some point, writing an academic essay. Historically, this has been an immensely challenging task for students as they’ve had to unlearn many concepts and techniques from high-school. University essays are completely different from the essays written at high-school. No matter where you went to high-school, it’s different. One of the most important techniques you’ll learn is how to correctly reference your essay and avoid something called plagiarism. This is a very lengthly topic, something that I’ll cover in a future article. Suffice to say, if you commit plagiarism you face immediate expulsion from the university. This is where UCT’s Writing School comes into play. Make an appointment and they teach you how to write. 

Online resources and your new best friend Vula.

7) Apart from your textbooks and lecture materials, every course provides students with additional resources on UCT’s intranet called Vula. Find past papers, lecture notes, additional notes from the tutors and more recently, video recordings of your lectures.

The Best Part & Back to My Point

And that brings me back to my point. Does it make sense to believe you’re simply a number, when you have so many services and resources dedicated to your academic success? Does it make sense to believe that nobody cares about you, when you have residence tutors, university tutors and lecturers that are willing to spend one-on-one time with you to answer all your questions? 

People like telling you that you’re just a number at university. They also like the “small fish in a big pond” analogy (if you haven’t heard it yet, count your blessings). I can’t tell you exactly what varsity is like – everyone has their own unique experience and that’s awesome. But what I can tell you is that you’re not just a number. There is an immense amount of support available and people actually do care about you and your academic success. And provided you take advantage of these resources and services, you will not fail. In fact, you will flourish.     

EduConnect 2cents

Being lost in the system and not being provided with the support you need leads to immense anxiety. Luckily universities have provided means for you to still get the help and support you need in the huge ocean of students. If you develop a good relationship with your tutors and regularly attend tutorials, you’ll definitely have all of the help you need to pass your modules. Take advantage of the resources provided to you and work as hard as you can.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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