The Program Advisor

© J. Francois Barnard - 21 October 2020

As you embark on your educational journey at the University of the People, the university assigns a program advisor to you to journey alongside you. If you have any questions, you can ask this advisor.

program_advisorI cannot think of a better way to do this, and my first program advisor, Victor, was a source of inspiration. During the term, Victor was in contact with me to ensure that I was still progressing as planned. After a year or so, Victor moved on, and a new program advisor replaced him.

But what do you do if the university shows phenomenal growth from year to year? Can the university keep turning out program advisors to assist everyone?

My experience is that the university is under strain in this regard. When I started in September 2017, there were 10,199 registered students. There are now 44,091 students. (Editor: 137,000 in 2023) That means they have to get more and more program advisors too, and I am sure that is no easy task.

I am a week away from writing my final exams. I have to think about applying for my degree. There is nothing strange about it - many have done this before. The idea is that UoPeople will mail it to me, or if I request it, send it per registered mail. But I have one problem: the South African Postal Services are falling apart. I cannot rely on them. I have had experiences of mail being lost and stolen. The last thing I want to happen is for a degree certificate to land up in the wrong hands.

So, I turned to my program advisor. I had a simple request, but my program advisor could only offer solutions within a scripted range —anything outside of the script she ignored. I requested that UoPeople send my degree certificate via courier because it is a more reliable service.

Her reply was so clinical that I wondered if she was an Artificial Intelligent robot! I complained, even tried a little insult - but she remained clinical, emotionless, and as impersonal as a robot. She only offered what her script told her to do.

It is like calling a call centre at an Internet Service Provider. The agent has never configured a Mikrotik router before and cannot answer questions exceeding his possible user complaints database.

A while ago, I received a system-generated email from the university. It was a reminder to register for courses for the next term. The system printed my program advisor's name below, and I replied to her. I told her that this was my last term and I did not need to apply for more courses. Sure, she said, no need for that.

A few days later, a more urgent reminder came my way, and although I knew the system sent it, it would have been nice if they could deal with me using human intelligence instead of robotic intelligence.

So, I will adapt. I will change my delivery address to have my degree mailed to friends in the USA, and my friends will courier it to me.

I cannot offer solutions to the University of the People to address this issue. I have sympathy for what they have to deal with. I have to consider that most of the people serving at UoPeople are volunteers. What they have achieved so far is admirable, and I am genuinely thankful for their services.