Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management graduates: Tshepo Marobane, Londiwe Sibisi, Gert van Rooi, Bhifularo Phaphana, and Kgomalla Petje.

First online Public Management students graduate

The University of Pretoria’s School of Public Management and Administration celebrated the graduation of its first set of students to complete the fully online Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management (PDPM) programme on Tuesday, 6 September.

Professor Gerda Van Dijk, the director of the School of Public Management, said her department was “delighted” to have graduated their very first six UPOnline students in the field of Public Management at the September 2022 graduation ceremony.

Also graduating the same week, on Friday 9 September, were the second cohort of graduates for the online Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health (PDPH). This Public Health programme was UPOnline’s very first programme to be offered online and UP’s School of Health Systems & Public Health celebrated its first online graduates in April this year.

The Friday ceremony was attended by 92 of the 222 people who successfully graduated with a PDPH.

Tuesday’s ceremony for the public management graduates was a far more intimate and exclusive gathering, with five of the six inaugural graduates attending in person.


“We are proud of these students who have completed their PGDip in Public Management under difficult circumstances mostly during the pandemic,” said Professor Linda Van Ryneveld, the director of UP’s COmprehensive Online Education Services.

“We also celebrate the phenomenal work done by the programme coordinator, Prof Gerda van Dijk, who led the team of enthusiastic and passionate lecturers in developing and facilitating the Faculty of Economic Management Sciences’ very first fully online programme,” Van Ryneveld added.

Noting that the School of Public Management and Administration was the first in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences to implement a fully online qualification, Van Dijk shared the same pride for their first batch of graduates.

“We are extremely proud of our first cohort of graduates. We started the first module with 23 students and our latest module has 185 registered students,” Van Dijk said.

Flexible learning format

“Flexibility matters,” said Van Ryneveld. “UPOnline programmes make it possible for working adults to study part-time without having to take leave. Whether they choose to study early in the morning, late at night or over weekends is up to them, as long as they stay within the deadlines for their weekly learning activities and assignments.”

Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management inaugural class graduates Londiwe Sibisi and Gerhard van Rooi both shared some highlights of their online learning experience as well as advice for future students. Like many of their fellow graduates, both continued to work full-time while they studied.

“I like the flexibility in the sense that you save a lot of time and you can access the information 24/7,” said Van Rooi, who continued with his full-time job as an animal health technician while he completed his studies.

Interactive and collaborative

Sibisi found that the best time for her to work was late at night, between 10pm and 2am, or during her lunch breaks. As a mother of young children and a lecturer at a Sita college, this was the best time for her to work uninterrupted.

She added that to accommodate these odd work hours, their student group had set up two different WhatsApp groups. One was for daytime and the other for night owls so that they would not disturb their peers late at night. With this late-night group, she was able to get help from fellow students who were also up late and would reply to questions sent at midnight.

Unlike many of his peers, this was not Van Rooi’s first time using an online learning platform as he had already done so with another South African university. He did however note that the learning format differed as he didn’t have any online interaction with lecturers as he did with the UPOnline course.

“With the University of Pretoria we collaborated with the facilitators as well as the students,” he said. “At UP we even grouped to participate in some of the activities as well as a discussion forum where students expressed their views to learn from one another.”

Learning curve

For Sibisi, this was her first time with online learning. “It was a challenge at first as it was my first time, but I was able to ask other students and the WhatsApp group was very helpful,” she said, adding that she bought a new laptop and router so that she could pursue her online studies.

While there was a bit of a learning curve, she said that after two modules she was fine and that the facilitators responded well and were very helpful.

Although he’d studied online before, Van Rooi also said that he found the first module to be the most challenging as he was still familiarising himself with the new format. Recalling how his shoulders were sore from the stress of that first module, he nonetheless said learning to use new computer features and applications was one of the highlights of the programme.

Career-focused and career-friendly courses

Both public management graduates said that all of the course modules were relevant to their work. For Van Rooi, the three that stood out the most were the modules on Programme and Project Management in the Public Sector; Public Sector Transformation and Reform, and Advanced Human Resource Management in the Public Sector.

“We developed the course content keeping in mind the senior management competency framework developed for the State,” said programme coordinator Van Dijk.

“Students working in public sector organisations coming from diverse educational backgrounds (education, nursing, engineering, and development studies) are allowed to engage with current governance theory and practice, thereby achieving the School’s aim to aid in the capacitance of a capable state”

“As a flagship for the School, the PGDip strives to contribute to the professionalisation of the public sector – delivering graduates who live their service commitment through their work and contributions to society,” Van Dijk concluded.


“Learning fully online is not for the faint of heart,” said Professor Liz Wolvaardt, the coordinator of the online PDPH programme. “What sets these graduates apart is tenacity.”

Speaking of their challenges in completing their course, both public management graduates said that they had to persevere in the face of unsupportive friends, family and colleagues.

“At first friends and colleagues thought it was strange that I was busy at times like a Friday night. They were not very supportive and didn’t think that I would be able to do it, but over time it improved and they became more supportive and understanding,” Sibisi said.

Despite the criticism and lack of support from some corners, both were able to persevere and prove their critics wrong by completing their modules.

Speaking on the programme in general, Sibisi was full of praise. “It was beautiful. I’m just happy,” she enthused.

Above: PDPM Graduates Londiwe Sibisi, Bhifularo Phaphana, Kgomalla Petje, Tshepo Marobane and Gert van Rooi.
Left: Bhifularo Phaphana
Right: Londiwe Sibisi

PGDip in Public Health graduate experiences

We also spoke to PDPH graduates Trust Kubayo and Karabo Sefako about their accomplishments and experiences.

“I am really ecstatic and honoured to have graduated for the Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health at the University of Pretoria and become a UP Alumni member,” said Sefeko, adding that he felt blessed to have done so with academic honours.

Sefako had already encountered online learning while doing short courses for career advancement. “I have learned and grown to love and really appreciate the virtual/online learning platform because it grants an opportunity for working people the ability to further their career without having to resign,” he said, adding that the online platform provided easy accessibility.

“This journey has only begun and I am still enthusiastic about climbing the academic ladder until I reach the top.”

For Trust Kubayo, a mother of three children and a full-time medical technologist, the course allowed her the flexibility and convenience to fit her studies amid the many demands of her other responsibilities. “It was very convenient,” she said.

“The lecturers that we have, make the job 10 times easier. They gave timely feedback and learning with UP is very easy going,” she said.

“It unlocked and instilled a lot of discipline, the discipline I didn’t even know I had,” she said about her experience.

Asked which of the public health modules she found most relevant, she said “I can say they all were. It literally touched on the theory that I had done before, so it made a lot of sense for me. Nothing was irrelevant. Everything touched base on my job.”

Asked which was most interesting, she said “I can’t pick one from the other, I enjoyed everything but especially the research module.”

Clearly someone who likes a challenge, she said the same research module was also the most challenging for her personally. Having taken on that challenge, she is already taking things to the next level and has begun studying for a Masters in Public health at UP.

Already well experienced with work in medical labs, Kubayo said that the studies helped her better understand how her job fits into the larger public health picture. She said that it also helped in her mental state and her thinking.

More importantly, this gave her the stepping stone she needed to get from her BTech in biomedical technology to the point where she could enrol for a Masters.

The Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health graduates celebrate after the ceremony in September.

Praise for the PDPH graduates

Despite the challenges her students faced, Wolvaardt was proud that many of the 222 students who completed the course were cum laude graduates.

“What sets these graduates apart is tenacity. They did not give up when faced with unknown content. They did not give up when faced with deadlines. They did not give up when asked to use tools, technology and software that they had never seen or heard of before.”

“What they did was to step up to the challenge and engage.  Engaging with the material by listening to the lectures repeatedly. Engaging with statistics by practising and practising until they were competent. And finally, engaging with the academic team and each other.”

“We are so proud of these graduates who work and study and wish them well with their future plans in public health.”

Advice for future and prospective students

Speaking to all four graduates, they had a lot of valuable advice for anyone thinking of studying online and most offered quite similar advice. We’ve put all that together into a handy list to get you motivated.

  • Time management, time management, time management!
  • Avoid everything that disturbs you.
  • Avoid other things that hold you back or milk your energy levels.
  • Avoid negative people, even family or friends.
  • Exercise regularly. You will be amazed how your energy levels increase.
  • Keep to your timetables.
  • Plan your activities and time needed in advance.
  • Do all the readings provided.
  • Allow yourself short breaks and make time for entertainment.
  • Never allow one day to pass without doing readings or activities.
  • Maintain discipline with your studies
  • Interact with your fellow students and learn from each other.
  • Discover your purpose in life. This is a great internal motivator.
  • Everyone is valuable, has a special gift or talent and must develop it.
  • Just do it!

If you would like to learn more and are interested in studying for either of these postgraduate diplomas, please visit the UPOnline website.

Postgraduate Diploma in Public Management:

Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health: