I don’t have the best track record with academic institutions. I struggle to go to lectures, it’s not like they are compulsory, and to stay interested in my studies. The fact that having a full time, well paying, job at the same time is almost impossible doesn’t help either. So last year I decided that UNISA would solve all my problems. I could still get my degree while earning money and without the stress of having missed the one important lecture of the term. I registered and found it reasonably painless. Compared to the massive cues I had experienced at Wits registering online seemed enlightened. I was impressed by how UNISA had embraced technology and the Internet and used it to their advantage unlike many South African institutions that where still intrigued by ‘copy’ and ‘paste’. I could send in all my work online, receive all my UNISA material by downloading it and they even have video chats! This all seemed so forward and 1st world I was rather taken by it. I received my study material quickly by post and VOILA I was studying at my own pace on my own terms. If only the rest of my experience with them was as easy.
The first warning flag, which I completely ignored, was that you only have to hand in one assignment as a Humanities undergrad to write your exam. At first I thought that this was the best thing since sliced cheese. I only had to do one assignment and write and exam to pass. Sounds great, but in retrospect what academic institution worth their salt would have such low standards? You didn’t even have to pass the assignment to write the exam. So technically I could have sent in a page with my plagiarism declaration and that its I could write my exam. I only recently found out that a degree from UNISA is worth quite a bit less than one from UCT or Wits. I guess the fact that my exams where just rephrased version of the previous year should have been the slap in the face I needed to know that something wasn’t right. But it took trying to track down a book for my art history course to make me see my mistake.
UNISA had prescribed a book for my Art History course. It wasn’t compulsory but when your study material says ‘Read Kemp on this subject’ more than once it is usually a good idea to get your hands on Kemp and see why he is so important. I went to my local UNISA affiliated bookstore only to discover that the book is out of print. Well, that sucks. So I went online to the UNISA library to order the book, another thing I thought was inspired. But the book would possibly only arrive by the time my course was finished. I had tried to order it in February and I would only get it in July. I then tried to buy the book online which is another story altogether and only ended up in me cursing Americans for refusing to send a book to South Africa. In a last ditch attempt to get this book I went to the main UNISA library in Pretoria, I live in Stellenbosch so that wasn’t exactly an easy trip. At the library I discovered that the copies they had of this book have now magically disappeared. I gave up.
I have many other issues with UNISA. The tiny size of the document you can send to them online is a big one. The fact that their study material is badly written and not edited at all is another. But my search for this damned book just became the embodiment for everything that is wrong with the place. And in short my biggest issue with them is that they are just so incompetent. They seem to bumble about and somehow if your lucky you’ll receive a degree that isn’t really worth that much these days. My parents studied through UNISA for a short while when they where younger and their experience was completely different from mine. My boyfriend is currently doing his honours through them and his list of grievances outweighs mine. I know people who have recently studied with them and loved it. But then I have other friends who hated it. My conclusion is that if you want to get an extra degree for fun or out of interest or maybe just to show that you have one UNISA can work for you. But if you are going through UNISA to receive an education in the hopes that you will be able to use it for your career go elsewhere. It isn’t an easy solution for those that have to work and study at the same time. You will end up hurting your chances of furthering your studies somewhere else or receiving a worthwhile education. I have learnt my lesson and I am now trying to enroll at UCT. The first thing I am going to do when I get there is go straight to their library and find that book!