20 Unisa postgraduate students charged with plagiarism still in the dark about way forward

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Challenges continue to plague the University of SA’s (Unisa) decision to conduct exams only online last year as close to 20 postgraduate students remain in the dark about their academic prospects.

The students were studying for an Bachelor of Science honours in environmental management and were charged with plagiarism.

Initially, City Press learnt that 14 students were affected but the number is believed to be close to 20. These students have neither been granted an opportunity to re-write nor sit for supplementary exams – something allegedly done for other students who found themselves in a similar position.

At the time of writing, Unisa had not responded to questions sent for comment on April 7.

The affected students told City Press that they were confused by the instructions contained in the exam guidelines for the Impact Motivation and Management (HES4810) module.

READ: With online exams, Unisa sees an increase in cheating and plagiarism

The instructions read: “Plagiarism is not involved here since you must learn the learning units by heart and be able to give back exactly what you have learnt.”

The university allocated them a 0 mark allegedly because they had plagiarised.

Student Xola Thinta* told City Press that he wrote what he understood: “I didn’t paraphrase the study guide but I was found to have plagiarised. We have tried to raise these issues internally to no avail.”

Thinta said the students had to go out to landfill sites at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year to conduct research as part of the module.

“I took that health risk because I wanted to pass. I did well in all my assignments last year and when I wrote that paper I knew that at least I had enough marks that I’ve accumulated throughout the year and that I was surely going to pass exams,” Thinta said.

City Press has also seen several emails the students sent to Unisa officials asking for assistance. In one email, Roelien du Plessis an official in the department of environmental sciences, wrote on April 30: “Dear 2020 HES4810 student, I assume that you have applied for the supplementary examination. If not, please ignore this email. Find attached the exam guidance. Read carefully to be able to prepare well for the exam.

“You are not to copy and paste ANYTHING! You need to know your work well since I will integrate sections. The exam time table will be sent to you by exams – I do not know when.”

However, students have questioned this instruction as no such option existed for them. According to the Unisa website, those who qualify for exams are informed during the issuing of their results. “Remember, you cannot apply for a supplementary exam,” the website reads.

The students claim that they were promised that they would be allowed to sit for supplementary exams despite that they were still charged with plagiarism.

* Not his real name


Msindisi Fengu 


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