Xolani Mafu* was among 2 400 students whose marks were withheld by Unisa because he was accused of plagiarism.
Mafu told City Press last week that his marks were initially withheld and he was issued with a disciplinary letter. But, he said that, when he visited Unisa’s Florida campus in Gauteng last week to enquire about the developments, the university backtracked and he was allowed to write supplementary exams.
“I went to the exams section and I was lucky to be given a supplementary exam, which I wrote. I’m awaiting the result now. Most students didn’t know that going to the campus could change their situation. I had to WhatsApp them so that they could also partake in the supplementary exams,” Mafu said.
This comes amid growing concerns raised by students about the university’s decision for students to register for second semester exams before March 12 and that exams for both semesters would be written at the end of the year.
The so-called extended semesters have resulted in a petition on social media, requesting signatures to oppose the decision. Some students have complained that their jobs are highly demanding and they will not have enough time to study, while others claimed not to have enough funds to register at once.
There are already more than 20 000 signatures the petition, and the target is 25 000. It will be submitted to Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande to request him to reverse the decision.
Responding to City Press, Unisa confirmed in a statement that 2 400 students, who wrote various modules in the colleges of agriculture and environmental sciences; accounting sciences; human sciences; law; and science, engineering and technology, had their marks withheld.
“The university takes unethical and dishonest behaviour during any assessment very seriously. Such behaviour does not only tarnish the reputation that Unisa has strived to uphold over its long legacy, but also undermines the sincere effort of other students who desist from such practices.
“The consequences of cheating are serious and can result in disqualification from future tests or examinations, and exclusion or expulsion from the university. Cheating in examinations is a violation of the university’s moral and ethical code, which will not be tolerated,” Unisa said.
With the migration from venue-based to online examinations, Unisa said it had seen an increase in cheating or plagiarism cases and was putting measures in place to address this.
“The Students’ Disciplinary Code is aimed at upholding the name and reputation of the university, ensuring the quality of the assessment process and the integrity of the academic process.”
Unisa said that, to date, more than 750 warning letters have been issued and formal disciplinary hearings were being prepared for those who wished to contest warning letters. More than 200 cases were still outstanding.
But, Unisa did not respond to Mafu’s allegation that it had backtracked from accusations against him and that he was allowed to write. Instead, the university said it would continue taking every precaution to ensure that academic standards were not compromised.
With regard to the extended semesters, Unisa said students were encouraged to submit their written concerns to the office of the Unisa Ombudsman.
In a statement issued on Monday, Unisa said management had not been unmindful of students’ concerns and it had sought to address these issues through the relevant governance, consultative and decision-making structures within and outside the university.
Part of these processes has entailed consultations with the National Student Representative Council, and involving the department of higher education and training. It said further engagements within the university decision-making structures were under way.
“The decision to make certain changes to the academic calendar has been necessary, not only to accommodate matriculants whose results will only be released this month, but also to cater for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme students whose funding will only be released in April 2021. This is meant to accommodate at least 250 000 students who are currently writing examinations, supplementary examinations (and whose examinations will still need to be marked).
“This is also aimed at aligning the academic calendar with the ministerial directive for all universities to commence their academic programmes in March 2021.”
In accordance with these changes, Unisa said students were required to register for their first and second semester modules by March 12.
“This decision to combine the registrations is intended to recoup the time usually used for second semester registrations during July and will allow for the extension of the two semesters to provide extended teaching time in the light of the academic year starting only in March 2021.”
Unisa said students who were expecting to complete their qualifications in the first semester would not be adversely affected. Instead, they would be identified and accommodated through relevant interventions at college level, including concessions, to ensure that they could complete their qualifications in the first semester.
“Students will also not be adversely affected about the payment of fees, as these will be staggered and paid at the same pace as they are usually paid. Importantly, while students will be required to register for both Semester 1 and Semester 2 modules by 12 March 2021, they will be required to pay their fees as they normally do for each semester, despite registering for both semesters simultaneously.
“To ensure that students have sufficient time to study for both semester modules in the time available, the university will endeavour to release the Semester 2 study material once the students have finalised their registrations. The extended period for both semesters is intended to maximise on the time available for teaching and learning with a view to improve learning outcomes,” Unisa said.
The university said these changes would not affect post-graduate students and students studying for qualifications that were already year programmes.
Petition against Unisa’s decision to have extended semesters and exams at the end of the year
- *Not his real name