The extension of the national COVID-19 lockdown declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has compelled tertiary institutions to make some far-reaching decisions regarding the 2020 May/June examinations. The University of South Africa (UNISA) is no exception and its students are having to write their exams online. Staff members are also working from home.

The university is making use of alternative assessment formats for the examinations. Students began with online exams this week. However, the new arrangement has already caused anxiety for some.

Jolene Moraba is a second-year BCom Supply Chain Operations Management student. She says she is overwhelmed with anxiety as she waits to write her first online exam in a week’s time.

“In all honesty, with all the anxiety and the stress that comes with COVID-19 I’m trying to study but I’m not as prepared but I don’t have a choice. It’s my future that I’m talking about. Trying your best is good enough,” says Moraba.

She already faced a number of challenges submitting her scheduled assignments online. Persistent low network connectivity is a major challenge and now with online exams being the only option, she’s doubtful if this indeed is a good year for her studies.

“Sometimes the assignment requires you to type a huge amount and I have to go to the internet cafe. And if they’re closed, I always have to beg a neighbour or one of my siblings to lend me a laptop so that I can type my assignment so that I can submit,” explains Moraba.

UNISA management says the current situation has forced the institution to work with speed to save the academic year.

“With the pandemic, we were given five days warning before we went into lockdown stage five. We had to think of ways of saving the academic year, which means continued teaching and students submitting their assignments. And we had to make a very difficult decision on what to do for exams and the initial decision was that we differ the exams for October/November hoping that we would be at stage one. But there was a lot of pressure from the SRC,” says UNISA’s Acting Vice-Principal, responsible for Teaching and Learning, Professor Veronica Mckay.

About 270 000 students are registered with the institution for this academic year.

Despite the major shift in the arrangements, the university says it is not taking any chances that might create loopholes for cheating.  Provisions have also been made to accommodate students who might not make it for the online exams. This will be done without penalties or additional costs.