In the middle of April the University of South Africa (Unisa) announced that the May / June examination period for first semester students would be transitioned online. This is, of course, to protect students and staff during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While details on how exactly this will happen are sparse – the university has promised full details soon – a recent email sent out by Unisa has provided some generalities.

The first of these is the fact that, come 15th May, a new examination timetable should be available. The times and dates for examinations are usually confirmed well before May, when exams kick off, but these are extraordinary circumstances.

Unisa has provided 10 more points about the May / June examination which can be found below.

  1. “All students registered for semester 1 of 2020 will be given automatic examination admission.
  2. Students must still submit assignments, as assignment results are used to calculate your year mark which, in turn, forms part of your final examination result.
  3. Examination admissions will be processed on 15 May 2020 and students will then be able to access their final examination timetable for the semester 1 examinations.
  4. The semester 1 examination period will commence on 25 May 2020 and conclude on 7 July 2020.
  5. The university will make every effort to adhere to the original sequencing of the examinations as they appeared in the provisional timetable. There may, however, be some changes. It is, therefore, very important that you confirm your examination dates in the final examination timetable that will be available after 15 May 2020.
  6. Please also take note of the revised session times as these have also been amended to make provision for time to download the examination question paper and then to upload your responses. This impacts on the commencement time of each assessment (eg Session 1, 07:45 – 10:30; 2-hour examination plus 15 minutes to download the examination and 30 minutes to upload your responses).
  7. The modules which have been assessed by means of non-venue-based online assessments will remain the same for this session.
  8. Your year mark will only be taken into account if it benefits you. If your year mark does not benefit you, it will be excluded from the calculation of your final result. It is, however, still important to submit assignments as completing assignments will prepare you for the final assessment. Furthermore, the year mark calculated with your examination mark may result in a much higher final result.
  9. Should there be a clash in the examination timetable, you must select the module that you will complete during this examination period. The other module will be deferred to the October/November 2020 examination period at no cost to you. The university cannot accommodate clashes in the online assessment scenario.
  10. If you are unable to complete the non-venue-based assessment, irrespective of the reason, you will automatically be deferred to the October/November 2020 examination period, free of charge.”

While there’s a lot to discuss there, point nine is particularly worrisome to us. While students in the past have been saddled with unfortunate circumstances such as days with two exams, one after another, having examinations clash is a major problem.

Those looking to complete all their modules this semester, and those hoping to finish their degrees, will have a massive delay in their plans should two or more of their subjects clash.

We’re not even sure why this would happen. Unlike venue-based examinations which incur costs for rent and staff, an online solution should in theory allow for more flexibility. Even if point nine was included as a theoretical safeguard by Unisa, it’s already caused concern in the student body.

While point six seems to give some clue as to how these online exams will work, students have to yet again play the waiting game as more details trickle out of the university.

Finally it’s imperative that all students fill out a form provided by Unisa recently. It seeks to confirm the cell numbers of those writing exams, but we’re not sure why this information is necessary since that detail is mandatory during registration. The form is mandatory and needs to be completed before 7th May.