The University of South Africa (Unisa) has recently announced that its online examinations have moved from a temporary solution to deal with the pandemic, to a permanent fact of life for its students.

Unisa has two examination periods per year to line up with the ends of its two semesters – one in May / June, and one in October / November. For May / June 2020 the university was forced to quickly build and implement an online exam system as the South African lockdown rules prevented the required number of students for assembling to write, among other health and safety concerns.

This new online system experienced many problems, and even after they were completed Unisa repeatedly failed to release results.

“…all future examinations of Unisa will be held online. Plans are currently underway to ensure that the October/November exams are successfully held online. As was the case during the May/June exams, most modules will require you to have a device (smartphone, tablet, iPad, laptop or desktop) and data to ensure that you successfully write the exams. Some modules, however, will require additional technical specifications such as web cams and high-speed internet, and your lecturer will communicate with you about such requirements in the next few weeks,” reads an announcement.

For May / June 2020 Unisa partnered with service provider MTN to provide 30GB of mobile data per month for two months to students for no extra charge. The lack of access to devices and data were one of the biggest stumbling blocks for these online exams.

Despite being known as a distance and online university, Unisa did traditionally require that students write their final exams in person in large exam halls. While this did put the burden of travel on the student, it was relatively less costly than the digital option.

It seems going into the future, permanent, stable internet access, as well as a smart device will be a prerequisite for study here.

“The details regarding the different exam formats and platforms for your respective modules will be communicated together with the timetable, which will be published in due course,” Unisa ends.