Today the University of South Africa (Unisa) begins its October / November exam season which will cap off the second semester of a troubled 2020 for students and staff alike. As an entirely online endeavour the university is expecting 1.7 million exams to written online.

While a distance education university Unisa traditionally held its exams in person, requiring students to make their ways to exam halls to write their finals the old fashioned way. This had to change in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown resulting from it in South Africa.

While lockdown restrictions have eased up and Unisa campuses and exam halls may now open in lower capacities, the university announced in September that online exams would become a permanent fixture going into the future.

During the semester one exam period 1.3 million exams were written in the announcement of this higher forecast no reason is given as to why the number for this semester sits some 400 000 higher, though we can make a reasonable estimation. For the first slew of online exams earlier this year Unisa gave students a choice to defer their exams: those who didn’t feel comfortable with writing in the first semester for any reason could instead write in the second semester with no penalty or need to re-pay fees.

We have to imagine that the glut of students who chose this option, maybe hoping for COVID-19 to be gone by now or physical exams to make a return, are now writing in the October / November period.

With these higher numbers comes fear of repeat problems from the first run of online exams. Countless technical problems reared their head during the initial exams and while these were smoothed over as time went on some issues still stood.

To combat this Unisa has announced the testing of tools to address it, but the only one mentioned in this release is some kind of phone application with no details provided.