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Unisa set to finally act against more than 1,500 students charged with exam cheating

Unisa set to finally act against more than 1,500 students charged with exam cheating
Unisa is accused of delaying disciplinary hearings of suspended students, who are alleged to have cheated during exams. (Photo: Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela)

The university says March is the month for disciplinary hearings, but one affected student says she has not received notice of the proceedings.

At least 1,500 suspended University of South Africa (Unisa) students will face disciplinary hearings in March for cheating and dishonesty during exams.

Because of their suspensions, some students on the verge of completing their studies have not been able to graduate, obtain their qualifications and find jobs.

A Unisa student can be suspended for two years depending on the seriousness of the offence.

This comes after Daily Maverick learnt that the affected students wrote to Unisa management on 22 February 2024 complaining about discrepancies in the way the university was handling their cases.

They alleged in their letter that Unisa was using a blanket approach to the matter – charging students who had committed different offences under the same provisions, but then being inconsistent in issuing its rulings.

A similar correspondence, which is undated, was also allegedly sent by the Student Representative Council (SRC) to management detailing allegations that the dean of students, Dr Olwethu Sipuka, had refused to deal with their grievances.

Daily Maverick reported in January that suspended students were concerned about administrative bungles and delays in finalising their hearings.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Clamour over ‘unfair’ Unisa student suspensions amid cheating charges

An affected student, who asked to remain anonymous, said a total of 1,541 students had been begging for their suspension to be lifted.

She said they had found out that Unisa had on 10 February retracted suspensions of certain students who were facing the same allegations and had instead issued them with warning letters.

But Unisa indicated on Wednesday, 28 February, that the Student Disciplinary Office was in the process of issuing notices of disciplinary hearings to students, and the hearings were set to start in March.

The affected student, however, told Daily Maverick on Thursday, 29 February, that she had not received any notice to attend a hearing.

Concerning the allegations of a blanket approach and inconsistencies, Unisa said there were processes and platforms in place for engagement with various student structures.

“Where matters are raised in these structures or through any form of correspondence, the university engages with the student structures through appropriate internal channels and these engagements are confined to those spaces,” Unisa said.

Student demands

unisa students exam cheating

Acting Unisa registrar Prof Moloko Sepota. (Photo: UNISA / X)

In their letter to management on 22 February, affected students wrote that they wished to place on record that it had come to their attention that the office of the registrar, which is currently occupied by Professor Moloko Sepota in an acting capacity, had charged students with exactly the same charges, irrespective of the level of plagiarism involved.

Sepota is acting in the position after Unisa fired Professor Steward Mothata following a fall-out with the university council and Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Unisa vice-chancellor’s fate in the balance after Nzimande plans to put institution under administration

The charges include that students contravened the Student Disciplinary Code “Chapter 3”, which deals with misconduct.

Under this chapter, the affected students state that they were found to have breached three rules:

  • 1.2: A student refusing or failing to comply with a lawful instruction or request of an authorised Unisa employee;
  • 1.18: A student making a false declaration in order to benefit or prejudice Unisa or benefit another student; and
  • 1.20: A student intentionally or negligently tendering or presenting a document to a Unisa employee, which he or she knows or ought to reasonably know to be false or a forgery that will cause prejudice to the administrative, financial or academic interests of the university.

The letter states that the code binds the Student Disciplinary Committee (SDC) to the rules of administration law and natural justice, its principles and precedents.

“The Registrar has failed to apply its past decisions in charging students with the same transgression. It is submitted [sic] since 2023, every student has been found guilty of contravening Chapter 3 – Rule 1.2, 1.18 [and] 1.20, of the Student Disciplinary Code and suspend students,” the letter reads.

The letter states that students learnt that the SDC sent out dishonesty reports on 7 and 8 February to those studying Law of Delict module PVL 3703 who were implicated in cheating.

These reports, the letter states, outlined their transgressions relating to similar answers found in their exam scripts.

These students, the letter states, had “disciplinary pending” on their records since last year’s second semester exams.

“On 9 February 2024 the registrar recalled all disciplinary reports from student mailboxes. On 10 February 2024 the registrar sent thousands of PVL3703 students with pending disciplinary hearings warning letters stating that ‘students may accept the evidence provided, the students will be allowed to re-register the module and/or reject the evidence the students will be required to undergo a formal disciplinary hearing’.”

Students indicated in the letter that they were also aware of warning letters sent out to students, who had duly performed – meaning recorded receiving a DP – for different modules between 10 and 22 February.

“In the interest of natural justice and constitutional right to equality, our right has been infringed. In light of the foregoing, we demand as we hereby do, that students who have completed their degrees be allowed to graduate,” the letter reads.

However, a student with knowledge of the matter indicated that Unisa had never responded to their letter.

The process

Unisa said 1,541 students had been suspended based on the merits of each case and the process was applied fairly and consistently.

In some cases, Unisa said the Student Disciplinary Office issued students with warning letters in line with the policy on academic integrity for minor offences.

This policy, Unisa said, prescribes different types of corrective measures to be applied for formative and summative academic integrity transgressions.

Such measures include encouraging students to re-register for the module before the closing date of the official registration period. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • JP K says:

    I attempted to study through Unisa. I found it extraordinary how on student whatsapp groups (which had hundreds of students), people were brazenly offering services to complete assignments, projects and even theses.

    At one point I spoke to a friend of a friend who worked at an overseas equivalent of home affairs. She asked if I’d studied at UNISA. Surprised that she even knew UNISA, I asked why and she said that basically there are so many problems with its credibility that they don’t even consider UNISA qualifications when assessing applications to stay in the country.

    • Angry Student says:

      Oh please 🙄 you just wanted to bash Unisa students every university has its own issues I hope you know that.

      • Graeme J says:

        That’s rubbish. I have a masters at NQF-9. I never cheated in a single exam. If I had cheated, I would have expected to be expelled.

      • JP K says:

        Not sure why you’re taking offense. Yes, every university has issues. Nevertheless, nothing I’ve said is untrue. Not sure why you’re pretending UNISA doesn’t have serious issues. Hence this article…

    • Confused Citizen says:

      Unisa insists on only conducting online exams. The online invigilation tools are totally inadequate for modules with 100s/1000s of students. Students receive answers on their cellphones or second devices in the room they writing the online exam in. Nothing to stop it. One-on-one human proctoring only works for small numbers. Unisa will see the error of their ways in a few years when no employers would want to employ Unisa graduates as they don’t trust the online tests and examinations.

      • Tony Gomes says:

        Busy processing job applicants, and as a matter of course I always disregard the Unisa part of any CV. Always been way as far back as I can remember. Funny thing is I studied there myself once (just a course), and disregard even that as it was such a poorly constructed course, and the exams were a monkey puzzle.

  • Graeme J says:

    Pray tell, how is it that students only get a letter of warning for cheating in an exam?

    • Bob Kuhn says:

      It’s part of the global DEI mania and application of marxist principals of equality for all….ie the age of the lowest common denominators is upon us.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    I know UNISA is big, but more than 1500 students caught cheating?! And assuming that those caught represent only a portion of those who cheated could we be looking at 10000 students? How could they allow this to happen? In real life, if you’re caught cheating you suffer consequences, but it looks like UNISA authorities just want this to quietly go away. Welcome to SA, home of scoundrels and cheats.

    • Graeme J says:

      100%.

      • Jane Crankshaw says:

        Apparently for R15000 you can buy a degree from the University of the OFS – Seems to be the order of the day! Degrees from South African Universities used to be respected by the World and now they appear to be worth less than the paper they’re printed on !

  • Stephen Mcbride says:

    The honest students who never copy and never plagiarize and want a valuable certificate need to insist that all examinations are invigilated. Even if they themselves pay and invigilator (principal of nearby school) and they all take their laptops and write under supervision and get a letter to that effect.
    But unless protocols in place that prevent outside messaging or allows monitoring of everything then some will abuse it and taint the results of the rest

    • James Webster says:

      It makes no difference, the wholesale abuses perpetrated by black management have already destroyed the credibility of almost every South African university. First world academic standards and black management don’t gel well.

    • Les Thorpe says:

      Fully agree with your sentiment Stephen. I found the online exam process to be “questionable”. I sat one NQF 8 applied maths exam at home in January/February 2021 and after completion of my script, was unable to upload the aforesaid on the UNISA website. I thus abandoned sitting my second NQF 8 applied maths exam a couple of days later, assuming that I’d experience the same problem. I noted that a number of students had drawn attention to problems with the online concept/exam process earlier in the year. Fortunately, I had registered for the courses for “non-degree purposes” and thus was not reliant on obtaining passes. I did benefit from the curriculum as it was most interesting. Had I been studying for a degree however, I would have been most “perturbed”.

  • Bill Gild says:

    Whether occasioned by the woke’ists, the staggering incompetence of universties’ leadership, or the inappropriate application of affirmative action, is irrelevant; the fact of the matter is that at some point in the not-too-distant future, very few (if any) South African University degrees will be accorded recognition by developed countries.

  • Charles Butcher says:

    There can be no compromise, you cheated now you booted out FOREVER

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    This makes a mockery of any Degree earned through UNISA whether you cheated or not! What a tragedy for all those innocent students who worked hard and did well.

  • James Webster says:

    How typical of the African approach to life. When you are caught committing a crime, scream about your rights, deny everything and go on the offensive. No wonder Africa in general and South Africa in particular are such cesspits. Carry on guys, carry on breaking the rules because somehow you think they don’t apply to you and continue leading Africa to the trash heap of the world, where it appears to belong.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    I have had experience with the admin at 4 South African universities studying at post graduate level and with doctorates from two of them. At a late age, 88 years old, I am studying at UNISA to keep my mind active, and my experience of the administration is horrific. The academics in my field are good, but the continual admin “botchups” make me wonder whether it is worth it. There needs to be a complete turnover of the admin personnel!

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