Unisa fails students in exam ‘cover-up’

Students at Unisa have accused the institution of covering up a mistake in an exam paper, which they say caused them to fail the examination. 

"In December I found out that I got 31% for an exam I had written a few weeks before. I thought 'that can't be right'," student Nigel Naidoo told the Mail & Guardian.

The exam was on a second-year module called "Fundamentals of Research", offered as part of the national diploma in public management in Unisa's College of Economic and Management Sciences. 

Naidoo said he had asked to see his script and compared his answers with his study guide. When it became clear that there were not that many differences between the two he realised something was wrong. 

Naidoo complained to module leader Barry Hanyane, who allegedly agreed that human errors were made in the marking of the script and said it would be marked again.  

"But nothing was done and I was sent from pillar to post trying to get help." 

He was sent a series of contradictory emails from Unisa employees — which the M&G has seen — about the exam paper, including one that said all the scripts would be marked again.

Naidoo was also referred to a professor, Darrell Myrick, who marked his script again in his presence. 

It was in this meeting that Naidoo said he saw the memo used by the exam markers to mark scripts. 

"Besides discovering many other marking errors, one of the questions in the memo was different to what was asked of students in the exam paper," he said.

Myrick recommended in a letter to the examinations department in June, which the M&G has seen, that Naidoo's "mark be changed from 31% to 62%".

Myrick told Naidoo later that the department did not agree with the recommendation and his mark was not changed. 

But Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said Naidoo "had not given the correct answer to two of the questions. He had received a zero in both instances."

He conceded Unisa had "identified possible flaws with the marks" but that it "promptly conducted an audit of the marking for all the scripts. 

"All 49 scripts were reviewed and it was found that 13 students who attempted to answer a particular question were erroneously marked as having provided the incorrect answer. The marks were subsequently adjusted accordingly," Ramotshela said.

However, another student, Sunitha Brijlall, who wrote the same exam, told the M&G she was also referred to Myrick for remarking. He apparently also recommended that her mark be changed, but again the department did not agree.

"They are definitely trying to cover up the fact that Naidoo knows that our question papers did not correspond with the marking memo," Brijlall told the M&G.

Since July last year, more than 1 900 complaints have been laid against Unisa on consumer complaints website HelloPeter, including "exam papers with false marks", "nonexistent service" and demands for refunds.

But Ramotshela said Unisa "welcomes comments and input from the public, including those on HelloPeter, as relevant and useful input … to improve our service to students".

Naidoo, who works for the City of Tshwane municipality, said he paid R2 420 for the module and R130 for his script to be marked again.

"How many other students are there out there who just like me thought they had failed but because of the marking mistakes they could have actually passed?" he asked.

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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