A student who failed badly has graduated after his marks were changed

An academic, who did not want to be identified, said there was an allegation of a staff member being instructed to change marks, and when she refused, she was suspended. (Reuters)

An academic, who did not want to be identified, said there was an allegation of a staff member being instructed to change marks, and when she refused, she was suspended. (Reuters)

The University of Zululand is embroiled in a fresh fraud scandal after it emerged that a student occupying a top position in the student representative council was awarded a pass mark in five modules despite failing all of them.

The damning revelation comes in the wake of recent reports of senior government officials being investigated after allegedly buying academic degrees from the university.

But this is the first time that concrete proof has been found of marks being changed on the system.

The student, whose name is being withheld, graduated with a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) in May after his marks were changed between June last year and February.

The Mail & Guardian has seen a copy of the record of the student’s marks in a file titled Study Record Log File Dump for the period January 1 2015 to July 18 2016. The file reflects all the exam marks of the student.

According to the record, the candidate was awarded 20% on June 22 last year for the communication and research skills module. The pass mark is 50%.
The record then shows that, on August 5, someone entered the university’s integrated tertiary system (ITS) where exam marks are captured and stored and changed the 20% to 50%.

Other examples of the student’s marks being changed include:

  • The educational management module, where the 27% originally awarded on November 3 2015 was changed to 50% on February 2. The student would not have qualified to write a supplementary exam as a minimum of 45% is required; and
  • The school practicum module, where a zero mark awarded on November 10 2015 was changed to 67% on February 10.

An official with a detailed knowledge of the ITS database said only two or three staff members had access to the system all the time.

“Lecturers have their user IDs and pass codes and can enter marks on to the system only on a specific date, after which the system automatically closes down.”

He said, after the system closed down, the exams section became the custodian of the database.

The official described the altering of marks as “fraud at its best”, adding: “Lecturers are definitely implicated. Sadly, nothing has been done and there are attempts to sweep it under the carpet.”

He believed that someone in “higher authority” had given instructions to lecturers to change the student’s marks.

He said it was “highly questionable” why marks were entered into the system in August when no exams took place in July or August.

The university’s director of communications and marketing, Gcina Nhleko, said, under the Protection of Personal Information Act, they were not able to discuss the marks of any student.

“Any report that the journalist may have has been passed to them illegally, against the university code of conduct, and is being investigated currently.”

An academic, who did not want to be identified, said there was an allegation of a staff member being instructed to change marks, and when she refused, she was suspended.

He said the PGCE programme was a one-year full-time programme and the student was enrolled for it in 2012.

“He did not attend classes and did not pass my module. If he failed in 2012, he would have completed it the following year, but he only graduated in May this year.”

According to the prospectus, the PGCE can be completed either over a year full-time or two years part-time.

Another staff member said: “Education opens up so many opportunities for you and to short-circuit that whole process just because you are connected is really sad for the really deserving students. I have worked closely with this student and was quite taken aback when I heard this is what happened.”

A student said that those implicated in the awarding of marks should be severely punished.

“It will appear that those implicated may have been working with senior people from the university. What has the university done about the awarding of marks because they are aware of this case?”

He said there was poor management and co-operative governance at the university, adding: “It’s moving from one crisis to another and there is no willingness to turn the university around.”

The student asked why the department of higher education had not intervened at the University of Zululand despite it having been shut down since August 30.

“The University of KwaZulu-Natal was shut down yesterday [on Tuesday because of violent protest action] and the department has already intervened,” he said.

Academics condemn big spending on security

Academics and students at the cash-strapped University of Zululand have criticised it for allegedly forking out R285 000 a day on extra security following protests over low staff salaries.

Classes were suspended on August 30 after demonstrations by students and staff, which included the burning of tyres and barricading the entrance to the institution.

Several staff members this week said they heard that the university was paying R285 000 a day for extra security, and a senior official described the spending as “an absolute disgrace” given that there was existing security on campus.

“There is no money for that expenditure. This should be viewed against the backdrop of the #FeesMustFall campaign. It’s a gross misuse of university funds.”

Vice-chancellor Xoliswa Mtose admitted in a court document that about R400 000 was spent on additional security during previous unrest on campus.

The university’s director of communications and marketing, Gcina Nhleko, said additional security was needed because of “industrial action and violent student protest”.

He did not deny a figure of R280 000 for daily additional security, which the Mail & Guardian put to him.

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