Uncertainty over Rhodes exams

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It is uncertain whether Rhodes students will be writing exams this year. On Wednesday, Rhodes announced that students would  decide whether they write their exams in November or January.

Late on Wednesday afternoon students received an email in which they were notified that they must “make a choice by 16:00 [Thursday] whether they want to write exams in November or in January.” If students do decide to write in January, the opportunity for supplementary exams will not be available. However, if students choose to write in November supplementary exams will still stand. As explained in the email “that will be your FINAL bite at the cherry”. Further students staying in residence were warned that should they choose to write in January, they “will be required to vacate [their] residence within 48 hours.”

In a statement released by the university, it was explained that this decision was made after consultations with the deans and heads of department. All students at undergraduate and postgraduate level get the option to decide when they write. The university has made it clear that exams may either be written in October/November 2016 or in January/February 2017. The examination period chosen applies to all subjects and “it will not be possible to choose to write some subjects now and some subjects in January/February 2017.”

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Student News Grid spoke to Catherine Deiner, Rhodes spokesperson, to find out why the university has given students this choice. Deiner explained that “the events of the past few weeks have been unsettling and the university acknowledges that some students may not be in the right frame of mind to sit their examinations during this examination period.”

She went on to say that the university was aware that there were also students who wanted to write now for various reasons such as travel plans and wanting to start their careers early next year. Deiner said, “These examination arrangements cater to both sets of students.”

Student News Grid also spoke to students to see how they felt about the decision that they had to make today. All felt the pressure of making a difficult decision that was not to be taken lightly. Some were happy to have the opportunity to decide while others feel that the university has put them in an uncomfortable position.

Andrew Marais, second year BA student, explained that he was glad to have the option. Marais feels that the events of the last few weeks, the disruption of lectures and violence on campus, had “made the prospect of having to write exams…quite stressful.” He believes that “this decision has been made with the physical and psychological welfare of the Rhodes University students in mind as I for one have struggled to cope with the violence on campus.”

Marias explained how his first experience of tear gas on Tuesday left him in a state where he “could barely think about studying let alone write exams.” Marias also commented on how police patrolling exam venues “would have compounded the normal stress of final exams and I for one struggled to think I would be able to cope.” Marias decided to write exams in January as “The combination of the violence and brutality going on around campus and off have made the idea of writing exams now unthinkable.”

Lebogang Mashego, second year BA student, felt that the decision given by the university was vague. Mashego elaborated and gave the example of take home exams. “Some of our departments have given us take home exams to try to avoid going into exam rooms given the situation on campus. Will we be given take home exams in January or will we have sit down exams?” asked Mashego.

Mashego further felt that she has been placed in an uncomfortable position as she “cannot make an informed decision based on the information that they have given [her].” Mashego went on to comment saying that “the university has not given me enough time to process the decision I have to make. I don’t want to make a decision that will disadvantage me but at the moment it seems as though whatever I choose will leave me in a compromising position.” With regards to when exams should be written, Mashego suggested exams should be written in January and that supplementary exams should still stand.

Andile Msane, second year law student, explained to Student News Grid how this was not a decision to be taken lightly with all the factors to be consider. Msane mentioned some of the factors being “transportation, accommodation, my overall well-being… and also the risk I may be putting myself into should I decide to write in November because there are no guarantees that there won’t be any disruptions.”

Despite her concerns about writing exams now, Msane has opted to write her exams in November. Msane said, “writing in November for me seems to be the better option because when I go back home in December, who is to say I will be given enough time to study?” She explained that as the eldest sibling she had many responsibilities. For Msane “taking some time out to study may not be possible, as a result, I am not willing to risk [it].”

While it is unclear when students will write exams, it is clear that this is a big decision for all involved.