News & Events

Unisa remains anchored among the waves

Unisa held a media briefing session on Wednesday, 17 April 2024, addressed by members of the executive and extended management of the university. The briefing aimed to share the university's position on institutional matters raised in the public domain, including in the media. Speaking on behalf of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Professor Solomon Magano, Vice-Principal: Institutional Development, said: "It is important that these conversations between us, as a public institution, and yourselves as an essential conduit of information to the public, should take place as regularly as possible." The briefing afforded Unisa a platform to share its official position and clarify matters of public interest.

Unisa members of the executive and extended management address the media briefing.

Unisa remains rooted in shaping futures in the service of humanity

As the press briefing took place, Unisa’s 2024 autumn graduations are in full swing. During the current graduation cycle, about 40,000 students are set to graduate – a symbol of Unisa's steadfast commitment to shaping futures in the service of humanity. Furthermore, the number of graduates Unisa has produced this season alone demonstrates the university's continual efforts to fulfil its missional mandate: ensuring access to educational opportunities for people from all walks of life and producing quality graduates for the continent's economy. These are efforts and numbers only Unisa produces in the higher education landscape.

Over and above the number of graduates produced by Unisa, Magano said: "Our students graduating in the current period join over one million alumni of Unisa all over the world as well as a legion of illustrious alumni comprised of the likes of President Nelson Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Sir Seretse Khama, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to name but a few." He added: "We are a university renowned for producing graduates who have made an impact and provided leadership in commerce, politics, academia and many other global frontiers."

Academic excellence and marching up the rankings ladder

While the list of progress made is long, the following three are worth noting. "We continue to make substantial progress in research and innovation,” said Magano. “This is confirmed by several external and credible university ranking systems, including Webometrics and Shanghai Rankings, which place Unisa in the top ten universities in the country – at numbers 7 and 8, to be precise. We are also ranked amongst the sector's top ten most research-productive institutions."

In pursuit of academic excellence, in late 2023, Unisa appointed ten distinguished scholars in various positions, including management roles, to assist the university towards its goal of reclaiming Africa's intellectual future and its place at the top tier of tertiary education institutions in the continent. The distinguished scholars are set to bolster research, innovation and engaged scholarship in critical niche areas. Furthermore, they target ten key fields crucial to South Africa's development and global impact in the areas of:

  • Marine Studies
  • Aviation and Aeronautical Studies
  • Automotive Studies
  • Energy Studies
  • Space Studies and the Square Kilometre Array
  • Fourth Industrial Revolution and Digitalisation
  • Biotechnological Studies
  • Health/Pharmaceutical Studies
  • Feminist/Womanist/Bosadi Theorisations
  • Student Support and Co-Curricular Activities

Magano said: "These, and many other examples, demonstrate that the academic project at Unisa – our core function – remains solid and intact. It is our belief as an institution that such positive developments ought to dominate what is reported to the public through the media."

He added: "We are not suggesting that we are above criticism and accountability. On the contrary, we believe that a public institution like ours must be held accountable. This, however, must be done in a manner which is fair and through media reports that are factual and balanced."  

In the media

Providing factual details in response to issues that have made news headlines recently,  Magano addressed the following:

Student disciplinary cases

"This matter has generated much interest from the media and our student community,” he said. “It is important to emphasise that every institution of higher learning has examination rules and regulations and that it is compulsory for all students to observe them." He added: "In our case, we make it a point with every examination period that before and during the examinations, our students are continually reminded of the applicable exam rules, including the consequences of violating them."

Magano explained that where there is reasonable suspicion and evidence of a violation of the rules, it would be irresponsible of the university not to act first by investigating those students flagged for violating the rules and then instituting disciplinary proceedings where there are cases to be answered. He stressed: "We do this within the confines of policy, fairly, consistently and without fear or prejudice. We also do this to protect and preserve the integrity of our assessment processes and, ultimately, our qualifications."    

Magano further emphasised that, to date, cases pertaining to non-adherence to the invigilator app have been concluded. "Based on the conclusion of the investigations, the contraventions were found to be minor, and the students were given warning letters," he said. "The remaining cases – about 1456 – pertain to academic dishonesty (plagiarism, non-adherence to Turnitin, etc), and the formal hearings in this regard commenced on 25 March 2024,"

Magano further emphasised that students under investigation or undergoing disciplinary hearings are  allowed to register in the intervening period to ensure that, should they be found not guilty, they are not disadvantaged regarding their studies and academic progress.        

Unisa remains on course towards fulfilling its missional mandate of becoming a comprehensive, open, distance and eLearning institution that produces excellent scholarship and research

The ministerial letter and review of the Independent Assessor's Report    

Regarding media reports falsely claiming that Unisa wrote a letter to the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, appealing to him not to place the university under administration, Magano said: "This is simply not true. However, we can confirm that discussions took place between the minister's lawyers and the university – at their behest – during which a proposal for an out-of-court settlement was made to Unisa. This was followed up with a formal letter to the university tabling the proposal. Unisa decided that it is in the university's and the minister's interest that the judiciary adjudicate the Independent Assessor's Report."

Unparalleled technological advancements

Following Magano's address, members of the media were allowed an opportunity to ask questions in response to the briefing or any matter of interest. Questions about the examination proctoring tools were asked to determine what measures Unisa has in place and what the university is doing to educate students on the tools. Furthermore, there was an interest in whether Unisa would consider bringing back venue-based exams.

The Directorate of Student Assessment under the Proctoring Tool Unit explained that they host training webinars and resources to help students prepare for the examinations. The university also has mock exams. However, the number of students who use the resources is lower than those who sit for examinations. The directorate is hosting awareness campaigns nationwide at Unisa’s regional centres to address this.  It remains essential for Unisa to maintain academic integrity.

Speaking on whether Unisa is considering venue-based exams, Magano said: "The organisation dearly cherishes the advancements that the university has made in moving to online modalities, and we believe that it is the right direction for the organisation to take and maintain as it is consistent with the global advancements."

He added: "The only exception that the management committee of the university considered and granted relates to the College of Accounting Sciences, following recommendations by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) who requested that specific examinations be conducted in a hybrid mode.

Unisa remains on course towards fulfilling its missional mandate of becoming a comprehensive, open, distance and eLearning institution that produces excellent scholarship and research while providing quality tuition and fostering active community engagement.

Furthermore, Unisa's substantial progress in research and innovation continues to reposition the university as an outstanding, globally competitive contributor to higher education.

*By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Editor: Internal Communications, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2024/04/18

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