NMMU sets up secret classes

Students attend lectures, exams at several undisclosed venues in Bay

Studies and exams have not “fallen” for scores of NMMU students forced to take extraordinary measures to complete the academic year. Classes at undisclosed venues – where students pass through metal detectors – as well as “take-home exams” and being frisked at the venues are some of the contingency plans in place to salvage the year.

The university, which has been shut since September due to ongoing #FeesMustFall protests, is also providing e-learning opportunities and some lecturers are swapping exams for continuous assessments.

While thousands of students are grabbing the opportunity to finish the year, a few say the circumstances are not ideal, with information about tests sometimes being relayed to students just 24 hours before the time.

Roping in the municipality and the Bay Chamber of Commerce, the university managed to secure a number of venues for clandestine classes.

While it is known that the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and the CSIR building are being used, municipal chief of staff Kristoff Adelbert confirmed yesterday that “four or five other [municipal] venues, ranging from small community halls to big auditoriums”, are being used for tests, exams, tutorials and classes.

Neither Adelbert nor NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela would disclose the locations.

Despite this, Mbabela said it was business as usual.

“There are no so-called secret study sessions taking place,” she said.

“Alternative venues … have been communicated to all students. The university is officially open and operations are continuing as normal.

“Operations at the south campus, however, have been interrupted due to previous attempts to operate there being thwarted by protesting students.

“As a result, alternative sites have been availed, with necessary safety measures in place.”

Mbabela said four graduation ceremonies – initially set down for December 9 and 10 – had been postponed in light of the extended academic year.

Those students due to graduate then would instead do so at the main graduation ceremony in April.

NMMU implemented its academic completion programme at the beginning of this month.

“Eleven municipal libraries now have NMMU Wi-Fi,” Mbabela said.

“Students are benefiting from the zero rates applied by major cellular network providers once they access NMMU’s online platforms [which includes online library materials].”

She said the business chamber had played a critical role in rallying its members to support the university.

BA media communications and culture final year student Mathaka Mkhumane, 21, said although she had not been attending lectures she was using the e-learning option.

“Most of our modules have been turned into continuous assessments, which means we will not write exams,” she said.

“The self-study has been challenging as I prefer contact with lecturers.”

Mkhumane said although they would not be writing exams at the designated venues, they would be given a take-home exam.

“I’m concerned about how the take-home exam will work as a lot of cheating could happen,” she said.

Students had not yet been told how the exam would work, only that they would be given an online link to it.

Second-year BCom accounting student Sinawo Ndzolo, 21, said he felt violated after being searched at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

“I was writing a test on Thursday and there was too much security. Even though a metal detector had been used, I was searched three times,” Ndzolo said.

“I feel the university is setting us up for failure. We were told about the test [just] 24 hours before.”

A second-year logistics student, who did not want to be named, said he had been denied access to the stadium on Thursday as he could not produce a student card.

“I have been using my ID and proof of registration as I misplaced my student card,” he said. “I was shocked and scared when more than 30 of us were denied access by private security, who said they had been ordered by management to not let us in if we didn’t have student cards.

“They eventually let us in after a policeman took our ID numbers and told them to let us in. Other students had given up and left by then.”

Asked if the alternative learning methods had taken the wind out of the NMMU #FeesMustFall movement, spokesman Azola Dayile said the movement had grown quiet as it was consolidating.

“We are aware the university is open outside and lectures are taking place outside of campus at venues far away from many students – and we feel that it is very exclusionary,” he said.

Dayile said the #FeesMustFall movement wanted to dispel misconceptions that shutting down the university physically was the main objective.

He said they had wanted the university to close, and suspend the academic programme on its own, but management had refused.

“Ours [the protest] is putting students first,” Dayile said.

He and a number of other #FeesMustFall leaders declined to comment when asked if they were using the e-learning option.

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