Students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are writing exams in a tent on the university rugby field amid heavy security presence. The conditions are an attempt to ensure uninterrupted exams, considering the rumblings of Fees Must Fall protests at UCT this year. “UCT is determined to conduct the exams in a safe, quiet and calm atmosphere to support students in doing the best they can,” spokesperson Elijah Moholola said in a statement. The exams began on November 15. The Daily Vox asked UCT students what it’s like to write under these conditions.
UCT exams begin today. Entrance to the exam site is heavily regulated (pic: Wandile Kasibe) pic.twitter.com/M4jXD3QMGl
— VERNAC NEWS (@VernacNews) November 15, 2017
Siphosethu Sidinile, 22, third year, BCom economics and finance
It’s a lot to wrap your head around writing in a tent on the rugby field when you’re accustomed to writing in the sports centre or lecture theatres. It was added a pressure because the freeway is on one side so you hear traffic around you. We were given earplugs but they didn’t help much. We could hear what was happening in the next venue because they were all adjoined. We were expected to be at the venue an hour before the exam; that’s usually a time to go through notes but the rugby field had no WiFi. It added to the pressure because you had to be completely prepared before the hour unless you had data which is unaffordable. The toilets were far and exams are time-intensive already. The tent felt unnecessary. A building is safer than a tent with the likelihood of disruptions. They had enough security to have exams in buildings. I saw security sitting in a Quantum van doing nothing when they could have been stationed at venues. It’s a waste of costs that could have been used to fund financially excluded students.
Daniella Deutsch, 22, third year, BA
I was quite confused at first which made me uneasy. The man who checked my student card was kind to me so that eased my mind a bit. They were searching bags, mine wasn’t really examined. Once I was on the green my mind was flitting between how cold I was and how much I really hate the presence of such heavy security. The security directed us to the different exam venues. The actual experience of the exam was worse than the security because despite the earplugs, which they were kind enough to provide, the noise from the highway is still really noticeable and distracting. In my time at the university I haven’t had an exam or test interrupted so maybe I’m biased. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to have to rewrite an exam if my test was taken but I think the criminalisation of students is anxiety inducing, when exams cause enough stress themselves. I’m also aware that as a white girl, the manner in which I’m treated by security is completely different to other students’ experiences.
Ayesha Tape, 19, second year, BSocSc political science and religion
It was awful. I felt like I was crossing a border or something. We were met with fingerprint ID scanners at the barricade entrance and then were searched before making it through. It was extreme and incredibly nerve wracking. When we got to the field, there were two more barricades “protecting” the tents. There was private security with armoured boots and shinpads and batons. It was anxiety-inducing even before reaching the venue. When we finally got into our venues, earplugs, along with copies of the interdicts were waiting for us on our exam tables. That in itself just made so many of us upset. The wind blew the tent around, it was so loud even the earplugs were useless, especially since the venue speakers echoed through each other. It was unnecessary, we are educated people at UCT. We all had to attain those As to make it into UCT. To reduce us to that was devastating and honestly scary.
Megan Dyamond, 22, postgraduate law
I didn’t find writing in the tent different from writing in the larger venues on campus which are just as cold and uncomfortable at times. It did take longer than usual to get through security which was an added pressure time-wise. It was a bit daunting leading up to my first exam in the tent, the whole setup looks very severe, but I got used to it. The presence of private security on campus during exams isn’t new to most of us; so while it’s unpleasant to have in the first place, it’s something I’ve come to expect. I’m not sure that the whole tent set-up was strictly necessary. I understand the motivations behind a single secure venue for all exams but I have doubts that it would have been more effective than securing a few of the large venues in a similar way, with a perimeter. If the exams finish on schedule and if 2018 continues with the regular academic calendar, then I will consider the extra measures having been worth the precautions only because that means that next year won’t be as rushed and pressed for time as this year.
Naledi Mbaba, 21, second year, law
It was a rather strange experience. Students had raised health and safety concerns about the tent. Building an exam venue directly next to a highway has consequences, like noise. They offered us poor quality ear plugs that barely cancelled the noise and aren’t easy to use. Exams already are a time for high anxieties – mental health concerns are poorly dealt with at the school – and to have a tent surrounded by private security and medical stuff by your exam venue only heightens these feelings. Once you arrived to your desk in the venue an interdict filed by UCT awaited you next to your exam script and attendance form. This acted as an intimidation tactic for any black student writing. The tent was expensive to make, that money could’ve been used to address other institutional concerns. No student consultation took place when the decision to build the tent was made so we were surprised. Instead of choosing to engage protesting students, management chose to alienate and criminalise them by subjecting them to unreasonable exam conditions. It’s bizarre and not well thought out.
Thato Lieta, 21, second year, chemical engineering
I didn’t particularly feel that the exam conditions had much bearing on my performance. The toilet arrangements, however, were poor and I felt I had no privacy when using them. Also, they were understocked in terms of units, so the queues were long and time-consuming. The tents themselves aren’t impervious to weather conditions, so the heat and cold were stark in their effects. Writing in a tent was definitely not worth it. I feel UCT has wasted a great deal of money that could’ve been channeled elsewhere. The likelihood of a Fees Must Fall disruption could’ve been mitigated if the university had the moral decency to channel this exorbitant security expenditure to students in need. It was definitely unfair.