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UCT students on writing exams in a tent: “It’s bizarre and not well thought out”

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.

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.

Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons
6 Comments
  1. Dave says

    I guess this is a taste of what a decolonised university will be like?

  2. David Gammon says

    This is very poor journalism. Are these views representative? Consider this: there are about 18 500 undergraduate students registered at UCT in 2017. So there are 18 500 students writing exams, and probably at least half of those (9 250) will have written in the large tent at least once. You have presented the opinions of 6 students (0.0006% of 9 250, or 0.0003% of total undergraduates), all of whom have essentially the same view. There is no indication of whether this is representative of the student population. Do the remaining 9 244 (or 18 494) students have the same views or different? Is there even 1 student who has found the tent OK, or perhaps feels that it has not been ideal but understands and accepts the circumstances and constraints that have forced the university to take this unusual step? And so on. I’m deeply disappointed at the shallow reporting of this quite complex issue.

  3. David Gammon says

    Correction to my last comment: 6 students = 0.06% of 9250, and 0.03% of 18500

  4. Brett says

    Babies! Once you start writing you forget about everything around you. The security was not that hectic, you go through a check point. Big deal. These kids are so precious and determined to make the situation out to be soooo terrible. Like “there was no WiFi so I couldn’t revise” seriously?! What BS. I didn’t see a single dog, there were not many security guards, they were polite and respectful, earplugs if used properly are perfectly adequate, many students, me included use them as a matter of course. Once again entitledness is overrepresented. I for one, and I am not alone was grateful that I could write without having to be anxious that some failing revolutionary, (political and academic) was not going to subject me to her spite and scupper my hard earned efforts. Thank you Max Price for standing up to these creeps.

  5. John says

    Pathetic. The University is under siege from protesters who have used arson and human feces to make their point. This is a last ditch effort to help the 18000 students get their degrees without being harassed, threatened and hurt by the 200 or so radicals who don’t want to study.

  6. Bob says

    If Price had grown a pair 2 years ago and left ALL violent protestors to rot in jail where they belong none of this would be necessary. It doesn’t matter how just you may think your cause is, the moment you use violence and vandalism is the moment you loose any right to have your ideas heard. There’s only one place for arsonists, vandals, poo flingers and intimidators and that place is a prison cell.

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