A group of students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have been working on a proposal to amend the policy regarding religious accommodation at the institution.The policy, sponsored by the UCT Muslim Student Association (MSA), was tabled at the exams and assessment committee meeting on the 22 August.
Students are proposing a ‘Positive Recognition Model’ where the university will draft rules, regulations and policy to make reasonable accommodation for the various cultural and religious practices of its constituency.
In the past years, UCT has scheduled examinations and/or assessments on religious holidays. This has left a minority of students faced with the challenge of prioritising either their religious obligations or academic commitments, Aaliyah Vayez said in an interview with The Daily Vox.
Vayez is one of the students heading the policy amendment task team.
This year, religious holidays that have been affected include Yom Kippur, Eid-al-Fitr and, as per the university’s most recent draft examinations timetable for November 2018, Diwali.
The Daily Vox reported on the exams scheduled on Eid-al-Fitr earlier this year. Members of the MSA at UCT raised this issue with the Student Representative Council (SRC) and the examinations office. As a result, the university allowed a concession by allowing Muslim students to make use of its deferral policy and application as an alternative to writing an exam on the Islamic religious holiday.
Students at North West University were also scheduled to write exams on Eid-al-Fitr this year.
The Daily Vox also reported on a UCT lecturers condescending response to a student who requested for permission to break fast during the June examination period. This reaction showed a need for this issue to be taken up on an institutional level, Vayez said.
Following this, UCT students set up an independent exam task team on May 14 to form a policy proposal for religious accommodation to be presented as an improvement to the current university policy regarding religious holidays.
UCT’s religious accommodation amendment policy is being authored by Aleya Banwari, Nicole Jones, Tanya Magaisa, Tashreek Miller and Aaliyah Vayez.
Aleya Banwari, Abdud-Dayyaan Badroodien, Abdul Basiet Firfirey, Aisha Hamdulay, Nicole Jones, Tanya Magaisa, Tashreek Miller, Daiyaan Samaai, Nuhaa Soeker and Aaliyah Vayez have all contributed to the policy.
On Wednesday, the team tabled the proposal at the committee meeting. Vayez said some committee members responded positively to principle endorsed by the policy. However, the committee will only provide feedback once they’ve read it. The committee also encouraged the students to look at alternative measures.
For the proposal to be handed to Senate, and become part of UCT’s official policy, it will need to be approved by the exams and assessment committee.
“Not only is freedom of religious practice and expression a standing pillar of the South African constitution but the university, as a signifier of educational and societal progress that further prides itself on diversity and inclusion, should and is obligated to represent and accommodate the needs of all its students,” Vayez said. “These needs undoubtedly include the religious beliefs and practices which students subscribe to,” she added.