Computer glitch deregisters ‘underperforming’ students

By Malibongwe Dayimani for News24

More than 120 students at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape could not finish their studies in 2020 after the institution wrongfully deregistered them due to a computer glitch.

The mess happened when the multi-campus institution was deregistering students who were academically excluded for underperforming.

To undo the bungle, the university said on Tuesday it would invite all affected students and subject them to online catch-up lectures to meet the minimum lecture attendance time to sit for exams.

The SA Student Congress (Sasco) has called the incident academic sabotage.

Based on the bungle, students were unlawfully evicted from their residences and subsequently became homeless in the streets of East London, said Sasco branch convener Ondela Tywakadi.

Sasco, which is the largest student political structure at the university, said it was in utter shock at how the institution had handled the matter.

The student body accused it of having disregard for students’ academic lives and overall well-being.

“We as Sasco have been at the forefront of this struggle and thus we demand a public apology from WSU to the affected students who were illegally deregistered in the dead of night and denied any knowledge of it.

“We furthermore demand that the university must devise means for the affected students to finish the 2020 academic year. Taking into account that these affected students were barred from writing first semester exams as well as registering for the second semester.

“[And also] taking into account that some could not submit basic assignments. All of these factors lead us to the basic conclusion that WSU sabotaged the potential academic excellence of students. We are calling for an enquiry as to what happened and heads must roll,” said Tywakadi in a statement.

Sasco is also calling for the suspension of the registrar, Khaya Maphinda.

On Tuesday, university spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said most of the deregistered students continued to attend online classes as most were up-to-date with their studies and therefore qualified to sit for exams.

“Those who did not continue, lecturers will be requested to draw catch up plans in order for them to meet the minimum teaching time and write their final exams,” she added.

“WSU confirms that several students were academically excluded and thus deregistered during the 2020 academic year, which is an acceptable practice in higher education institutions.

“WSU student records reflect that all deregistered students were duly informed of their deregistration. Unfortunately, some students were erroneously academically excluded in the process,” Tukwayo said.

The university added it was also aware some student financial records continued to reflect amounts due despite deregistration.

Tukwayo said this had resulted from a system backlog caused by delays ensuing from the Covid-19 national lockdown.

She added the student fees system debited student fees on an annual as opposed to a monthly basis, and the lockdown had slowed the process of crediting deregistered students accordingly.

“WSU has been actively assisting students on a case-by-case basis to rectify the situation, as each case is unique. However, our efforts have been hampered by the continued uncertainty caused by the various levels of national lockdowns necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and hence the delay.”

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