University of KwaZulu-Natal
Picture: Se-Anne Rall
University of KwaZulu-Natal Picture: Se-Anne Rall

Honours students lock horns with UKZN

By KAILENE PILLAY Time of article published Nov 19, 2019

Share this article:

Durban - Honours students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal believe they have been given a raw deal by the institution after the name of their degree was changed, leaving them concerned about future employment.

A group of 17 students said they had been locked in an ongoing “battle” with the university, since the beginning of the year, after they had queried why the name of their Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management was changed without their knowledge.

However, UKZN said the name of the degree had not been changed, but rather phased out, adding that the students knowingly registered for another degree under the Humanities faculty and not the Science faculty.

The university also denied losing any sort of accreditation that led to the course being phased out.

A student, who asked not to be named, said as third-year students, they applied for their BSc Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management, in September last year.

In January this year, each student was telephonically informed that they had been accepted into the Honours class.

“It was highly irregular to be called and told we had been accepted into the honours class. Usually, it would be posted on our application status-check online but that didn’t happen.

“When we started our course, we noticed that online it stated we were accepted for a Bachelor of Social Science Honours general degree. This is not what we applied for,” said the student.

An Honours degree is a one-year qualification offered after completion of an appropriate three-year undergraduate degree.

The student said they were informed by their seniors that the Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management was phased out in October last year.

The students had already attended lectures, seminars and have now completed and submitted their research dissertations this year.

“We’ve been fighting with the university throughout the year and still no one can explain why the name of the degree was changed, and why we were not informed about it last year when we had applied.

“A general degree means nothing in our eyes and it will not get us the jobs that we wanted.

“We don’t even know which faculty we belong to,” the student said.

He said that in addition to the confusion over the name of the degree, those students who applied for funding from the National Research Foundation for their Master’s were “almost immediately” rejected.

“Usually the foundation would wait to see our average results and then decide if funding was approved, but this time we were instantly rejected.

“It’s only our Honours class that has been rejected for this funding towards our Masters next year and we cannot help but wonder whether the change in the name of our degree played a role in that,” he said.

The students said they raised their concerns with the university but were told that the name of the degree would not be changed.

“They also cannot tell us what happened and even threatened to sue us if we took this information to the media. There is something bigger going on, but no one is telling us anything and our futures are at risk here,” the student said.

“We feel as if it’s just our class that is being victimised here.

“There are a majority of black students at Howard College campus and we think this is a racial thing.

“The degree that we applied for originally does exist on all relevant documentation, but it seems they are not allowing us to do it,” the student said.

UKZN spokesperson Ashton Bodrick said that the Bachelor of Science Honours in Geography and Environmental Management offered in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, was finally phased out at the end of 2018, with the last cohort of students registered for that degree in 2018.

“This degree is currently not on offer at UKZN.

“A Bachelor of Social Science Honours in Geography and Environmental Management is offered in the College of Humanities and we can confirm that this student cohort registered for this qualification, since the beginning of the 2019 year, for the entire year,” he said.

Bodrick said the university was not in a position to comment on funding, bursaries or scholarships sourced from outside of the university.

He said that the university management was engaging with the students to clarify the details.

The Mercury

Share this article: