WINGFIELD military base in Goodwood is a stressful exam venue that would negatively affect pass rates, Cape Peninsula University of Technology students complained this week.
CPUT students began writing their exams at Wingfield under military watch, after protest violence at its Bellville campus late last year led to the campus being closed and exams postponed.
The #FeesMustFall protests erupted at university campuses countrywide, calling for reduced tertiary education costs. At CPUT 78 students were arrested or suspended.
Exams were postponed to this year, with CPUT and UCT students writing this week.
Students at the University of the Western Cape began writing exams last week. All exams run throughout the month.
CPUT students said Wingfield was an inadequate venue.
Weekend Argus could not visit the exam venue as CPUT said it was off-limits to the media.
Business student Senzo Kwaza, who returned to the city from the Eastern Cape to write, said Wingfield was a “very hostile environment”.
“I went on the internet and researched Wingfield. It’s a venue that was used during apartheid. In 1976 students were taken there to write exams.
“This is a repetition of 1976. If you go to Wingfield, you will forget everything you have studied. There are dogs and soldiers all around. It’s not suitable for exams.”
Exam venues also lacked “proper ventilation”.
“You can see the heat in Cape Town. We are writing in a hall made of zinc. And there is a tent. It is too hot.
“You can’t think in that environment. Those dogs keep on barking outside.”
Kwaza said many students had returned from the holidays unprepared for exams.
“Usually at CPUT we are given a study week, and we can work with tutors and consult lecturers. We didn’t have that for this exam. Lecturers are even surprised when they hear their exam is being written the following morning.”
Accounting student Lutho Runeli said students lost study time when they returned to campus last week and some found they were staying in different residences.
During last year’s protests, CPUT told students to leave the campus before the academic year had ended as exams had been postponed. Students returning to write may remain in residence until the end of exams.
Once the exams end on January 29, they need to vacate residences until they register for this academic year.
Runeli said students were allowed back on campus only two days before the exams. This meant he could not prepare adequately.
“Writing in January is killing us. Coming from the festive season, there’s no way you can study constructively.”
An engineering student from Johannesburg, who did not want to be named, rented a place to stay in Bellville, rather than wait for a place in residence.
She also did not like Wingfield.
“We don’t feel comfortable walking around the soldiers. We are treated as prisoners.
“When I went there, the people who work there didn’t know where we were writing. You ask people where we need to go to write and they direct you to everywhere.
“You are being looked over as if you’re about to do something wrong. You feel they don’t trust or respect us.”
She added: “It’s a very hot venue because it’s made of metal. I would have preferred to write on the Bellville campus.”
Another current problem was that the labs at the Bellville campus were closed, which made studying difficult.
“We couldn’t even get to the library to study. Now I have to go to an internet café and pay R200 just to study.”
A CPUT lecturer, who also refused to be named, agreed many students were not prepared for the exams.
“Students are calling us and sending us messages. They are desperate for assistance.
“Management could have done much more. A lot of subjects have specialised programmes and students need to be in labs and libraries, but they have not been able to do so.
“We feel for the students. Our hearts are here.”
The lecturer said management should have factored in a “catch-up programme with students to get them in the mode of examinations”.
“Even a three-day programme, but that wasn’t done. It seems like an exam process of just going through the motions. This is a recipe for disaster. The failure rate will be worse.”
The lecturer said CPUT management should have “rebuilt trust with students”, but had yet to do so.
CPUT spokeswoman Lauren Kansley said students were also writing exams in others parts of the country and even in other countries, including Namibia and Nigeria.
CPUT had decided to move exams to Wingfield for security reasons.
“Hosting exams at our own on-site venues would always be preferable, but considering the added measure of security that writing on a military base has afforded the students we believe it was the best option,” she said.
“Keep in mind that venues on campus were sabotaged last year.
“In the interests of exams being completed, we needed to find the most secure venue possible.”
Kansley confirmed returning students who had stayed in residence last year had been offered “sleeping arrangements”.
“CPUT cannot be held responsible for students travelling to Cape Town prematurely with no accommodation organised,” she added.