Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I see the question of the quality of education at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) is back in the news.

UNISWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Cisco Magagula has been defending standards at the kingdom’s only university.

He’s been trying to tell us that the class boycotts that his students engage in year after year don’t affect the quality of the diplomas and degrees they get. Fair enough, that’s his job.

The standards have been questioned again because the university has been closed down after students protested – along with students from all the kingdom’s tertiary colleges - against government policies.

Magagula told the Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, who is also the university’s Chancellor, that there are ‘robust quality assurance measures’ in place at the university.

He then told the Observer that students are required (among other things) to attend classes for so many hours per week. That’s what guarantees the quality.

Hang on. Haven’t the students been missing their classes and therefore not studying for the required period of time? In the years that I worked at UNISWA I’ve lost count of the number of times students have boycotted classes. Sometimes it was only for a day, other times, like during the dispute over semesterisation that dragged on over 2007 and 2008, the university closed down for several weeks.

But when the university reopened, the classes were lost for good. Not necessarily because the lecturing staff or students didn’t want to make them up, but just because there was no time.

In January 2008, during the long semesterisation dispute, the university even announced publicly that it would go easy on students at exam time.

This is what it said at the time:

‘In the event students find difficulty in answering questions based on material not covered in lectures, Senate has advised that students report such instances to their class representatives who should, in turn, inform the Examinations Officer in writing so that remedial action may be taken through appropriate University structures. The Senate took the position that no students should be disadvantaged on account of questions based on material not covered in lectures.’

Put simply this meant that students would only be examined on what they did manage to cover in class and not what they were meant to cover.

So much for UNISWA’s ‘robust quality assurance measures’.

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