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Is Unisa too big to fail? The tragic stories about this once great institution are endless.

Nobody picks up the phone to answer a query. The study guides arrived the day after the examination. The wrong materials arrived. Boxes of texts were piled up in storage for weeks without being dispatched to students. Students could not register because the system was down at critical times. The supervisor disappears and does not give feedback on dissertation chapters in reasonable time.

A student submitted an assignment (A) which the university said was not received and then the student resubmitted the identical assignment (B) but this time both came back with one marked a fail (A) and the other a comfortable pass (B).

In recent years I have heard countless versions of these stories that I can only assume are true. So I tried calling on behalf of one of many students frustrated by not getting a response to an urgent query with the deadline for registration looming. A welcoming secretary promised to deliver my message but no response came even after I also sent an e-mail. So I posted my concerns on Facebook (25,000 followers) which automatically shows on my Twitter feed (106,000 viewers), and several Unisa colleagues immediately called me offering to help — and they did. This, of course, helps me but it does not solve the systemic problem that lets down thousands of students every year. Unisa’s history is one of great achievements. It is the oldest distance education institution in the world and was the first examining authority for our oldest universities. It at one time boasted some of the pre-eminent scholars of SA, including the information scientist Archie Dick, the theologian David Bosch and ...

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