Many University of South Africa (Unisa) students have been unable to submit or complete examinations due to problems with the university’s online exam system.
A number of exams have been postponed due to problems with Unisa’s online examination system since the end of May 2020.
This comes as the university experiences the greatest level of online interactions it has ever seen as more people than ever are working and studying from home.
Examinations at the university are being conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
This has not gone smoothly, however, with students first reporting problems with the online examination system at the end of May 2020.
One student told MyBroadband that they were presented with a 503 Server Error, which usually refers to a web server being too busy to handle the user’s request.
This proved to be the case, with Unisa confirming that its server had returned errors due to being overloaded by the number of requests it was receiving.
On Thursday 11 June, many students reported being unable to access the online examination system at all, and the university was forced to reschedule another set of examinations.
“Examinations that were scheduled to be written yesterday, 11 June 2020, had to be postponed to 20 June 2020 as the system did not operate effectively due to faulty hardware,” Unisa told MyBroadband.
“The problem has been rectified and Unisa examinations are continuing as planned.”
The university said that the issues which it previously experienced were due to high traffic problems and have been fixed
“Previous glitches, which were software-related and caused by the huge traffic volumes, have also been resolved,” Unisa said.
Coping with traffic surges
The university previously told MyBroadband that it had made changes to its online systems to better cope with the influx of students during online examination periods.
It said that while it has experience processing a large number of exams, these are usually spread out over a larger period of time.
The frequency at which it received requests on 27 and 28 May was more than this system was built to handle, however, resulting in submission problems.
“It should be appreciated that during the first semester more than 2.9 million formative assessments were processed on one of our platforms and an additional 11 million on another,” Unisa said.
“The university has experience of processing such huge numbers without any challenges because they are usually spread over a period of time.”
“For summative online assessments, the period required to complete the assessments is much shorter and, therefore, the system is expected to experience increased strain as a result of the high traffic and volumes,” it added.
Unisa said that following these initial problems, it increased the capacity of its systems and rescheduled large volume modules to off-peak periods to reduce the change of this happening again.