Sleepless nights for the Deputy Registrar's office

23 November 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Busy bees Vanessa Chitter, Heather Johnson, Anthea Williams, Jodee Arendse, and Nicole Forbes, from the Office of the Deputy Registrar.
Busy bees Vanessa Chitter, Heather Johnson, Anthea Williams, Jodee Arendse, and Nicole Forbes, from the Office of the Deputy Registrar.

A total of 1 226 students took up the opportunity to defer their full set of exams until January 2017, while an additional 4 000 students have applied to defer some, but not all of their exams.

The Office of the Deputy Registrar (ODR) compiles exam timetables, processes deferred examinations, deals with requests for extra time in examinations and processes re-admission appeals. They also produce academic transcripts for UCT's current and past students, verify qualifications, and deal with general university queries.

Administrative officer in the ODR, Vanessa Chitter, has been working at UCT for seven years.

“I applied for several positions for about six months at various departments while I was working at conveyancing attorneys… I came for an interview and a week later was appointed,” says Chitter.

She enjoys the diversity in her workplace.

“There are always new rules and changes taking place in the workplace with the Deputy Registrar Dr Karen van Heerden being a big role player in all of this in collating and preparing the data,” says Chitter.

Chitter's day-to-day duties include scheduling her line manager's calendar, being the point of contact for the staff in Masingene Building when maintenance queries need to be resolved, and collating and editing handbooks.  Twice a year she also heads the processing of the deferred exam applications.

“I normally process the deferred exams applications single-handedly,” says Chitter.

Due to the high volume of applications received Chitter has new colleagues, Nicole Forbes and Lara Goldin, assisting her this year. Thando Gayiya and Kavindra Ramphal also assist her team with  telephone calls and walk-ins. 

Work hard, play hard

“We have received and actioned 7 321 emails; that is besides the actual hard copies that were handed in at Student Records Office,” explains Chitter. “We are receiving three to five applications at times for one student, but with different exams being deferred."

The protests impacted the ODR with the knock-on effect of exams being scheduled later than normal.

The high volume of applications received for deferment of exams is due to students feeling that they have not adapted well with the blended learning, Chitter maintains.

She came in to work earlier than usual and at times she stayed later than usual to try catch up on the workload.

“The most important thing at this time is to ensure that the students are at ease that their deferred exam applications have been processed and the deferred exams uploaded on PeopleSoft,” says Chitter.

When protests started, her team nominated a cheerleader of the day who was responsible for team-building which included daily games.

The ODR staff has played a huge role in intercepting phone calls and students wanting to see someone to speak to about their deferred exam applications.

“Dr Karen van Heerden has played a huge role in supporting us during this time and will assist us where she can,” says Chitter.

Nicole Forbes, an assistant in the records office, has been with ODR for the past six months. She is a registered social worker, although not in practice.

“I studied social work at UCT and simultaneously temped in various departments at the university for two years before I landed a permanent post in the Student Records Office,” explains Forbes.

Forbes describes her team as a group of great people who work diligently and know when to work and when to have fun. She enjoys lending a helping hand, which is part of the reason she studied social work.

“I enjoy providing people with information to help them make an informed decision especially when it comes to academic transcripts and graduation administrative information,” explains Forbes.

The past few weeks have resulted in vast changes within the ODR.

“There was an unbelievable amount of change in a very short period of time and it was difficult to keep track of these changes,” says Forbes.

The team has an informal daily debrief, to identify the positives and negatives of the day.

“The negative incidents would often be re-phrased to make it more positive, so we were able to see progress rather than regress,” says Forbes.

“I wish students and their parents believed me when I say there have nothing to worry about when it comes to deferred exams processing ... Our office has it under control and we really are working in their best interests,” concludes Forbes.

New lens on how Middle Stone Age stone tools were usedExaminations officer Jodee Arendse, examinations office assistant Heather Johnson, and senior examinations officer Anthea Williams, wear matching colour outfits daily to boost team morale.

It's a team effort

Senior examinations officer, Anthea Williams, joined UCT in July 2008.

The mother of three enjoys baking in her spare time.

Williams's day-to-day UCT duties include juggling timetables, printing exam papers, driving to exam venues thrice a day, external examiners' payments, dealing with Semester Study Abroad student exams and queries.

Williams works with examinations office assistant, Heather Johnson, and Jodee Arendse, who is temporarily filling an examinations officer vacancy.

“They are a brilliant team. I would not have been able to do this without them. The overtime we put in was a whopping 180 hours in total,” says Williams. “The camaraderie was overwhelming and helped us through some of the more difficult moments, especially when having to be here on a Sunday.”

Williams has set a total of six timetables in two weeks. “If I hear the word timetable again I will freak,” chuckles Williams.

Their biggest challenge was the timetable scheduling for January.

“Challenges for the timetable scheduling for January was difficult as the data you work with is not 'actuals', as the timetable had to be published before the students deferred their exams,” explains Williams.

Another challenge the team faced was trying to give the students a fair timetable, but also ensuring that the academics are not disadvantaged with a big load to mark in the last week.

“The one exciting project I am looking forward to is the upgrade of the timetable scheduling software we are using to schedule the timetable. It will reduce the amount of work in setting the timetable,” says Williams. “Another project is the electronic scanning of the students into venues.”

Despite challenges, the team motivate each other daily by laughing at, and with, each other, assisting each other in their tasks, bringing each other comfort food, and taking selfies early in the morning.

Recent UCT graduate Arendse is seeking a permanent position at UCT. “I was a student and applied for vacancies at the Student Records Office and ended up at exams,” she says.

She assists Williams with student queries, printing exam papers, delivering to venues, external examiners payments, and arranging exams for Semester Study Abroad Students across the world.

The ODR team and the support structure from the Office of the Deputy Registrar makes Arendse's work more enjoyable.

How did she and the team get through the backlog in such a short space of time?

“Overtime, food, lollipops and pretzels,” chuckles Arendse.

Her biggest challenges have been dealing with the different time zones when supporting international students, as well as getting question papers on time from the various departments.

Examinations office assistant, Johnson, has been with the examinations office for three years. Johnson was a part-time invigilator before Williams asked her to join the team.

Johnson enjoys the atmosphere at UCT and the people she gets to work with. Her daily duties include dealing with queries from students and academics, printing of exam papers, delivering papers to venues and processing external examiners' payments.

Her team and the support structure from their bigger ODR team have made the workload more bearable although she still faced challenges.

“Printing exam papers at short notice, quality checking them with technical difficulties, for example printers jamming after every ten prints,” says Johnson. “Driving to venues thrice a day and running up and down all those stairs was really insane. So donations for spa vouchers are welcome,” jokes Johnson.

Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Michael Hammond.

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