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March 30, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Vic to “Who goes to tutes?” Students feeling Les Miserables

Victoria University of Wellington’s decision to dramatically reduce the budgets for most faculties in 2009 was the impetus for tutorial cutbacks across a number of different schools—but the university still insists that the quality of education it offers has not been compromised.

The number of tutorial classes offered by schools across the university has been reduced significantly, with some offering voluntary or bi-weekly tutes, instead of the weekly standard in existence in previous years.

In details released to Salient, all but one faculty received a reduced budget in contrast to their 2008 expenditure. The Faculty of Science received a $2.7M budget increase, while the Faculty of Humanities, Law & Govt, and Commerce received $200k, $500k and $100k decreases respectively.

The Faculty of Education received a $2.9m decrease.

Victoria Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh noted that the decreases were borne from external factors.

“The University faced a difficult environment when planning for the 2009 budget. Student numbers had fallen slightly in 2008 and cash reserves were decreasing, as expected, due the building programme. Funding from Government did not cover the full rate of inflation,” the Vice-Chancellor said.

“Like all households, businesses and organisations, the University is looking at the best way to manage its resources in difficult financial times. Despite these budget challenges, Victoria University is committed to providing the best possible education to its students and this is our highest priority when the Senior Management Team determines budgets.”

The increase in student numbers for 2009 lends credence to the university’s argument, with 1959 extra students enrolled this year than at this time last year.

The tutorial cutbacks have been greeted with anger and disappointment by a number of students concerned that the quality of their education had been compromised, though Pro-Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Deborah Wills, head of a faculty riddled with tute cuts, believed that the university still offered valuable education.

“We are still providing the same standard of education as in previous years. The opportunity to interact with other students and with staff about the content of a course is a key learning opportunity that the University values highly,” Pro-Vice Chancellor Willis said.

“The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has been reviewing how best to allocate its budget appropriately across all schools. In some areas budgets have been reviewed and there has been some changes to the frequency of some tutorials in some courses. In doing this, attention has been paid to the overall opportunity for interaction in the courses. The University is always looking for new ways for students to engage with staff and with their course work. Tutorials are not the only way to provide interaction between students and staff. Each programme has different ways of ensuring that there is an opportunity to interact at different stages during each course.”

Students in a number of classes were encouraged to take advantage of a number of auxiliary support services, such as the Student Learning Support Service (SLSS) and the popular PASS classes.

When asked whether the University would be offering extra support to these services in light of likely increase in demand, Pro-Vice Chancellor Willis was conscious of the high demand potential but refused to say whether the university would offer anything extra.

“Over the last few years we have strongly advocated that all courses promote SLSS, especially to first year classes. The numbers of students SLSS work with is not necessarily connected to how many tutorials are held for each course,” she said.

“The University will of course monitor the levels of students using SLSS throughout the year.”

The cutbacks were not exclusive to Victoria, with tertiary education providers nationwide feeling the pinch of the recession.

The University of Waikato’s teaching departments have been ordered to slice spending in the wake of a $20M fall in revenue.

University of Waikato Students’ Association President Pene Delaney told Salient that while he had received numerous complaints from students regarding similar class cutbacks, he appreciated the difficulty the university was in.

“I can see why [the University] has announced the cuts, we need at least another 2800 students to maintain current spending,” said Delaney.

Massey Albany Students’ Association President Rawa Karetai said that while Massey Albany had not endured cutbacks on the same level as Victoria, an increase in student numbers had lead to congestion in some classes. “Massey Albany hasn’t had many cuts with the number of classes, or changed the way classes are arranged that we know of, it certainly doesn’t appear that way from a timetabling point of view,” Karetai said.

“Massey Albany’s teaching rooms are heavily scheduled between the hours of 9–10am and 4–5pm every day (with the exception of Fridays to be honest, the afternoons of which are avoided like the plague).”

In spite of the uproar at Victoria, budget levels are expected to be maintained at current levels for the foreseeable future.

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