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June 2, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Students Sorta Pissed

Students at Victoria University have spoken out unanimously against the institution’s budget reductions, believing the cutbacks have compromised the quality of their education.

Representatives from VUWSA, PGSA, VUWLSS, Ngai Tuaria and STUDiO have told Salient of a growing sense of unhappiness among their student ranks.

Of particular concern is the level of engagement between students and teachers.

The first trimester of 2009 has seen a significant decrease in the number of tutorials, seminars and labs offered compared with previous years.

Cuts to the sub-lecturer teaching pools from which teaching assistants and tutors are paid have left many schools with no recourse but to cut the number of classes.

VUWSA has fielded a number of complaints from class representatives on behalf of students who feel that the lack of engagement has been detrimental to their learning.

VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle told Salient that the Association believed the cutbacks had had a detrimental effect on the quality of education offered at Victoria.

VUWSA’s concerns were echoed by the PGSA, who felt that the cutbacks had caused unnecessary strain to their members, many of who relied on tutoring employment.

In a statement released to Salient, the PGSA lamented the difficulties caused by the cutbacks both to themselves and to those they taught.

“We recognise that all universities are facing depletion in income, but this should not be passed onto the students and tutors,” the statement said.

The statement highlighted the overlapping benefits of tutorial classes for tutors, tutees, and the university as a whole.
Universities would be required to pay less for a postgraduate teacher without compromising much in teaching quality, with strong relationships developing between tutors and tutees.

The issue of increased class sizes corresponding with decreasing teaching numbers has been a particular concern in law circles.

The compulsory LAWS 301 Property Laws course which was once taught in two separate streams of 150 students has been merged into a single mega class of 300 for 2009.

VUWLSS President Amelia Keene believed this economy class style of teaching was detrimental to the ethos of learning law.

Law, taught in the Socratic style where students and lecturers actively engage in discussion and thought, is not suited to the large theatres of Rutherford House where LAWS 301 is now taught, Keene said.

The lack of intimacy prevalent in the larger learning environment was detrimental to the level of engagement expected of third and fourth year law students.

“[VUWLSS hopes] that it will not serve as a precedent for future streamlining of law lectures,” Keene said.
Funding decreases have also raised problems with assessment at Victoria’s School of Architecture and Design.
2009 has seen unprecedented difficulty in wooing guest critics to attend the faculty’s all-important design project critique sessions.

Design and Architecture students are required to exhibit a presentation to their classmates and two critics, one of whom is from outside the faculty.

Architecture student Erika Wilson describes the sessions as being an important cog in the design/architecture degree machine. The importance of enlisting outside assessment is crucial in the development of skills and understanding, Wilson believes.

Wilson also highlights a disconcerting lack of organisation within the Faculty of Architecture and Design.
A number of architecture professionals have expressed a willingness to participate in the lengthy critique process. However, many have been put off by the faculty’s lack of organisation and reluctance to offer renumeration.
Maori students have been particularly disenfranchised by Victoria’s cutbacks, according to Victoria Maori Students Association Ngai Tauira.

The reduced capacity for students to engage closely with teachers is particularly off-putting for Maori students in tertiary institutions, Ngai Tauira’s Education Vice President Pania Lee said.

Maori students, Lee noted, were more likely to rely on student support services in fields outside of the Maori Studies Department.

“Insufficient support outside of Maori Studies will isolate Maori students,” she said.

“It will compromise their participation in the wider university community.”

Furthermore, Lee suggests, the lack of engagement would place constraints on the bicultural relationship endorsed by Victoria.

By reducing the capacity of Maori students to participate in tertiary education, the university would be at odds with Goal F of the University Charter, which moves to “encourage access, participation and success of Maori students and staff,” she said.

When questioned whether Victoria was providing the same standard of education as it had in previous years despite issues of affordability, Vice Chancellor Pat Walsh was optimistic.

“Despite these budget challenges, Victoria University is committed to providing the best possible education to its students and this is our highest priority,” he said.

Walsh described the cutbacks as the product of the university’s search for “efficiencies” in the way classes were taught at Victoria.

He maintained a high priority of providing students with an opportunity to engage with teachers, including tutorials.
The question as to whether budget cutbacks have compromised the quality of education offered at Victoria University has been asked of Victoria’s hierarchy before.

In an opinion piece written for The Dominion Post on 8 September 2008, Walsh suggested the quality of education provided by tertiary institutions would be compromised by a shift towards greater affordability.
“If the pendulum between quality and affordability swings too far toward affordability, students will be able to afford to come to university but the quality of the education they receive will be compromised,” Walsh wrote.

Pro-Vice Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences Deborah Willis was shorter in her assessment, saying that Victoria was still providing the same standard of education as it had in previous years.

Willis believed that there were other opportunities for students to engage in intimate study outside of tutorial classes. She also suggested that the university was keeping tabs on class-wide interaction, but failed to explain what this meant.

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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Comments (2)

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  1. Smeagol says:

    Dear Salient,
    I totally feel that my level of education is being compromised, but I do (kinda) understand why funding cuts are being made – the number of students, at least where I am in architecture, has nearly doubled since 5 years ago. I think we can blame this on the shit school system and ncea which lets everyone into university who can string a sentence together. I really wish the university would get over this bums on seats policy, efficiency and affordability, and give us what we are here for – a decent education!
    some of my mates are doing ba’s, they say the numbers of tutorials have halved since last year – this sucks, cos our bloody fees haven’t! my best friend even got told the other week by his lecturer his qualification wouldn’t be worth anything overseas?!! I’d actually like to know what I am getting for my $6000 course fees this year?? answer: tutorials which are repititious of year 11 art and graphics (over it already!), and (sorry guys) the lectures are shit. next term I don’t think ill bother.. sure, the “budget levels” will stay the same, but I guarantee our fees will keep going up, and education quality will keep going down.
    I would love to talk to Deborah Willis and hear what these wonderful “opportunities” outside of tutorials actually are?? maybe we are just meant to carry on organising our own student study groups, hoping one person in the group can help the others, is that what she’s talking about?? as for class-wide interaction, our lecturer admitted herself that there are so many students now, she doesn’t even know our names! how is she then meant to answer individual questions about our own design projects?
    and would someone please explain to me why our university education isnt free like in europe??
    Give me a good education, guys – fuck, I’m sure paying enough to deserve it!
    Smeagol

  2. Down with Wall Street!!!-Not get Down with Wall street. says:

    Your eduction should be free!!! if the Govt controlled money (not the central banks)it could have provided this. Knowledge and skills are a solid investment in the country’s economy.

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