“Vic’s fucked,” says Zwaan
The University is at odds with VUWSA and the PGSA as to whether the Academic Committee recently endorsed proposals for new 180-point Masters programmes.
VUWSA President Rick Zwaan and Academic Vice President Jonathan Gee, who attended the latest meeting of the Academic Committee, said the Committee declined to endorse the proposed Master of Engineering Practice course, which was specifically developed with international graduates in mind.
Zwaan and Gee said the Committee also declined to endorse the proposed Master of Software Development, which it thought was not advanced enough. These courses, if approved, would open up spots for 70 new Masters students.
But in a bizarre turn of events, the University claimed both proposals had been approved for forwarding to the Academic Board, with only “minor changes” in some cases.
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The Academic Committee reviews all proposals for new qualifications and courses. It sits below the Academic Board in the University’s chain of command and its purpose is to advise the Board on whether a proposal is in keeping with standards of academic quality and integrity. The Committee’s recommendations are non-binding and the Board has ignored the Committee in the past—notably when closing down the Māori Business School last year without the Committee’s endorsement.
The Committee has no formal endorsement process, which explains how the dispute could have arisen in the first place. Without a formal process and with endorsements to be reached by consensus, it effectively falls to the Committee’s chair and minute-taker to decide what the “consensus” was at meetings.
Zwaan told Salient that the Committee was essentially a “rubber-stamping committee” set up to approve proposals that had already gone through a rigorous process of development and debate. He said, though, that the Committee as a whole was clearly opposed to the most recent proposals. “The only views expressed were dissenting views, I don’t recall anyone saying it was a good idea.”
Fellow Academic Committee member and Postgraduate Students’ Association representative Michael Gilchrist confirmed to Salient that the committee did not endorse the Master of Software Development. Gilchrist himself raised concerns about the programme and questioned whether it would undermine both postgraduate and undergraduate degrees already in place at the University.
Zwaan claimed the proposals for the Master of Engineering Practice and the Master of Software Development had been hastily thrown together in an attempt to secure Government funding.
The University announced in October last year that that it was putting together a bid for an ICT graduate school in conjunction with Whitireia and WelTec, in an attempt to secure a slice of $28.6 million of new Government funding. Zwaan said the proposals were “all about the ICT graduate school. The bid for the ICT graduate school relies on these proposals going through with a view to starting in October this year.
“Hence the hurry… the people putting these proposals together have basically had two months [to do so], because they’re under pressure to get it through for Government funding.”
Zwaan said that “while it’s not necessarily a bad thing to say ‘let’s get funding for more programmes and new ideas’ … you can’t do that at the expense of academic integrity.”
The proposals also come amidst concern by some that Victoria University is pushing too hard for greater numbers of international students and the effects that these specifically-catered courses could have on the university at large.
Gee expressed his concern with the effect that the proposed course may have on both international and domestic students.
“The proposals are not… based on academic integrity or student demand, but based on government demand—students’ interests are not at the heart of the programmes,” Gee said.
Gee claimed that the Master of Engineering is a race-based course marketed at Indian and East Asian students. While Gee encourages such students to come to Victoria, he expressed his concern at courses aimed primarily at international students.
“While international students bring a lot of value to our university community, isolating them from domestic students in this type of Masters will diminish the quality of their overseas university experience here in New Zealand.”
Additionally, the push by Victoria for more international students is having a mixed effect on those international students already attending Victoria. Chong Hui Tan, a representative from the Victoria International Students Association, told Salient that “the University and their revenue is relying pretty much on international students who are paying full fees.”
He claimed “most of the international students are not really getting the most from the university education” due to language barriers and a lack of opportunities and access to information.
Gee states that on principle, the committee has no objection to 180-point Masters Programs, but “we don’t want to dilute the overall quality of getting a Masters at Vic. At the very least, these courses are Post-Graduate Diplomas—we shouldn’t be disingenuous to students in calling them Masters.”
Across the Tasman Australian universities are facing similar issues with universities seeking to increase admission numbers of international students.
An unnamed academic from Southern Cross University in New South Wales told Salient “international on-campus students in Australia are viewed as an easy way to make money”.
The academic claimed that increasing international student numbers have resulted in a significant increase in fail rates, academic workload, academic misconduct cases, queries and appeals of grade special consideration and special exam applications.
In terms of Victoria, If the proposed courses go ahead they are likely to be implemented at the end of Trimester Two this year.
Salient approached Allison Kirkman, the chair of the Academic Committee, for comment but had not heard back by the time this article went to print.
UPDATE 27 April: Allison Kirkman replied to Salient‘s request for comment on Friday 24 April, after this article went to print. She said “As you are aware, the two master’s programmes referred to were approved for sending on to Academic Board.” In fact, Salient has been barred from attending any Academic Committee meetings this year, so we’re only “aware” of what its members tell us. It’s all getting a bit Orwellian here!