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July 15, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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The McCourt Report

Kia ora and welcome back to Vic! If you’re returning, I hope you’ve had a really relaxing break, managed to get out of cold-horrible Windy Wellington, and received the grades you were hoping for!

While we’re on grades, I want to explain to you briefly some of the changes being discussed to our grading system. Changes that you can most definitely have a say on.

You see, Vic is odd in that we’re one of very few unis (us and the mighty Waikato) who haven’t got a C- grade, and have an A+ starting at 85 points. While Auckland and Otago Uni kids are getting an A+ at 90, ours are doing so at 85 and 86. This creates a problem in that the outside world sees a Vic A+ as not as good as other unis’, even if we only give out as many A+‘s as they do, proportionately. Well, I suspect that is the case. However, as it stands, I can see how top students seeking scholarships can feel they’re not getting a fair go; and how much simpler it could be if grades were standardised across all New Zealand institutions.

The other major change being discussed is the introduction of a C- type grade (or Restricted Pass). Up until now, there’s been no way of dealing with students who fulfil the course requirements to pass, but shouldn’t progress their study in that field (or should have another go at the course and get the knowledge or skills down pat). Restricted Passes (RPs) would be given out at the discretion of the school you’re in (e.g. History, Philosophy and Political Science; Engineering; Government), but couldn’t use it to fulfil prerequisites for other courses (although there is discussion that even then Schools might have the say on that one). This would mean a student could pass CHEM114 with an RP and not have it mark against their loan eligibility, but they wouldn’t get to use it for the CHEM201 prereqs.

The A+ thing would mean that initially it could be harder to get good marks in your course. In theory, the University requires marking to be qualitative (generally). This means a marker should look at your essay and say, “Yeah, this looks like a B+”. In reality, those grades can get lost in the world of points. Maths, Physics and Law kids will be familiar with this. If you get 99% in the tests that make up the course, you’ll probably get an A+. It’s the subjectivity of essay-marking that may cause problems for smart cookies if this new system comes in.

It gets hard, at least for a while, because University staff are human, and we’re expecting them to make changes in points awarded without changes in quality. Change takes time, and we could have students without their fair share of A+ grades in the short-term. The marker will have to lift points on essays that he or she thinks are pretty excellent from what might be their standard 87 or 88 to something like 92. Scaling in the first couple of years might be the best way to ensure fairness.

Many of these very valid points have come from the feedback of over 350 students in the last two weeks though our online survey. Our Faculty Delegates, Vice-President (Academic) Sonya, and myself, have been putting the case this last week and the different aspects that the University community ought to consider in making any change. I also want to thank our Class Reps who pushed the survey, and I really look forward to attending your celebration in a couple of weeks. Our Class-Rep system is acknowledged as the best in the country, with over 700 reps doing a great job of making Vic more responsive to what you want and need as learners.

If you’ve been thinking about becoming a Class Rep, this trimester is definitely the time to join a well-supported team. It’s an opportunity that looks great on your CV, but, most importantly, there are chances for both you and the course to improve and grow. Becoming a Class Rep could be your first step into a leadership role, or perhaps just a good way to learn some new skills and perspectives. I encourage you to raise that hand, it’s not that scary!

Finally, I just wanted to note the hard work of VUWSA Exec members Mica Moore and Rick Zwaan in getting RE-OWEEK 2013 sorted for you. Have you bought a ticket to our House Party this Friday at Hope Bros? Come to our barbecue stalls, or visit our reception between 9 and 5. It’s going to be massive! Even I will be there (although I can’t promise I will put my back ‘into it’). Oh, also make sure you check out our free barbecues during the week for some delicious kai!

It’s going to be a really busy trimester. For everyone, but especially for my hard-working Exec and staff. We’ve been ambitious this year, there’s no doubt about that. I know I’m certainly proud of what we’ve achieved so far. But too much work can swallow your positivity and perspective all in one go. It’s important to know when to step back and understand that that one event, rejection, argument or concession is not going to be the end of the world. Instead, we can make the most of every day. Being away from this place has reminded me just how lucky I am to have this job, how lucky we all are at VUWSA. And to have every day to make a difference for you with our kickarse team? That’s pretty cool. You’re pretty cool, Vic.

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