NUSA REPORTS ON CUTS IN FACE-TO-FACE TEACHING IN EDUCATION COURSES
At the beginning of semester two, NUSA discovered that Education courses had suffered cuts in face-to-face teaching. NUSA was alerted to these cuts by a concerned student who noticed a difference in their class scheduling and their actual class. This student stated that, "this is further evidence of the continuing decline in quality of teacher-training at this University."
Following on from this concern, NUSA submitted a letter to the Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Education and Arts Professor Germov. In this letter NUSA asked for the following:
- A list of the affected courses
- Information regarding the process of student consultation used for these decisions
- An explanation regarding the lack of information given to students about these changes
- Suspension of all reductions until a proper process has been followed including student consultation and official student notifications
After submitting our letter, we were contacted and a meeting was arranged between NUSA representatives and the Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Education and Arts, Prof. Germov.
NUSA launched a petition as a result of the meeting between Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Germov and the NUSA representatives. The NUSA representatives who attended the meeting with Professor Germov reported that the PVC was flustered and referred to NUSA’s submission as overreaction and alarmist.
NUSA was informed that there are 111 second year education courses at the University of Newcastle in semester two, 56 of which had more than 26hours of teaching time across the semester and of these, 30 had been impacted by reductions.
Prof. Germov also stated that these changes occurred to ensure “equity of delivery” and would improve the quality of the courses. At no point did Prof. Germov refer to any evidence that consultation of Education students occurred, only referring to the fact that these decisions had been made by Academics and Student’s opinions were not relevant on pedagogical matters.
The NUSA representatives pointed out that of all students, it would be natural to assume that those studying education to become teachers, would take an interest in pedagogical matters. After all, it is to become a core element of their future careers. Prof. Germov seemed unpersuaded by such arguments. Further, NUSA submitted that the students should have been informed that the teaching-time in their classes had been cut. Prof. Germov eventually agreed that all students in affected courses would be informed.
Lastly, NUSA representatives requested that students be informed and consulted about any further measures to reduce face-to-face teaching. Prof. Germov restated his position that the Academics are, “the experts” on these matters, not students.
NUSA believes that the University of Newcastle’s Code of Conduct, which is applicable to both staff and students, has been violated in a number of ways. This code of conduct is something we agree to abide by and uphold the values instilled within when we commence our studies. These five values are honesty, fairness, trust, accountability and respect. All students and staff at the University are expected to conform to its principles. More information on the code of conduct, and the five values, can be found on the University website. (http://www.newcastle.edu.au/Resources/Divisions/Services/Human%20Resource%20Services/code-of-conduct.pdf)
On the 1st of August 2012 NUSA launched a Petition in regards to cuts in face-to-face teaching time in Education courses. A total of 342 people signed this petition against these cuts. At the same time Education students were invited to comment on these cuts and here is what they had to say:
- “We are doing an education course - a course which equips you to teach face to face in a classroom. Tutorials where there has been more face to face teaching has equipped me better with resources, as well as skills.”
- “Tutors will tell us several times in tutorials that the reason they are rushing is because they need to condense their lessons from, for example, 13 to 12. Tutors shouldn't have to explain and apologize for this.”
- “This is atrocious. It looks like a cover up and is not acceptable. Students should be consulted about changes of this magnitude.”
- “It is APPALLING and completely unfair. It puts us at a disadvantage academically & we are unable to cover the course in enough detail.”
- “We should be informed so that we can look at alternate methods of studying if necessary.”
- “We pay for our education and if the University does not consult with us, how do they know that we want more/less face-to-face time. I could have just gone to the Open University, but I value having human interaction. It makes my courses make sense.”
- “Outrageous! All education students should have been consulted and informed about this decision. To keep it hidden from the student population is deceitful on the university's part.”
- “The nature of our education courses are dependent on face-to-face contact. Every tutor is different and imparts their own experiences and interpretations to us -something that is highly valued for us as future teachers. Discussing and reflecting on our own schooling experiences and sharing these with our classmates is something that cannot be replaced with online. These discussions need to be facilitated by the tutor in a class setting; otherwise we would never learn from each other's schooling and prac experiences.”
NUSA believes that the cuts to face-to-face teaching without consultation is a direct violation of the University’s code of conduct. Under the definition of respect the Code of Conduct states that respect, “means valuing others’ ideas and contributions.”
NUSA submits that Prof. Germov definitely does not value or respect the Education Student’s opinions on how their Education should be conducted.
NUSA was also alarmed to hear rumours that these cuts could just be the first of many cuts to come. Prof. Germov seems loathe to share information about these rumoured cuts with students, which NUSA believes violates the Code of Conduct in which Prof. Germov is not being transparent with students and has not been from the very beginning. Prof. Germov is not showing Fairness towards the education students whose classes have been halved without consultation and have not been informed of this decision, which NUSA also believes goes against what fairness means to individuals in the University Code of Conduct in that Professor Germov has failed to, “share or provide equitable access to relevant and appropriate information and knowledge.”
NUSA believes that this failure to make the information available to the student population infringes upon the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 Higher Education Standards Framework (Thresholds Standard) 2011. In the introduction to Section 6, it states that:
The higher education provider documents its responsibilities to students and meets its responsibilities to students, including through the provision of information...
On a more serious level the comments made by Professor Germov infringe upon the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2011. The comment that student’s opinions on pedagogical matters were irrelevant, NUSA believes that it contradicts section 3.8 of the Higher Education Standards Framework which states that
...maintenance of academic standards, with appropriate mechanisms for external input, in accordance with international conventions for good academic practise...
Surely Education students should be consulted on pedagogical issues as it is something that they will have to deal with throughout the entirety of their degree and their career as teachers.
The hidden cuts to face-to-face teaching have not only affected student’s learning time but have also impinged upon their ability to seek proper support concerning this issue, which NUSA believes is yet again another violation of Higher Education Standards Framework, this time section 6.6 which states:
Students are informed of and have appropriate access to:
- Advocacy support, for example in relation to the higher education provider’s academic and procedural rules; and,
- A range of personal support services adequate to meet the needs of the student body, such as counselling, health, welfare, accommodation and career services provided by appropriately qualified personnel.
NUSA believes that face-to-face-teaching is critical to a student’s understanding of a course. As students we pay for our education, be it full international student fees or deferred HECS payments, and this is one of the reasons that we demand the following:
- Cuts in face-to-face teaching in semester two education courses be reversed
- Education students are consulted on any further changes which reduce face-to-face teaching
- All pedagogical arguments for reducing face-to-face teaching are made publically available.
NUSA would also like to comment on the lack of reduction in International and HECS fee costs for the affected courses. Surely the reduction in hours means less expense, therefore lower International and HECS fees.
The cuts in face-to-face teaching are part of a broader move towards online teaching. NUSA believes that many students’ stance on this issue is correctly summed up by one of the students that we canvassed who said:
“The University can barely manage MyHub and Blackboard. They seriously think they can deliver courses online?? So many lecturers cannot even work Blackboard etc. How are they going to cope?”
NUSA Vice-president 2012
NUSA Education Officer 2013