Anger of students and lecturers as admin cut course module options

The University has plans to implement wide-ranging changes to module choices and assessment which threaten to have a serious effect on the academic welfare of students.

The consultation period on the Teaching Committee’s Review of Modularisation has just closed, having recieved widespread criticism both from students and academic departments.

Recommendations include a compulsory dissertation module of 40 credits, while taught modules of 30 and 40 credits are to be phased out entirely. In addition, combined courses are to have strict credit proportions, limiting choice for undergraduates, while the pass mark is to be raised from 35 to 40.

Most controversial is the move to introduce “a standard progression requirement, based on the achievement of 120 credits, at the end of each year. All student assessment is therefore completed by the end of an academic year”. This would require that all assessments take place at the beginning and end of terms 6 and 9, creating a particularly heavy workload for students in the summer term. Teaching time in that term would have to be reduced to allow for revision and writing essays.

Such a change would also concentrate the workload for staff during this term, as it would be necessary to mark all work from the year’s first two terms during the summer term so that undergraduates’ summer term work could be marked and collated in time to organise resits.

Professor Tom Baldwin, Chair of the PEP Board of Studies, predicts that “the quality of teaching in term 6 would decline” as a result of greater demands on academics’ time, and that would be a slip in standards separate from the necessity of fewer weeks’ teaching in the Summer term.

According to Prof. Baldwin, the new proposals are motivated by “the worst kind of reason for change. Why does this have to be university-wide? If [a department] can make good use of its resources, why should the university know better?”

Some University staff have suggested that changes to courses which have been tailored over time to best suit the requirements of students and staff are unnecessary, and that decisions affecting courses should be taken by those who are most familiar with them.
But, according to the Teaching Committee, a new system is required, after current assessment procedures have been criticised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education on the grounds of being “difficult to justify in terms of the University’s responsibility to ensure that students are treated equitably.”

Meanwhile, external examiners have suggested that variations in classification procedures from department to department render University procedures “transparently inequitable and vulnerable to litigation.”

YUSU’s Academic and Welfare Officer, Amy Foxton, noted that current methods of assessment and classification “can be confusing”. YUSU, she said, has had “some involvement” with the process. But there are concerns from students about the new proposals.

Adam Russell, a third year physics student, said last week “I’m all for clearer methods of assessment, but the idea that teaching standards should slip just because of difficulties in university administration is outrageous.”

David Hughes, a third year PPE student said, “I haven’t had any problems between my three departments so far. I’d be particularly sorry to see the back of 40 credit modules – I’m doing one in the next two terms and it’s fantastic.

“And I’d rather not be forced into a dissertation when my course is so broad because it would be pretty hard to pick a topic which would work.”

By Alex Stevens

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