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UON Moving Forward With Changes to Academic Course Structures

View of Newcastle of University's City Campus. Sandstone wall with silver metal university logo and name, with the top four floor windows and a verandah in the background.

UON recently released their proposed course and program changes for 2021. Leanne Elliott explores these changes, how you can have your say about them, and why UON cutting your degree does not make your qualification any less valuable.

UON students have most likely heard the rumblings and whispers about expected changes to UON’s course structures. This uncertainty comes at a time when everything seems uncertain (thanks to COVID), and has left some students feeling increasingly uneasy about the future and about the worth of their degree.

Recently, the university updated students about the interim outcomes resulting from it’s Course Optimisation review of course structures. While the need to restructure has been under consideration for sometime, recent hardship resulting from the pandemic caused the university to “accelerate” its’ restructure process.

Australian universities have been hit hard this year. Huge losses in revenue have meant that for some universities it is a case of remodel and restructure, or sink. The University of South AustraliaMelbourne University, Australian National University, University of NSW, and others are among universities who have announced plans to restructure.

The government’s decision to increase the cost of humanities and social science degrees has undoubtedly influenced university restructures across Australia. This will see universities move from a consumer driven model to a market growth driven model, with both the government and universities agreeing these changes are designed to increase the number of students entering industries with greater job opportunities.

What the Changes Mean for UON Students

Earlier this year students were disappointed when the university announced it planned to axe its new Bachelor of Creative Industries degree. Other undergraduate degrees under threat include the Bachelor of Mechatronics Engineering (Honours)/Bachelor of Business and the Bachelor of Mechatronics Engineering.

These changes are all part of the university’s plan to enhance and diversify student learning. In the recent email to students UON’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky, was quoted as saying:

“By streamlining our portfolio and redirecting valuable resources, we are able to offer our students future-focused degree programs. For example, we will be able to embed work integrated learning into every degree, and encourage critical thinking and multidisciplinary collaboration by bringing students together from several degrees to learn core skills together.”

The number of postgraduate degrees on offer at UON in 2021 could potentially be downsized from 90 to 71. Also, 500 or so individual courses face the chopping block, bringing the number of courses the university will offer down to around 1700. UON’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky, reassured current students that they “will be able to complete the degree program in which they are enrolled.”

There are always positive and negative aspects to change, so let’s breakdown what these proposed changes mean for students. The positive aspect of these changes include streamlined class content and optimisation of resources (e.g. teaching spaces, equipment), providing students with more flexible schedule options.

Obviously, the biggest downsides to these changes is there won’t be as many degrees or courses to choose from, and it will probably take awhile for the university to iron out all of the nuts and bolts; a process which may be a little perplexing and frustrating for everyone involved.

As for the cancellation of degrees, I have this to say to affected students: your degree is not worthless. It has provided you with the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of people, and, has provided you with a distinctive set of skills. So, if anything, it makes your skillset more unique. Make this a selling point when you land an interview.

Not Happy About the Changes?

This month the university made submissions to the University’s Program and Course Approval Committee (PCAC) regarding the changes. The university has stated:

It “will continue curriculum mapping, transition planning and undertaking further staff and stakeholder consultation. It will also undertake workforce planning, recognising that a reduction in overall course load will result in less staff required to deliver it.”

If you are a UON student and are not happy about these changes or wish to put forward suggestions to the university, you can contact the University of Newcastle Student Association (UNSA) before early December. Alternatively, contact your Facility Board Student Representative by 7th November (their contact details are available in the email sent to you by UON on 20th October).

Some Food For Thought

Students and the wider community should always be wary when terms like “major restructure” or “business enhancement” are being used by government or organisations. This kind of terminology can mean different things to different people.

In this instance, to governments and organisations, it means increasing efficiency or profit. To workers, it means job insecurity or job losses. To university students, it can mean going into debt for a degree that won’t even be around when they finish it. For younger generations intending to study at university, it can mean greater efficiency in return for academic hegemony or greater student debt unless they choose to study a degree which the market and government deem to be ‘more practical, more important’.

When you hear terms like this always remember to take time to learn about the finer details, who will be the winners and who will be the losers, and is this okay?

Feature Image: Leanne Elliott, Yak Media Writer

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