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May 3, 2015 | by  | in News Splash | [ssba]

#AcademicBored: Student reps slam “structural threat to academic integrity”

VUWSA President Rick Zwaan may bring a grievance to the University Council, after the Academic Board on Tuesday fast-tracked two new Master’s programmes to the Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP) for approval.

As reported in Salient last week, the Master’s of Engineering Practice and the Master’s of Software Development were controversially forwarded to Academic Board, despite disagreement as to whether Academic Committee, the body responsible for forwarding new courses to Academic Board, had in fact agreed to do so.

At last Tuesday’s Academic Board meeting, Vice Provost (Academic and Equity) Allison Kirkman introduced the proposals—which were questioned primarily on the grounds of academic integrity—as having been “proposed by the Academic Committee and Senior Leadership Team”.

Zwaan, VUWSA Academic Vice President Jonathan Gee, and PGSA member Michael Gilchrist had all raised concerns with the programmes. They claimed the Master’s of Engineering Practice would be inaccessible to domestic students, and that the international students to whom the course is tailored would be socially isolated during their study.

The student reps also claimed that the Master’s of Software Development did not meet the required standard for a Master’s programme. They claimed that approving the programme would undermine the integrity of other postgraduate qualifications at Victoria.

Zwaan said that the proposal meant that “someone with absolutely no background in software development would be able to become a Master in Software Development after only 12 months of basic coding courses.”

Although the School of Engineering and Computer Science representative Professor Dale Carnegie did his best to assure board members that the proposals were airtight, Ngai Tauira representative Julia Forde also raised concerns that the proposals did not include any cultural education for international students in line with the University’s Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Things seemed to be about to hit the proverbial fan when Interim Provost Barrie Macdonald interrogated Gilchrist as to his speaking rights, but after some hushed murmurs it was discovered that Gilchrist had indeed followed procedure and was allowed to speak. Gilchrist looked set to launch into an impassioned speech but was quickly silenced for being “repetitive”.

Zwaan, Gee, PGSA representative Hayden Green, Forde, and Pasifika Students Council Academic Officer Kieran Meredith abstained from voting on the Master’s of Engineering practice, which was approved unanimously. The five voted also against the Master’s of Software Development, with all other Board members present—about 40 in total—voting in favour.

Zwaan, Gee and Gilchrist claimed that no member of the Academic Committee had spoken in favour of the two proposed programmes; while Kirkman, who chairs the Committee, claimed the Committee had approved the programmes for forwarding to the Board. The Committee has no formal process for approving programmes, and Kirkman has refused to allow Salient to attend any Committee meetings this year, so it remains unclear what actually happened—or, indeed, what the point of Committee even is.

Gilchrist told Salient that “having heard the concerns with this degree raised at Academic Committee it is extraordinary that none of these came through to Academic Board.

“The gap between the two bodies is a structural threat to academic integrity at the university.”

Following the Board meeting, Zwaan told Salient that he was considering taking the board’s motion to the University Council under the University’s Academic Board Statute.

Section 4.3 c) of the Board’s statute claims that “Any person aggrieved by any action of the Board, in the exercise of its powers of discipline conferred by statute, may appeal to the Council. The decision of the Council cannot be appealed further within the university.”

Then again, the terms of reference for Academic Committee also claims the purpose of the committee is “to scrutinise and report to the Academic Board on all proposals […] and to delete or change existing programmes or courses”—go figure.


Master’s of Engineering Practice

VUWSA/PGSA says: The start date could could exclude domestic students.
Carnegie says: “there is nothing in [the proposal] that would exclude domestic students.”
The proposal says: “there is an advantage in starting the programme late in the year in order to give students time to obtain their visa after finishing at the end of the Northern Hemisphere year… one likely scenario is that it would be offered from October to the following September”

VUWSA/PGSA says: Will students be physically incorporated if the proposed ICT school is in town?
Carnegie says: The students will be up at Kelburn.
The proposal says: “the programme would require new space and computing facilities. It is expected that this space would be part of a physical presence of the Wellington ICT Graduate School located in the Wellington Downtown area.”

Master’s of Software Development

VUWSA/PGSA says: Will the Master’s programme bring down the reputation of other Masters at Vic because its course content is not as advanced?
Carnegie says: There are similar programmes in the UK and the industry will “know the difference” between a Master’s of Engineering and a Master’s of Software Development.
The proposal says: “the programme is a conversion Master’s degree, teaching similar content to the current Bsc(COMP) and BE(SWEN), but in a compressed programme… The MSwDEv is intended to lead to working as a professional in the IT industry, but graduates seeking further qualifications could progress to a research based Master’s degree and/or a PhD.”

VUWSA/PGSA says: Could students not take a Graduate Diploma instead of calling it a Master’s programme?
Carnegie says: The “application” of the course is at a Master’s level, even if the skills aren’t.
The proposal says: “The Master’s level degree will be perceived as desirable by students who have a already have a Bachelor’s degree (more so than a graduate diploma).”

VUWSA/PGSA says: The Master’s programme has no formal accreditation from industry.
Carnegie says: The industry doesn’t formally accredit Masters’ programmes, but if they did, they would.


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