Happy Times in Student Land

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By Beau Dunne:

Like many of my fellow students, I face the difficulty of juggling the multiple demands of working, managing relationships, and attending classes. With so many demands on students it is no wonder that there are more and more media reports of slipping academic standards (see link to ABC’s Four Corners Report below). We, as students, seemingly have less time to study than previous generations of students.

Housing prices and living costs, in combination with other demands, are increasingly forcing us to consider the difficult decision of buying assignments online from a number of different providers. For students in our situation it is simply cheaper for us to spend the money of a few hours work, than spending the hours it takes to perfect that hard assignment in that difficult subject. Moreover, it means we can spend more time making money to pay rent, bills, and day to day expenses.

It is not surprising in these conditions, that universities across Australia and the world are choosing, more and more, to put their content online in the name of ‘accessibility’. However, students still arguably have less time to study. According to the Department of Educating Training’s most recent Cohort Analysis report (see link below), students attending courses from 2005 to 2013 by ‘internal’ mode of attendance had a 76.6% course completion rate over the period. While students attending via ‘external’ mode had a 46.6% completion rate. The national completion rate from the same period was 73.6%.

A critical observer may conclude in this situation that universities moving their content online is simply one of the many manifestations of the institutional apathy towards student issues. These corporate institutions, which claim to be institutions of merit and learning, collect students’ money for commonwealth supported courses and leave students to scrape together a living. In these conditions we as students should be demanding support from our universities and the government, that enables us to spend more time on our studies and less time worrying about ‘making ends meet’.

Into this mix comes a plethora of websites which sell old assignments, enabling current students to copy and change the work of previous students. These websites give students money for their work, and make accessible some very-high-grade past assignments – including from many different courses at Western Sydney University (see link below). Not only are these online providers exploiting a failed education system and failed student social welfare system, they are also skewing the results of students by enabling the falsification of assignments.

Some detractors may argue that moving content online is a response to student needs, and that it provides an opportunity to be competitive in what has become a pseudo marketplace for higher education. The time when there were classes 5 days a week, lectures and tutorials from 9-5, and living on campus are gone, and detractors will say this is good. They will say that putting content online brings us into the modern world, and that we must be flexible. In response to this we must look at the changes to the quality of education which is provided, and the flow-on effects this has in the wider economy once students complete their degrees. Moreover, we must look at the bare fact that while students still take on large debts for studying degrees via ‘external’ modes of attendance the completion rate is less than 50%.

I say this is the wrong attitude. It is the economic pressure that has created this problem, and it is the government and university boards which need to address this problem. Moving content online in response to this is simply a band-aid solution, and is simply a distraction which does nothing to address the ongoing difficulties which students face. But of course it is unsurprising, because despite maxims of ‘student centred’, universities arguably only care about collecting their paycheque from the government for their commonwealth supported courses.

 

ABC Four Corners Report: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/04/20/4217741.htm

Cohort Analysis Report 2005-2013: https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/cohortanalysis2005-2013.pdf

Student Assignments Link: http://www.studocu.com/en-au/institution/western-sydney-university/164?auth=0&auth_prem=0

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