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Simple extension policy miscommunicated to staff and students

Siobhan Ryan, with additional research by Subeta Vimalarajah

Cover Extension Honi (1)

An email sent to University staff provided incorrect information about the circumstances when simple extensions may be granted, leaving both students and staff confused. The email, sent by Arts Dean Barbara Caine to all Faculty of Arts staff on March 2, stated that “Unit of Study coordinators have the discretion to give a short (no more than 5 days) extension in exceptional circumstances”.

The email contradicts an amendment passed by Academic Board in December 2015, which removed the requirement of “exceptional circumstances” for simple extension requests. As Honi reported last year, the December amendment meant that circumstances need not be “exceptional”, merely “deemed appropriate by the relevant academic” for simple extensions to be granted. Following the passing of this amendment, a working group was formed to further clarify the simple extension process.

This group comprises Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) Vice-President Thomas Greenwell (who put forward the amendment), newly elected Chair of the Academic Board Anthony Masters, and other student representatives and University staff. On February 18 this year, the working group confirmed that simple extensions of up to two days “should be implemented across campus consistently and transparently by negotiation between the student and the relevant academic”.

They proposed a model where simple extensions will be applied for via direct email, and approved at the discretion of the relevant Unit of Study coordinator. Greenwell told Honi that, under the proposed system, he understands there would be “no more intervention by the Dean about whether or not the faculty can have them”.

The changes grant more autonomy to Unit of Study co-ordinators, in contrast to the previous system where co-ordinators were required to comply with faculty policy. However, the conclusions of the working group are yet to be reflected in University policy, which has contributed to the uncertainty.

As a result, there is no mention of the proposed procedures in 2016 Semester 1 Unit of Study outlines. “I understand that the working group has agreed on the principles of simple extensions and those principles are currently being formatted into a policy which can go to the next meeting of the Academic Board,” Masters said.

Dr Megan Le Masurier, the Undergraduate Coordinator for the Department of Media and Communications, said she was concerned about student confusion regarding the new simple extensions process. “[Simple extensions] were only explained to us… on Wednesday in week one,” Le Masurier said. Changes to simple extensions have been accompanied by an entirely new special consideration system, which has also faced communication challenges.

If a student searches “special consideration usyd” on Google, the first link that appears is the previous hard-copy application. “As with any big change like this, apart from the technical element of it, one of the most difficult challenges is the communication,” Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Tyrone Carlin, told Honi, adding that “there have been and continue to be processes done to try as best we can to communicate the changes”.

The special consideration application period has been reduced from five to three days after the assessment, alongside the formulation of a centralised, online application system for all faculties. Carlin justified the time reduction, saying, “If there’s a long period of time between the trigger and applying it…the remedy is also delayed,” referring specifically to re-examinations.

Undergraduate science student Philippa Specker was concerned about the change. “From my experience [working for the Science Faculty] there were students who couldn’t get it [the application] in in 5 days,” she said. She said the change could pose difficulties “particularly for students who have to book an appointment to see a psychologist”.

The new simple extensions policy will be presented for approval at the next meeting of the Academic Board, on March 30.