Undergrad degree options cut from 122 to 42 in 2018

Polling used to decide the new structure failed to test the impact of impending changes on Indigenous, low SES and first in family students

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Students commencing at Sydney University in 2018 will have a choice of just 42 combinations of 24 degrees instead of the current 122, according to a proposed degree structure endorsed by the University’s senior management in July.

Under the plan which was presented to the Academic Board by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Pip Pattison on Wednesday, students will have to combine most existing degrees with a newly-introduced Bachelor of Advanced Studies (BAS) in order to access fourth year honours or a new non-honours fourth year.

Students undertaking the non-honours BAS fourth year will complete “research or entrepreneurship experience”, internships, and so called “Open Learning Environment” units which purport to teach general skills relevant to all students. The precise nature of the work placements and projects to be undertaken by students remains unclear. A University spokesperson pointed to student placements in existing projects with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation in the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory and the Tiwi Islands Regional Council as examples.

Units being developed for the Open Learning Environment include courses in global ethics, creating social media campaigns, programming and computer mapping literacy, and cultural competence. A freely available online course on “Aboriginal Sydney” is also being created.

The University proposal claims that polling of high school students conducted in May found the new structure was likely to attract more students overall, but students pursuing law, engineering and veterinary science were less likely to choose USyd if current options were abandoned.

The poll sought to identify the impact of the changes on future enrolments by comparing the preferences of prospective students choosing between the University of New South Wales, Australian National University, Melbourne University, and Sydney University’s current and proposed degrees.

“High achieving students”—particularly those interested in studying law—were the only specific demographic whose decision making was targeted by the poll. When asked, Professor Pattison said that the University hadn’t assessed the impact of degree changes on prospective Indigenous and first-in-family students or those from low socio-economic backgrounds. She cited a choice not to collect relevant demographic data and a small sample size for this.

Current degree offerings for music, law and education will remain in 2018, but these faculties are considering moving to a “vertically integrated” approach in 2019 that would require students to complete an undergraduate BA or combined BA/BAS before completing a Masters of Teaching or Juris Doctor. The federal government has indicated to the University that it will give the necessary approval for existing bachelor places to be transferred to vertically integrated masters.

Advanced streams in existing degrees will be replaced with the Dalyell program. Accepting students with an ATAR above 98 or a W.A.M. over 80 at the end of first year, Dalyell students will have a “larger set of elective enrichment opportunities” including “access to mentoring and leadership development programs… [and] research and entrepreneurship opportunities,” a University Spokesperson told Honi.

In welcome news, students will be able to place Summer and Winter school units on HECS from 2018.

The new degree structure and associated curriculum changes are a significant element of the University-wide restructure resulting from the implementation of the “Strategic Plan 2016-2020”.

Faculties will finalise the structure and content of the new courses by the end of the year.