Students in a University of Sydney virtual exchange program have described losing income and feeling “manipulated” after the University backtracked on a promised scholarship on the last day of the program.
The INCiTE 2021 Virtual Summer School was a three-week intensive virtual exchange unit, where students completed a group project on entrepreneurship and intercultural competence. The unit brought together students from USyd, University of Edinburgh, the University of Amsterdam and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, in conjunction with Jiangsu Education Services for International Exchange.
During the application period for the program in April, USyd advertised that students would receive a Vice-Chancellor’s Global Mobility Scholarship, which is worth up to $2500, to cover the full program fee. The INCiTE information page continues to advertise the scholarship without a specified monetary value.
On the program’s last day in July, USyd informed participants that they would not receive the scholarship, as “the program organisers have decided that individual students … will not be charged a program fee.”
However, information pages from other universities indicate that the fee waiver was confirmed as early as April, during the application period, but was not communicated to USyd students.
The University of Edinburgh, for example, published on 1 April that INCiTE would be offered for free in 2021, while the University of Amsterdam similarly advertised this during the application period in April. The University of Edinburgh and the University of Amsterdam did not reply in time for publication. A USyd spokesperson maintains that the fee waiver was confirmed later, in July.
The scholarship was a major factor in choosing to take the zero-credit unit. Several students expressed that the time commitment (5pm-9pm from Mon-Fri, as well as preparation and study outside of class time) meant they had to reduce their working hours and relied on the Scholarship to make up lost income.
“This has left a pretty poor taste in my mouth. I will be sure to warn students in the future about committing to such programs,” one participant said.
Another believed that USyd “was trying to get as many people to participate” in the program, pointing to the fact that USyd extended the application deadline without clarifying the program fee, and argued that USyd “should have earlier disclosed what they knew they were negotiating or working towards.”
“I believe that it is wrong and dishonest to withdraw the scholarship just before the program finishes, especially without consulting the affected students,” said a third participant, who suggested that USyd wanted to avoid “logistical work and troubles” to award the “valuable” scholarship which would have appeared on their academic record.
Honi has also seen email exchanges where the Sydney Abroad department consistently confirmed that students would receive the scholarship, before and during the program.
The USyd spokesperson says that “the scholarship funds for INCiTE have been redirected to students participating in programs with associated fees.”
On the whole, students are “rightfully angered by USyd’s bait and switch decision,” as one disgruntled student put it, and say that their lost time cannot be replaced. “If USyd had communicated properly and clearly like the other universities from Day 1, many students would not have been blindsided.”