University of Sydney cuts Honours courses, reduces OLE requirement in changes to undergraduate degrees

The University is also exploring potential changes to the Bachelor of Advanced Studies program, including its discontinuation.

The University of Sydney’s Academic Board has approved of a swathe of changes to undergraduate degrees at the University, including making extensive cuts to Honours programs.

The Academic Board voted to remove discipline-specific Honours seminar units for students studying Ancient Greek, Ancient History, Anthropology, Art History, Latin, Linguistics, Political Economy and Visual Arts. The subjects will be replaced by school-based interdisciplinary units, as reported by Honi Soit in March.

Students studying English Honours will be permitted to study a school-based seminar unit as a selective, although discipline-specific courses have not yet been cut from the Honours program.

The changes will take effect from 1 January 2024.

Honours students have widely condemned the cuts as anti-intellectual and a cost-cutting measure, with the University proceeding regardless.

The cuts have been implemented in line with the University’s Future FASS program. They were first proposed in 2021, being the target of a historic Student General meeting where over 200 students opposed the move.

Students’ Representative Council President Lia Perkins said, “We are now seeing the consequences of Future FASS, which students in FASS opposed.

“While some disciplines were saved from being cut, now many of our honours programs are being shrunk down and are no longer discipline specific.

“The value of a curriculum should not be that it is ‘sustainable’ (i.e. returns a profit for the faculty) but that students get a quality learning experience.”

The University of Sydney has recorded a $1.3 billion dollar surplus over 2021 and 2022.

The Academic Board has also voted to reduce the Open Learning Environment (OLE) requirement from twelve units to six.

OLEs, generally online-only courses worth two credit points, have been routinely criticised by students as offering poor quality of education and limiting student choice regarding electives. The University’s decision will mean that students will be able to choose another elective unit as part of their degrees.

Perkins told Honi, “A reduction in the number of mandatory OLEs is what students have called for since OLEs were introduced.

“This is welcomed, as it allows more flexibility and choice for students. Other units like the interdisciplinary impact, which has faced considerable criticism from students should also be questioned on their worth to be mandatory units.”

At the meeting, the Academic Board decided to review the offering of the Bachelor of Advanced Studies, citing confusion as to its purpose.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) has been tasked by the Board with developing “a plan for the Bachelor of Advanced Studies by the end of the 2023 academic year which either clarifies and solidifies its value proposition or recommends its discontinuation.”

The Board suggested the Deputy Vice-Chancellor consider developing “a plan for a distinctive fourth year that focusses on advanced study, career-readiness and potentially international mobility; and consider deleting the Honours option for the Bachelor of Advanced Studies and positing the Bachelor of Advanced Studies as an alternative to an Honours option.”

Honi understands that discontinuation of the Bachelor of Advanced Studies is less likely than changes to its structure. In any case, the Academic Board also recommended that the University investigate options for reducing some double degrees.

Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Commerce, Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Economics, Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Commerce, Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Economics, Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Economics degrees were all listed as possibilities.