Updates from the MGA Coursework Online Forum

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The MGA held a forum for coursework students on 10 September 2020. In broad terms there were four areas of concern. 

The main concerns and questions raised at that meeting are being followed up by the MGA. This document is an initial report, with a summary of student concerns followed by the MGA response and planned action. De-identified comments from students are included. For updates on how our lobbying is progressing, please go to MGA Action on COVID-19


Coursework students reported that the quality of online teaching was disappointing, they did not get value for money and the units/courses failed to deliver the educational outcome promised by the University.

Some students reported that the standard of teaching had fallen but acknowledged that this was probably due to courses having to be delivered online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other students reported they were already disappointed with some of their on-campus units, but the quality progressively deteriorated once online.

Monash University has implemented a number of remedial measures including the creation of an academic safety net and access to financial grants. However, students feel that a reasonable offset would have been to discount tuition fees, because not every student received a grant and not every student benefitted from the operation of the academic safety net. Students have engaged in “unit shopping” prioritising ease and grades over an actual quality educational experience. 

Student comments (directly quoted)

  • Recorded lectures, while convenient, do not provide any opportunity to ask questions and interact with the lecturer or have in-class discussions. No or very little opportunity to meet lecturers post orientation.
  • Tutorials are not the same with students not turning on their cameras/some not speaking at all. While there could be many reasons that students do not turn on cameras but the fact that they do not contribute to discussions at all, takes away my chance (for example) to engage in stimulating conversations and have opportunities for peer learning. This would not be the case in on-campus tutorials where students might not have the choice to completely avoid group discussions. 
  • Stemming from my poor tutorial experience, I am not sure if the English exams have been foregone for Sem 2 due to the covid-19 situation, as the minimum English score that is required for admission to Monash would seem to ensure that students are confident enough to speak and understand English during class. If that is the reason that students do not speak, it is quite unfortunate as any opportunity to interact with fellow students, despite the unit trying to do it online, fails.
  • As an international student, my opportunities to find a job after my course and gain international experience depends a lot on the network I can build. Studying online does not provide any real opportunity to build it.
  • The lecturer, during streamed lectures, only reads the pdf and the formulas. This is not enough to understand the topic. There are weekly quizzes based on the lectures. Student’s grades are falling because concepts are not being explained in the lectures.  There are only two tutors in a large unit. Both are young and inexperienced and often end tutorials early. A tutor said to the group: “I do not know this language” when discussing what he had to teach. This is different from the on-campus experience in 2019.
  • I want to start by acknowledging the effort that the Uni has put in to try and ensure a smooth transition towards online learning. I am sure that the Uni would want to give students the best possible experience. However, as an international student, studying offshore, I do have a few concerns as the fee we pay is much higher than other students and also, the current online experience makes the fee feel quite disproportionate.
  • hi there, I have a concern regarding the fee charged considering everything is been done online and… the quality of education isn’t as great as on campus classes I think the same, I missed two field school trips in two different units and those trips were important as well, one of these units was moved from 12 weeks to a 5 weeks unit during the winter break.
  • online study is not the same as in person learning, the quality of tutorial discussions is lower, students feel the effects of isolation at home, the current arrangement is not viable long term, and all aspects of the educational experience are being affected.
  • Uni should not expect high performance without high teaching input. Students happy at uni will perform more highly.  But students just want to finish and get out now, get a job.
  • No Fail Grades policy doesn’t help everyone. 
  • Agrees re quality & fees. Masters of Business student, where 90% of students are…no chance to involve himself with other students. Students with lack of English communicative competence affects his experience of the course and drives his educational quality down. 
  • Other students’ work is affected by internet connection problems from the …students, like when group work is involved. As well there is favouritism to …students.
  • Ordinarily we want to explore educational opportunities but now we’re just enrolling in the subjects where we know we’ll do well. 
  • We don’t choose units we really want to do, because of fear of failing or not doing well.
  • …students English skills are poor (both written and spoken) so not speaking and only using the chat function makes interaction really difficult.
  • Some teachers also lack communication skills and it is hard to connect with them in tutes and lectures.
  • Concern that tutors are students that only just passed the unit last year, are they qualified?
  • Transparency is also an issues, the uni is not giving it to us. Same $ to deliver courses online – how is this possible? When they are saving utilities and online degrees cost less from other unis?
  • We choose Monash over other unis, we though we would get good opportunities but we haven’t got them. Can we get more scholarship opportunities for international students?
  • I too want to raise my concerns towards the fee structure of the University.
  • As we all know that we are getting online education and so it is obvious that university is saving additional expenses in so many ways like there are no ongoing events and we are not using any on campus facilities or even basic amenities like water and electricity.
  • And we lost our part time jobs, even it is very difficult for our parents to support us. Like I am from India and situation is really worse there.
  • So my question is why Monash is not reducing their fee when universities across the world already did that. And what are the plans of MGA to take this issue forward on our behalf.
  • Also irrespective of the level of education we are not using the infrastructure of the university as well. So there should be a reduction in fees, we go for easy units because of this if we pass we don’t repeat.
  • Some subjects might require more practical or hands-on-learning that might require physical learning and online does not cater for this.

MGA action to date

The MGA has made several very strong and determined attempts to lobby the university for a course fee reduction for graduate students, with no success.  The arguments we put forward to senior management are documented on our lobbying page at: https://mga.monash.edu/covid-19/mga-action/

The Vice-Chancellor made it very clear that the university will not reduce their course fees under any circumstances. The MGA has no coercive power over the university so while we can raise these concerns on behalf of students and continue to lobby the University, we cannot compel the university to take action.  A fee reduction campaign needs to demonstrate and prove that courses are not the same quality as they were when delivered on campus.  

The SSAF fee charged to all students this year was reduced by 66% to compensate students for the fact that they were not able to access any on campus events or use campus facilities.

For individual complaints students are advised to contact their advocate at mga-advocacy@monash.edu  The MGA advocates can provide students with assistance in lodging a formal complaint about the quality of their unit/course.   Complaints need to be backed up with evidence

Students in some faculties reported problems with E-exams.  The students feel that they were not made aware of the University’s expectations in advance of the exams.

Students from the Faculty of IT, Business and Economics, JD and MNHS reported they were disappointed with the exam processes. In summary, the complaints were:

  1. The exam tasks were too long for students to complete within the stipulated timeframe;
  2. There was a lack of instruction about referencing requirements for take-home exams;
  3. The time allocated did not take into account that uploading documents was slow and difficult;
  4. Respondus software was unreasonably sensitive and normal actions triggered an alert;
  5. Students would have preferred take-home exams (not time restricted) which other universities allowed, ie Deakin had all weekend take-home law exams

Student comments (directly quoted)

  • Exams, too long, got only Pass
  • And also the semester exams were not long enough to finish all the questions;
  • They are designing the exam which can’t be solvde in 3-4 hours, but they are giving us just 2 hrs for that.
  • Their response will be that they will upscale the marks of every student. So if everything is fine from their end, why there is a need to upscale the marks.

MGA action to date

MGA advocates have met with the Exams Branch as well as senior staff in the Office of the DVC & Vice President (Education) to raise these concerns.  MGA advocates have advised students individually on how best to pursue these complaints.  The MGA President has raised these concerns at VC level as well as in the Education Committee.  We currently await advice from the University as to the process for end-of-year examinations. Progress will be posted on our website.

Students reported that assignment marking failed to take account of the challenges they have faced due to Covid-19.

Students said that more generous extensions were warranted and the special consideration policy should be significantly broadened. All students should get the benefit of a generous special consideration policy without having to prove the obvious. There should not be a requirement to prove special circumstances and there should not be a requirement to provide supporting evidence. The pandemic has made it very difficult for all students.

Student comments (directly quoted)

  • …about the marking being done on assignments, we feel very bad even though after working hard on them and expecting HD but we still get a C or a D. I feel we could be marked much better than that…
  • …we are not getting the grades equivalent to amount of effort we giving. I guess there might be some bias in marking towards a particular group of students. I want you to convince Monash to enable Blind Marking to Assignments as well as it is there for Final Exams.
  • I am not sure if the English exams for international students have been foregone for Sem 2 due to covid. Because the marks required on IELTS are high and I wonder how students have managed to get those marks if they are not confident of their English

Financial hardship

The students were very distressed as almost all had lost their part-time jobs and the international students at the forum said they could not return home.  

Student comments (directly quoted)

  • It’s not directly related to the university, but a major point of contention for international students is that a lot of countries have allowed international students to come in and study on campus.
  • Watching your own friends leaving for their further studies as planned, while your own plans are in limbo due to no concrete plan to get us to campus, is a major stress level. For example, I have my visa since Feb! I planned it so well, me and my spouse quit our jobs and gave up our home in a planned manner. But now we are living here with family, with no idea on when we can get on with our plans. The visa and OHSC fee have been quite expensive too. Seeing people leave for UK/Europe is not the best feeling.
  • The hardship packages were not accessible – only knows 3 students who got one. And it was designed to address loss of part time jobs/income/living expenses issues, not issues with quality of education.
  • I am not sure if the hardship packages were for students currently in Melbourne. But for those of us still in our respective countries, there has been no change and it seems a bit disproportionate to the experience.
  • Hi all, why higher management is not ready to speak with the students in a bunch? Experiences has no proofs and everyone asks the same,  I tried it multiple times

MGA action to date

The MGA understands that this has been a very difficult time for some students. The University had several hardship grants available for students who were suffering financially, which were available to all students including both international and domestic HDR students.  Those funds are now exhausted.  The University continues to provide a more restricted form of financial support through Monash Connect.  MGA has some capacity to offer food vouchers to postgraduates but as a not-for-profit association our capacity is limited.

Domestic students may also qualify for government support, contact Centrelink for more information.  International students should also seek support from Study Melbourne

MGA encourages any student who is struggling to contact our MGA Advocacy service. Email mga-advocacy@monash.edu

In the first instance, the MGA will take the list of concerns, questions and requests arising from this forum to the appropriate university body for comment (eg Faculty Associate Deans, Education Committee). The University has not yet had an opportunity to directly comment on some of the issues raised in this forum. The MGA will consider further lobbying action depending on the University’s response.