Discussion on a future academic plan for the College of Sciences

The elimination of duplication in Massey University’s College of Science essentially is being driven by financial imperatives, Professor Ray Geor acknowledges in a post on the university website.

There is an urgent need to make changes to “better align teaching costs with teaching income”, he says in an article responding to concerns about the college’s academic plan.

Professor Geor, the College of Sciences Pro-Vice Chancellor, writes:

On Monday I released a discussion document to Massey University College of Sciences (CoS) staff and students about the future academic plan for the College. The document has resulted in a high level of concern from many staff and students, and this is understandable: the document frankly outlines a significant financial problem for our College that requires substantial and urgent change. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to make a step-change in what we do and to act with urgency. Although there will be no quick fixes, waiting will only worsen the problem.

I want to make it clear that what is under discussion in this document is our plan for what is taught where; it is not about research, researchers or research quality. Naturally research is tied up with teaching, and the document touches on this, but the primary problem relates to teaching income not keeping up with our teaching costs, and no amount of research excellence can fix that mismatch across our breadth of offer. Nor unfortunately, can growth in student numbers fix the problem within the time-frame it needs to be addressed. We have had some excellent growth in student numbers in some areas. Growth in student numbers alone will not however be enough to address all of our challenges in the near future.

Although in the past we have used strategies such as expanding the range of subjects we offer and the range of places we offer them, projected student growth, even on the most optimistic interpretation of population data and other trends, indicates that this is not a viable strategy. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) has therefore recently set a new strategic direction for the whole University, as outlined in Digital Plus, and the CoS discussion document follows this strategic direction as it applies to our College.

As suggested in the discussion document, this would involve a first step of focussing specialisations in single locations. In parallel, we will work to enhance our face-to-face and distance teaching with a modern, practical and interactive digital curriculum. Note that the Digital Plus concept does not mean a stop to face-to-face teaching: indeed, in some areas internal study may be the only mode of study we offer, however in other areas we will be able to expand our distance offer to cater for the increasing interest in students for online study. Projections from recent work in Australia indicate that by 2030, 45-50% of students will prefer to study in an online mode. We are already seeing an increase in update of study by distance at Massey. The Digital Plus strategy will therefore see the University well placed to cater for that interest, and set us at the forefront of online delivery in the NZ tertiary sector.

The discussion document outlines a way forward in these difficult circumstances that will enable us to strengthen our depth of staff capability. Co-locating centres of expertise will facilitate collaboration, team synergy and the development and progression of staff. We will be better able to support staff with the infrastructure they need for excellent, ground-breaking research, to advance the quality of teaching and to incorporate new digital materials and learning designs. Although it reduces the breadth of the “where” of our offer in a face-to-face context, the suggestions outlined in the discussion document preserve the breadth of the “what” we offer, and through that we will be able to maintain, and even strengthen, our research standing across these discipline areas.

There has also been much concern that we will not be able to look after our students. But let me assure you that whatever ends up being planned, we will support students to complete their qualification, whether they be new to university in their first year, or a doctoral candidate. Detailed planning would be undertaken once a direction is proposed and we would maintain appropriate staffing to support students.

Many staff are asking what else we could do, how else we could solve the problem. Other ways of reducing costs have and will continue to be pursued.  I am open to any and all ideas. If there is a different and better way, I want to hear it. We have been given a strategic direction by the Digital Plus concept but the suggested solution is up for discussion and is not set in stone.

What is set in stone is the urgent need to make changes that will better align teaching costs with teaching income. I am looking for your help to ensure we reach our goal of ensuring the viability of the College and the offering of a broad range of well-taught science qualifications and specialisations that will be valued by students and relevant to New Zealand in the 21st century.

Source:  Massey University

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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