Sunday, April 19, 2009

arts degrees, please take one

Back in pre-historic times (ie the 1980's, when I was an under-grad) there was much derision towards people such as my good self studying for a BA. It wasn't a 'real degree' because we didn't study 'real things' that got you a 'job'. I studied Latin and Ancient Greek and Modern European History. Waste of time this 'knowledge stuff' people would say. And so in the Barr Smith Library toilets, above the paper holder would be written 'arts degrees, please take one'.

As a side step from this story there was also Penis Man. If you wandered into the toilets by the entrance to the library you could see the first chapter of the Adventures of Penis Man, that was quite artfully drawn. You would then be directed to the second floor of the Ligertwood Building, and then the Mitchell Building, then the Napier and so on, and bit by bit you could put together the whole story of our hero's adventure. Students these days have no sense of humour, I can tell you.

These days I'm doing a Master of Tourism (a 'real course' from which I hope to get a job at the end of it), at the same institution where I am gainfully employed running the graduate program in, amongst other things, Tourism. Which means my peers are my 'clients'. And quite frankly sometimes I'm irked that these people will come out with the same qualification as me. On paper we will be equals. Maybe not. Take, for example, one telephone conversation I had on Friday.

BHG: "Hi, is that Student X? Good, I'm just ringing about your study this semester, we notice that you've enrolled in your thesis but we haven't heard from you, so your supervisor is just wondering if you are actually planning on doing work towards your thesis, or if you're deferring to next semester/year, in which case you should withdraw from this subject".

Student X (who, let me remind you, is in a Masters course): "Oh, no one rang me to tell me what I had to do, so I just assumed there was nothing required of me at the moment".

Then there are the international students. I know that they generate income, and by all means everyone should have access to education, but many, if not most, of these guys are setting themselves up for failure. I had three glorious hours of student interviews set aside on Friday to tell, predominantly but not exclusively, international students, that they have failed subjects/assignments and they are going to have to repeat/re-submit. Admittedly they don't do themselves any favours. After a business bachelor degree they think they can do a Master of Tourism, despite the fact that they come for counties so culturally diametrically opposed to the way things are done in Australia, with some having never had any personal contact with the concepts/activities they are having to write about.

We also run many of our subjects as intensives, three days of very heavy, intense teaching followed by a few weeks of independent study. Not good if your English is not strong, in these cases you're much better off with a couple of hours a week with time in between lectures to get your head around what has been discussed. However we run our courses this way because most of our clients are currently working in the industry and are studying to improve or certify their knowledge. In these cases three days of annual leave is much easier to organise than three hours every Thursday morning. As such we market our course as being industry friendly, intensive driven. It's on our website. If I were paying thousands and thousands of dollars and moving thousands and thousands of miles from my friends and family, I might have a squizz at the website first to see how the course I'm doing is structured, instead of complaining about it later.

Or maybe I'm being unreasonable, because I'm feeling bad because no one likes to tell student who are working hard and doing their best that they're failing.

Of course we will give these students chances to pass, to resubmit their work over and over and over until they just scrape across the line. We'll accept poor expression that we never would from a 'local' student (although being born in and raised in an English speaking country to English speaking parents no longer seems to qualify you for high levels of English literacy). Because education is a business. These people have the moolah so the business will take it and those at the coal face need to do what ever they can to help these people get over the line.

I'm not blaming the students, I'm blaming the machine. They are often students who have done very well in their home countries but now failing, and it's really hard for most of them. But it's also not fair on everyone else, who will come out at the end with the same parchment, but an entirely different skill set.

(I should also note that Student X described above is not an international student. They will be out in the same job market as me in a couple of years and it will be assumed that we will be equally employable. ***sigh***).

Last night I spent a lovely evening with Best Boss in the World, with whom I used to work in secondary education. That is a whole different minefield. We did however eat great Lebanese food, I can highly recommend this restaurant.


Suzer said...

I have written so much on this myself, having done an MA in International Tourism Management at Leeds Uni over in the UK. Had no intention of moving to Australia at the time and haven't been able to get a job here in Adelaide with the degree. Thank your lucky stars you have some connections in the industry to begin with. Don't even get me started on how universities use international students to line their pockets and leave them out hanging to dry, letting them into the program knowing well and true that they don't have the skills to survive. They may be the brightest back home, but the cultural differences in regards to study and the challenge with the language....well, I wasn't supposed to start going on about this right?

I myself have a BA in Literature, and think, despite thoroughly enjoying doing my dissertation on socio-cultural impacts on tourism on Belfast, a liberal arts degree is a much more worthy and difficult experience.

A Free Man said...

That's what referees are for - to distinguish the wheat from the chaff for employers. I'm sure you know this, but make sure a couple of your lecturers know how good you are and they'll serve you well.

The Adventures of Penis Man reminded me that our receptionist discovered that there was a 'M Peanisbreath' in the Adelaide phone book. We're debating whether or not someone was taking the piss.

I'm pretty sure they were.