Suggestions and feedback
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ANUSA submission: student feedback on University administrative processes
The following is a submission by the ANU Students’ Association (ANUSA) summarising feedback from students on administrative processes within the University. Feedback was received via email and Facebook. A focus group was also run with the ANUSA College Representatives in order to incorporate feedback on College-specific processes in this report.
The feedback has been grouped in the following categories:
- Accessibility and communication of information
- Exchange programs
- Course advice
- IT and library services
- Paper-based processes
Accessibility and communication of information
Locating relevant information about courses, study abroad programs, and specific administrative processes is an issue that has been identified broadly by students. A comment made by several students was that it is generally difficult to find out who to go to in order to undertake a particular administrate process. Emailing questions to generic email accounts in each College is often unsatisfying as there is no communication of the email being received, how the issue is being triaged nor the time frame in which the issue is going to be resolved. It is not uncommon for students to go weeks without hearing a response.
A specific lack of transparency exists around out-of-session courses, such as the winter and summer courses run by the Colleges. One student said that finding information on these courses is ‘near impossible’ unless you know exactly what you are looking for.
Another issue that was commonly raised in the feedback received was the incoherence in information provided by the Colleges. In particular, students seemed frustrated by the need to learn different processes to undertake the same administrative task in different Colleges. There appears to be a strong desire for uniform processes and consistency across the different Colleges and Schools.
Several students have identified a lack of information and/or communication around Honours programs and work experience opportunities. Some engineering students identified this as being highly problematic as both Honours and work experience are compulsory components of their degree program.
Students also identified the need for course information to be made available well in advance (or as far in advance as practicably possible). There is a shared understanding that sometimes, confirming whether a course will run or not is difficult, especially where it is contingent on staffing arrangements. Nevertheless, students have expressed concern that often, information is still being communicated with a time lag. Moreover, students have said that you ‘need to know where to go’ to find the information. Having a more centralised and consistent mode of communication would appear to be more desirable.
Information and clarity of information around changes in degree programs could also be done better according to feedback received. Where programs have changed, there appears to be some confusion among students as to how those changes affect their degree program. Two CASS students admitted that, following changes to their degree program, they thought their program had changed significantly too, only to realise later that there was a ‘phase-in’ process so that the changes did not affect them to a large extent.
The processes involved in undertaking exchange programs and study abroad received the most criticism from students. On a fundamental level, it appears that communication with and assistance from the Exchange Office is very poor and leaves a lot of students ‘in the dark’.
There is considerable angst around course credit procedures for courses taken abroad. One student remarked that it was not uncommon for their College to contact students about course credit approval after the students have already left to undertake their study abroad. In some instances, students have had their exchange courses rejected partway through their exchange program having commenced, purely because of delays in processing applications for credit and communicating outcomes back to students. One student remarked that is ‘impossible’ to know what courses you have had accepted for cross-institutional credit before you leave the country.
Excessive time lags and miscommunication regarding course credit has also been an issue with the IARU Global Summer Program. For most of the courses, students are informed that course credit is ‘automatic’. Nevertheless, students are still required to undergo a protracted application process. Moreover, the process is still paper-based and there appears to be virtually no communication with students with regard to the status of their application. One student who participated in an IARU GSP course in July 2012 was only informed of his course being accepted for credit in May 2013.
Issues concerning enrolment procedures were also raised by students. One concern was in relation to first year program enrolment. Currently, new students are required to confirm their first year program enrolment by meeting with an advisor in Melville Hall on Enrolment Day. Students have expressed frustration at the time spent waiting on this day, with one student saying that the process took a total of 3.5 hours and that no changes were made to their enrolment as a result. One suggestion to improve this process is to move it online in order for first year courses to be ‘ticked off’ without requiring students to see an advisor. Students should only be required to make an appointment with an advisor where there are issues with their enrolment pattern.
Concerns have also been expressed over the major delays in enrolments to the Diploma of Languages. Students have provided feedback stating that the enrolment process seems to involve various visits to the College, phone calls to their College administration office, lost paperwork, and no designated point of contact.
Summer and winter session enrolment processes could also be improved, mostly by simplifying how they are done. Currently, there are very different processes across the Colleges for enrolling in summer/winter session courses. Part of the problem stems from the fact that eligibility for summer/winter session enrolment was disabled on ISIS. This means students are required to undertake different processes to get ‘permission’ to enrol in these courses before actually enrolling. For example, one College only requires students to send an email to a relevant point of contact in order to obtain permission to enrol. Other Colleges require hard copy forms to be submitted which can result in a somewhat burdensome process. Ideally, it would be good to see the default eligibility option restored on ISIS with some way of identifying students who are not eligible to enrol and who have enrolled in the course(s). That way, only the non-eligible enrolees are followed up and it reduces the burden on the majority of students with non-problematic cases.
Tutorial enrolments could also be a more streamlined process. There is no consistency across the Colleges as to how or when tutorial enrolments are undertaken. Currently, one of the Colleges uses its own tutorial enrolment portal, separate from Wattle enrolments. Using Wattle as a central point of contact with students is crucial. Centralising the ability to enrol in tutorials, download learning materials, view grades, and interact with staff and students seems to be highly desired amongst students who provided feedback. Having different portals for enrolment also has run on implications on timetabling. Instead of using the centralised timetable builder, students often draw up their own timetables in order to incorporate classes that are scheduled outside the central timetabling system. The other concern that has been raised regarding tutorial enrolments is the lack of consistency in timing of enrolments. Some enrolments take place before or during Week 1; others take place from Weeks 2 and 3 onwards. The issues of timing are crucial, especially in courses where tutorial enrolments are competitive processes. There was one instance of a tutorial enrolment being scheduled to open at 12am on a Friday. In this case, most mid-week classes had been filled by 12.10am. Feedback has suggested that this is not an isolated example.
Feedback around course advice processes has raised two main issues – time delays in getting advice and accuracy of advice given. Regarding the first, it is not uncommon for students to have to wait 3 to 6 weeks in order to get an appointment with a course advisor. These delays can have a significant impact on students and their programs of study, particularly if they extend past the census date or if the students are due to graduate at the end of the semester. The second issue revolves around the accuracy of advice given. There has been considerable frustration expressed by students have been told to complete courses that they did not need to complete, and the reverse, that is, not completing courses that they were required to. One student spent a considerable amount of time trying to determine how many second year courses were required to get a physics major in the program that was being undertaken. That student could not get a consistent answer.
IT and library services
There was a considerable amount of positive feedback given with regards to library services; students have noticed a marked improvement in library services over the past year. Feedback expressed notable praise for the online booking system as well as assistance provided by library staff. One issue raised was with regard to printing services. The printing system has failed on various occasions throughout Semester 1 this year and getting information on the status of these failures was apparently quite difficult. One suggestion is to have TV screens above the printing stations so that live updates can be sent. For example, when the system is down, the screens could show the estimated time until the system is restored.
An overarching concern about the University’s administrative processes, which was raised in various contexts, was that many of the processes are still paper-based, thus requiring students to go to the administrative offices in order to collect forms, fill them out, and then later return to submit them. In some cases, with some forms, students are required to walk to various locations in order to have the form filled out by various individuals. In many cases where students are told that the process is online, the form is merely available in a PDF version that still needs to be printed off and taken to the relevant administrative office. There seemed to be a strong consensus in the focus group discussion that processes should not be marked as ‘online’ unless they are fully online.
Examples of paper-based processes or processes that still require paper form submission include:
- Enrolment in some elective courses
- Some scholarship applications
- Requests to overload or reduce study load
- Requests for assessment extensions
- Requests for course permission codes
One of the main issues with the paper-based administrative processes, is that it is not uncommon for forms to get misplaced, and ironically, for there to be no ‘paper trail’ that students can refer back to. One student who provided feedback stated that as a result of misplaced documents, they were unenrolled from one of their courses. Another concern around paper-based processes is time delays and duplication of tasks. Time delays arise from having to physically transmit documents from place to place, as well as waiting for paperwork to be processed. Duplication arises where staff are required to input information from filled-out forms into a computer, when a student has already spent the time filling this information out on a paper form. It would make more sense for that task to be completed once by the student, and for the information to then be readily available for the staff in an electronic format.
The following is a summary of other feedback that has been received.
Obtaining an Official Transcript
- There are concerns about this process as students are required to go to the Student Exchange Office in order to request an Official Academic Transcript. They are then required to pay and wait for it to be printed.
- This process could be considerably streamlined if it was taken online; that is, if students could order a Transcript online and have a PDF version sent to them. It might also help to reduce printing costs for those students who do not want a hard copy.
Disability Services Centre
- Feedback provided by one student has strongly commended the staff at Disability Services for their knowledge, efficiency and case management. The Disability Services office appears to work well with the other Divisions and service providers within the University which enables accurate advice to be given and appropriate referrals to be made.
- Feedback was received on the difficulties that sometimes arise in paying for summer session courses.
- One student provided an example whereby the process involved back and forth communications between two Colleges due to uncertainty over which College was responsible for the payment.
- There appears to be a notable level of concern over what this process involves. There is definitely an issue around communication of the special consideration application process being somewhat unclear.
- The current process requires a student to fill out a paper form and take it to every College (or School) for the exam they are sitting. Photocopies of this form are made by each of the Colleges and/or Schools.
- This process is unsatisfactory for some students, particularly to those who might be interstate (for reasons which underpin their special consideration application). It is not unreasonable to expect that often, when applying for special consideration, students will not necessarily be able to be present on campus.
- Another concern around the special consideration process is that there is no communication back to the student regarding the application. That is, students are never informed whether their application has been accepted, or if it has been accepted, what the implications of that application are on their final grades. For example, a student who has applied for special consideration has no idea whether the grade they have received has in fact been moderated as a result of special consideration.
- Another issue with the existing process is that it is very rigid and does not allow provisions for incidences that might occur during an exam. One student provided an example of a friend who tripped and broke their toe on the way into an exam, and because they knew it was too late to submit a special consideration form, they chose to sit the exam regardless. That student was uncertain about what they could do in that particular situation because it had not been advised as to what alternative options were open to them.