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Students Feel “Ripped Off” By New Shorter Trimester System

UTS staff and students have voiced their concerns about the trimesters system, six months after its implementation.

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Students at the University of Technology, Sydney, have complained to staff they feel "ripped off" by the new trimester program, which has them paying the same amount of money for shorter teaching periods.

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The trimester system was implemented by UTS at the start of 2016.

The traditional autumn and spring semesters have been condensed from 14 weeks to 11, and in some faculties tutorials have been cut from two hours to one. The optional summer semester is now the same length as autumn and spring.

One student told BuzzFeed News the "vibe around campus is pretty bad" since trimesters were introduced.

Students feel their quality of learning has been reduced and they're now at a disadvantage to students at other universities, who pay the same course fees but have longer semesters and more face-to-face time with tutors.

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Law and commerce students at UTS pay an average of $10,440 per year.

Under the trimester system they would be paying $474 for 20 weeks of class and two weeks of non-teaching orientation in the autumn and spring study sessions.

They would have to pay more if they chose to study in the summer trimester.

For science, engineering, health and architecture students it works out to $405 per week - including for the two orientation weeks, during which there are no tutorials.

Humanities, social studies, languages, education and arts students are forking out $284 per week.

"We are paying the same amount of money as students who have more weeks and we are doing the same amount of work... that places much more stress on us as students and also reduces the quality of our work," first year Communications Law student Sophia Hatzis told BuzzFeed News.

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“It’s hard not to feel taken advantage of! I think it makes me more aware that unis aren’t just there to educate you (unfortunately), they’re also businesses trying to make a profit,” said first year student Samantha Hayes.

"I'm paying the same amount as last year's students for less teaching periods and more 'compressed' learning," fellow first year Lucy Rayner said.

"In my view it seems like it's a sly move to make it cheaper for UTS with their teaching staff working less hours whilst student dissatisfaction isn't actually acknowledged. Summary: not feeling it."

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Students are flocking to the UTS Confessions Facebook page to vent about the shorter teaching periods.

Facebook: utsconfessions13

"Some senior staff have called for fewer assignments... I think that's a fucking disgrace", a UTS senior staff member told BuzzFeed News.

One highly critical staff member confirmed complaints have been made to the Vice Chancellor and academic board, but they fear their feedback will fall on deaf ears.

"The group these changes have had the biggest impact on is staff," one staff member told BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity.

"We were asked by the university to ensure we didn't teach less, didn't take away the content. But in order for that to happen that puts an enormous stress on the staff."

Squeezing 14 weeks of content into 11 weeks is the biggest objection from staff, as it leaves them with less time to teach and turn around marking. Staff say there has also been a push to get more course work online, with little technical support.

"I'm being sent mad, I have never worked so hard and I'm completely exhausted by it," one new lecturer said.

Others thought cutting tutorial time in the Law, Arts and Social Sciences faculties from two to one hour made it impossible for each student to participate. Tutorial size ranges from 25 to 30 students.

"There is no question, the sheer maths will tell you it’s not as much face-to-face time as it was. I’m hardly going to disagree with a student who’s expressing that concern," said another.

Lecturers believe staff should step in to ensure all students across faculties are getting the same hours of face-to-face time.

UTS argues trimesters provide a more flexible model for students to balance study, work and other commitments during their degree.

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There is an option to fast track a bachelor’s degree from three to two years, and if you fail a subject you can retake it in the summer without throwing your degree off course.

UTS isn’t the only university to use a trimester model. It’s also in place at Bond, Deakin and Canberra, and UNSW are also considering adopting it by 2019.

Students told BuzzFeed News they would be inclined to support the system if there were more subjects available during summer, so they could fast-track their degree as the university has been promoting.

Third year Brianna Scully's degree has been prolonged because of the new system.

"I only have three subjects to go and was willing to do some of them across the new trimester system but none of my subjects were available in the third trimester - only in the usual Spring/Autumn semesters. So last semester I was doing three subjects in 11 weeks," she said.

Others told BuzzFeed their courses felt "super rushed", with a cut back to not only the number of teaching weeks but also tutorial time.

“Our tutors don’t have enough time to give us feedback from previous assessments before we start the next one,” journalism student Jack Begbie said.

Not everyone is against the shorter terms, as it allows more time for paid work to supplement the costs of studying.

"They're good depending on your goal," one student said.

"If you want to get in and out then yes. It gives more time for paid work to support unpaid internships that are now necessary."

First year Alice Gillespie also enjoys the shorter term length.

"A drawback would be how pushed for time the content is though. But ultimately, especially as more courses and subjects get added, I think it's a great idea for more flexibility for students overall."

"Not everything can be driven by the financial aspect. There has to be a serious concern about what’s happening from a learning point of view. It just can’t all be about the money," an academic told BuzzFeed.

UPDATE

UTS' deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Shirley Alexander, told BuzzFeed News the university's focus is on learning outcomes, not face-to-face contact time.

"In designing our courses we focus on what students need to do in order to achieve the course intended learning outcomes, rather than how many hours of face-to-face contact they have. This is increasingly important as universities all around the world begin to make the best use of new technologies to support students’ learning," she said.

Alexander defended the university's move to more online course work, saying it gives students more freedom.

"For many students the ability to watch video recordings in their own home gives them more freedom to work at the same time they are studying. But we also know that students strongly value face-to-face. That is why at UTS we aim to combine the best of online and the best of face-to-face."

UTS plans to evaluate the trimester system through a student survey with questions about positive and negative experiences. This feedback will inform changes to the calendar "where necessary".

Until then, staff will work "collaboratively with students to provide the appropriate amount of time to study in each session as well as provide flexibility across a student’s complete study cycle".

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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