Chants from the Chancellery #1: The Problem with Degrees

Check out the first installment of Nishant Pandav’s (@NPaNium) regular column on education and university life.

When the coronavirus pandemic started getting worse by the day, faculties at UNSW and other universities decided to scrap some of their courses. This was because many Chinese students couldn’t make it to Australia in time for the start of the term and would likely have to apply for a programme leave, meaning that they would not pay the fees. It would not have been in the interest of the university to run courses in which only a handful of students turn up.

For me, this meant that one of the elective courses that I wanted to take was no longer available for Term 1. In fact, it was scrapped days before the term started. This left me with a limited number of electives which weren’t of my interest. Also, UNSW had suddenly started emphasising online courses which students overseas could enrol in. And while I did like the one online course that they were offering for my programme, I didn’t see the point of studying something online for $4,650.

I pay the fees to enjoy facilities like the 24/7 air-conditioned spaces, Arc club events, and countless other talks and seminars happening on the campus. An online course for that cost just doesn’t seem worth it when there’s an abundance of free or cheap information online. This is especially true for students wishing to take such courses from overseas. In my case, I could still access the facilities, but I would be missing out on interaction with my classmates or discussions with my tutors.

This whole fiasco got me thinking: are the degrees even worthwhile? The only reason I attend UNSW is because of the campus life. And most international students I know, including myself, are guilty of enrolling in a university only because it gives us an opportunity to work in a 1st world country. For some, the programme that they select isn’t an issue as long as they have their over-expensive foreign trip. However, others have more serious goals and not being able to study a certain course means not being able to study what they like.

In situations where courses are cancelled or postponed, students are forced to look for alternatives. However, when the alternatives aren’t good enough, like in my case, students can apply for special considerations. The application may or may not be successful. It is not easy to convince academics and administrators to let you follow your heart and enrol in a course outside of the programme structure.

When career aspirations get moulded and re-moulded, the university degrees aren’t flexible enough. One either has to drop out and enrol in a different programme, or just try to fit in. Like online learning portals that allow you to take courses you like and develop your skillset accordingly, in an ever-changing world, universities need to start being more flexible and let students decide their own pathways.