Monday, 15 August 2016 - 10:48pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 15/08/2016 - 10:48pm in

I submitted an essay on the due date. That almost never happens. As I was doing so, I saw this announcement on Blackboard:

Given the amount of requests for extensions […] I have extended the due date for assignment one by one week for everyone.

My rant took the following form:

Posted 5pm on the day it's due. Seriously? I've another essay due this week that could have benefited from the extra time had I known I could set this one aside for a bit.

It's nine thirty and I've just submitted the butchered abomination that fits within the word limit, rather than the essay I would have liked to submit. Word limits aren't about the discipline of writing to a limit; they're about limiting the time that it takes to mark essays, or rather the cost of paying someone to do it. Marking criteria aren't about transparency or equity; they're about turning academic staff into interchangeable box-ticking robots with no latitude for exercising professional judgement.

Call it "emancipatory teaching and learning" or "flexible converged delivery", the take-all-comers "demand-driven system" of higher education in Australia ultimately boils down to underpaid casual staff unable to take the time to properly deliver what is in any case a curriculum dumbed down for the benefit of students who can't read or write (because the income for every enrolment is the same) and don't know why they're at university, or that they're not really at a university but at a sleazy commercial vocational college whose business model is exploiting gullible youth.

At this point I'm just going through the motions because my friends and family insist that although they know and I know I'm not deriving anything of value from "the student experience", more people than I would expect take an Australian university degree very seriously. Why I should want to impress idiots in the first place is left unexplained.

I have every sympathy with students who struggle. I am one. I've almost never submitted an essay on time. I have to do the mental arithmetic to work out the gross mark I was awarded from the net mark after late penalties. (A pointless exercise anyway because "Did I meet the marking criteria?" is a completely different question to "Is this good work?") The problem with a semi-marketised system of higher education is that when a large proportion of students regularly receive low marks, or have difficulty submitting work on time, nobody asks "What is it about these students, or the conditions of their lives, that is generating this outcome? And what can we do about it?" The commercial imperatives force the question "How can we keep them enrolled, at whatever cost to the integrity of the system?"