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Ooft – where to begin. 

Things go wrong at uni at the best of times, and UMSU’s Advocacy Service is here to help you navigate the often complex world of policies and procedures that govern how you and the University interact. Our advice on a range of issues you may normally face at uni is here. However, this is no ordinary time, so we have scraped our inbox and the social media comments and messages you are sending us for some general answers to the big ticket items on your minds right now. Don’t forget – if your concerns aren’t addressed here – at all or sufficiently – then please get in touch here!

Many students have been voicing concerns about the relative quality of their subjects since the University moved to online teaching as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. If you can evidence a diminution of in your educational experience due to the move to online study, the next step is to use the University’s complaints process. UMSU Advocacy is here to help guide you through this process.

 

The Academic Board has determined that for the first half of the academic year (summer and first semester) the usual practice of automatically flagging students for Course Academic Progress Committees (CAPCs) will not be happening. This means that regardless of your results this semester, you won’t get an automated notice to show cause.

 

However, some students may still be contacted for an appointment with a student advisor or CAPC who may make recommendations designed to help you. This is explained further below. However, a student advisor or CAPC cannot suspend or terminate your enrolment.

 

Other important changes for this semester around Academic Progress matters include:

  • If you are identified as ‘At Risk’ of unsatisfactory progress for the first time this semester, you will receive an ‘At Risk’ status, but will not automatically be deemed to be on ‘Probation’. Probation usually means that a further semester where you don’t meet satisfactory progress would require you to meet with the CAPC - however this time if your performance remains unsatisfactory, it is effectively frozen at ‘At Risk’ for the year - so no CAPC meeting.
  • Anyone with ‘At Risk’ status that is identified as ‘Unsatisfactory Progress’ in the first half of 2020 will remain ‘At Risk’, effectively freezing this status - so no CAPC meeting.
  • Anyone with prior ‘Unsatisfactory Progress’ status making unsatisfactory progress again will have their current status maintained and may be asked to attend an ad-hoc meeting with a CAPC but may not have their enrolment terminated or suspended.
  • However if you do OK this semester and you had a prior ‘Unsatisfactory Progress’ status you will have any enrolment restrictions lifted and revert to the appropriate academic status (e.g. ‘At Risk’/’Probation’).

 

We don’t know what this will look like in practice yet as it’s just been announced.

 

If you have questions about a letter you’ve received, or would like help preparing for a meeting, you can contact the UMSU Advocacy Service.

After significant campaigning by UMSU on your behalf, the University has announced significant changes in relation to the way it will calculate students’ Weighted Average Mark WAM and how results will be recorded in Semester 1, 2020.

If you:

Have completed at least one semester of study: the Academic Board has resolved that final results for any subjects undertaken in Semester 1, 2020 which are below your current WAM will not be included in the calculation of your WAM This means that any lower scoring subjects won’t drag your WAM down this semester. Any grades higher than your current WAM will be automatically counted in the calculation – so it can increase.

If, at the end of your studies, you decide you want to include the excluded grades in your final WAM, then you can request that all results recorded against the COVID-19 code be included in your WAM calculation and the COVID-19 code will be removed.

Are in your first semester of study: If you have completed fewer than 50 credit points for a course (and, your course comprises of more than 50 credit points), then a benchmark WAM cannot be established. This means your WAM will be calculated using future subjects only. None of your grades for this semester will be counted into your WAM - unless you decide at the conclusion of your study that you want them included. This acts as a safety net for a disrupted semester of study, and ensures you don’t have your WAM negatively impacted by the disruptions this semester.

Are an Honours Feb 2020 start: If your final mark is less than the WAM that you held at the beginning of the Honours year, then you will retain the same WAM you had when you came into the program. If it’s better, then you get to add that into your WAM calculation.

Are studying a program less than 50 credit points: If your course comprises of 50 points or less, your WAM will be calculated as normal as there is no previous benchmark on which to base your WAM on.

All your individual subject marks will be still be recorded on your transcript and appear with a COVID-19 code which makes clear it is not part of the WAM and should be understood in the future as a result potentially affected by COVID-19 disruptions.

Firstly, it’s important to note that a number of measures, such as waiving attendance hurdles and online assessment applies to all students – you don’t need special consideration for these adjustments to apply.

In the current context, the University has taken on board UMSU’s recommendation that documentary requirements for special consideration be relaxed. Currently the University will accept three types of evidence to support a special consideration application.

If you are unwell – you should try to use the HPR form – which can now be completed by TeleHealth with the University Health Service (or other doctors using it).

If you are affected by COVID related disruptions that are not health related – you can complete a Statutory Declaration explaining how your study has been affected. You won’t need an HPR form if you do a Statutory Declaration.

Other reasons connected to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis may be accepted – it will be assessed on a case by case basis.

You can obtain a statutory declaration here. You can get it witnessed by a chemist or at your local police station or by anyone on this list. Before you fill it out, we recommend contacting us to get some feedback on your explanation to make sure it addresses the critical issues.

We are also aware of potential changes to the laws about witnessing documents which may allow for electronic witnessing. We will keep you posted on this.

If you can’t get a Statutory Declaration witnessed due to social distancing restrictions or because it’s really impractical for you to get it witnessed, which includes being overseas currently where there is no access to Statutory Declarations – then you can now do a personal statement - called a student declaration.

The special consideration student declaration will be used along with the information provided to assess your application. More details are here under Support and funding.

Since 20 March, all students, including international student visa holders can study online without restriction for semester 1, 2020.

On 19 April, the Vice-Chancellor made an undertaking in a video recording that international students that are unable to travel to Australia due to the travel ban will be able to continue with their courses remotely during semester 2 of this year.) that international students that are unable to travel to Australia due to the travel ban will be able to continue with their courses remotely during semester 2 of this year.

For enquiries regarding semester 2, refer to tabs below.

All standard semester 1 subjects now have a revised census date and fee due date of 30 April. That means you can withdraw up until the end of April and pay no fees.

For standard semester 1 subjects, the last day to withdraw without academic penalty (incurring a fail grade) has also been extended until 5 June. So if you get to the end of semester, you basically have to the beginning of SWOT Vac do decide whether you want to withdraw from a subject you are struggling with. After that, if you decide to persevere but get blindsided by something during exams - you are still able to apply for special consideration.

If you were enrolled in non-standard subjects with a census date from 20 March onwards, the University has committed to revising those dates proportionately to the changes made to the standard subject census date. That is, pushing them back by a month. You should have been advised about the new census by Friday 17 April 2020. You can also check your revised census date on my.unimelb.edu.au.

Note that some subjects have not changed their census dates, which may be due to: •All of the teaching for a subject was completed on campus prior to the shutdown •The majority of teaching and assessment was completed on campus prior to the shutdown •Of disciplinary/delivery reasons specific to that subject.

Census date may be different may be different again for year long or term based subjects, and again for the above reasons, may not have changed. You should check the handbook for these dates.

If you need some advice on these options, please contact the UMSU Advocacy Service so we can advise you further.

If you are having access difficulties and need any kind of support or adjustments due to a disability or other ongoing/chronic circumstance, the first thing to do is contact Student Equity and Disability Services (SEDS) via Stop 1. They should be able to help you with these matters. If you are having trouble accessing this assistance – let us know!

Some other unis are offering students support – such as a technology bursary, crisis support scholarships, and emergency relief to pay for essentials. We will continue to press this with the University for more financial and practical help for students.

The fees issue is a complex one that affects various cohorts in different ways. In this context it’s vital that UMSU makes sure we formulate a considered and well-researched position on the issue.

We have been working hard behind the scenes to understand how this will affect different cohorts across different Faculties and Schools.

The University is yet to change their position regarding a fee discount as it rolls out its virtual campus. The Vice-Chancellor has stated that teaching online does not reduce the costs associated with remote learning.

On this point, we may agree - UMSU has observed that online course fees are generally the same, or more expensive than face to face tuition fees. So, this argument is not very compelling and unlikely to assist in changing the University’s perspective on this matter.

The University also remains adamant that there is no diminution in educational experience this semester as a result of the move to online classes. On this we beg to differ. While for some courses this may be accurate, we are aware that many of you do not share this view.

Many of you are genuinely concerned about the quality of the online offerings this semester, in some cases put together very quickly by staff who have not delivered online courses before. Others of you are in subjects which really require face to face interaction or specific facilities for the optimal educational experience.

At this point in the semester – you have a choice to take a Leave of Absence prior to 30 April census date (as long as you have completed a semester of study), and resume when your course returns to normal. If you decide to persevere after census date, there is no guarantee you will be able to access fee relief. In some respects, by continuing after census and paying your fees, you are implying you accept the quality of the subject at that point. So think carefully about this. Nevertheless – if you continue post-census, we encourage you to take detailed notes of the ways in which the teaching and learning experience differs from what you were led to believe would be offered in the handbook or prospectus. There may be a basis for compensation in certain circumstances.

We would also encourage you to raise these issues as they happen with your relevant subject coordinators as it is this feedback which will no doubt assist in improving delivering material online.

Finally, UMSU has a survey we would love you to complete. It will help provide your voice in our campaign on this important issue.

If you are an international student and need to reduce your study load this semester due to COVID-19 disruptions – you can now do this and still maintain your visa by providing a personal statement instead of the usual supporting documentation. You can submit a request here.

It is essential to get advice from the University’s course planning team to make sure you are making a properly informed decision. You need to remember that reducing your study load now might extend the time it takes to graduate. That means you’ll need a new Certificate of Enrolment (CoE) – and you should make sure you request a new CoE before the current due date expires. However, there may be ways to avoid extending your course – and you can discuss a plan for your remaining subjects and catching up by completing winter and/or summer subjects with the University’s course advising team.

The revised WAM calculation does not apply to any subjects in Higher Degrees by Research. If you require extensions or have a project milestone coming up, refer to the Uni’s FAQ for Graduate Researchers on how to apply for a candidature extension.

Winter Semester 2020 is expected to be delivered online from mid-May and will be delivered in line with the latest Victorian and Australian Government advice.

The University is currently preparing for the following possible scenarios for Semester 2, 2020:

1) Starting Semester 2 fully online for all students, 2) If the government relaxes physical distancing requirements, subjects may be delivered through a combination of online and face-to-face teaching and 3) If necessary, full online teaching and assessment arrangements for the whole of Semester 2020.

For the latest updates on Semester 2 arrangements, refer to the UniMelb COVID-19 website and check the updated Academic Calendar for key dates.

For students who are affected by international travel restrictions, the University has stated that online and teaching assessment will continue as necessary for those who are unable to return to campus in time for Semester 2 or at any stage of the semester. Online delivery and assessment also apply for any or all programs which will need to be delivered remotely as a result of strict physical distancing requirements.

The University states that any return to campus will be done gradually and in phases. Therefore, students who return to campus will likely learn through a mixed-mode delivery. This will probably be a combination of online learning and small group classes. If you have concerns about the quality of online delivery, raise your concerns to the relevant faculty or get in touch with the UMSU Advocacy Service.

If you find that your placement is no longer going ahead to due to COVID-19 restrictions, the University has stated that alternative arrangements will be made if possible and are willing to assist students in their continued engagement with their studies. If you have any concerns regarding these arrangements, we recommend having a discussion with your supervisors. If you still remain aggrieved, you can get in touch with us.

The University has implemented measures to help ensure that you can complete your degree.

• If you can’t continue any kind of productive work – you can access special COVID-19 special leave which is available in your faculty. • You might also be eligible for University financial support packages. If you don’t have a stipend, the Emergency Support Fund might be of assistance. • Generally the University has stated its support for extending stipend and candidatures wherever the project has been affected by the COVID-19 disruptions, and have altogether waived the requirement to apply for these extensions at the three year mark.

These are just some of your questions at the moment – if we haven’t addressed it here please contact the Advocacy Service. If we can’t help directly, we will raise your concerns with the University, as we have with all of these issues above.

Check your student emails from the University and read the UniMelb COVID-19 website here.

Read Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to find out about state-wide policy and regulations here.

Look at the Victorian Health and Human Services website here.