Monday, January 9, 2017

Bespoke Courses from the University of New England

I don't know quite what to make of "Bespoke Courses" from the University of New England (UNE). The idea seems to be to select 2, 3 or 4 units from UNE degrees to make your own certificate qualification. This is confusing, as what UNE calls "units" appear to be what I know as  "courses" (what a full time student typically does four to six of per semester). What UNE calls a "course" I know of as a "program" (such as a degree program).

UNE offers a four unit certificate for $10,800. At $2,700 for each unit this is not exactly a bargain. Athabasca University charged me about AU$1,900 per unit. UNE offers students a low interest loan with a regional bank (implying the course is not eligible for a government student loan). Also of interest is that the bank the loan is offered through what was originally the Staff Credit Union of UNE (now known as the Regional Australia Bank). The head of the UNE Business School is a member of the Bank's board. I suggest this, and any other interest UNE (and its staff), have in the bank, should be declared wherever UNE promotes the student loans.

I tried designing an "Advanced Bespoke Course". First I was prompted for a degree name, which is confusing as this is not for a degree and I don't know what the names of UNE degrees are. So I ticked from the list Computer Science, Education, and Sustainability (as these are topics of interest). I then clicked on "View Results". The page scrolled to the top where it said "1 Degrees found", which is not very informative. Scrolling down again I found "No results are found in Postgraduate" and "Undergraduate degrees: Bachelor of Computer Science". This seems a little odd: why does UNE have Education and Sustainability as categories to choose from, if it offers no units on these topics?

Curiously, while Computer Science was the only degree listed, the courses I was then offered included Management Accounting, Biology, and Applied Physics, as well as IT courses.

UNE claims "The first truly bespoke university qualification is here". However, for several years ANU has been offering "Graduate Studies Select" (GSS). With GSS students can undertake a Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, or Masters of Studies, selecting from the courses at ANU (including my course ICT Sustainability) and also courses from affiliated institutions. 

UNE was a pioneer of distance education and lately has shown it is willing to experiment with ways to offer university education. But I suggest to make the bespoke courses a success they need to offer some suggestions for combinations of units. A "choose your ingredients" sandwich shop will have some suggested combinations ("the plowman's: tasty cheese, pickles, ham ...") , UNE could offer some combinations of units to suit particular interests ("The STEM taster: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics"). Also it would be useful if there was some vocational element to the qualifications, as more than ten thousand dollars is a lot to pay just out of interest (when you can do other on-line courses for free). In addition, they might wan to lower the price by about 40%, to make it competitive with quality on-line institutions.

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