‘Equiv­a­lence’ claims ridiculed in branch cam­pus row

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - john.ross@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Aca­demics at an Aus­tralian univer­sity’s over­seas branch cam­pus have scoffed at claims that its cour­ses are as good as those back home, say­ing that work­load in­equities make it im­pos­si­ble for them to de­liver de­grees of the same qual­ity.

Staff at RMIT Viet­nam in­sist that they are given far less time than their coun­ter­parts in Mel­bourne, home of RMIT Univer­sity’s main cam­pus, to do far more teach­ing.

This in­evitably de­tracts from the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and makes a mock­ery of the univer­sity’s claim that “the learn­ing out­comes and as­sess­ments for cour­ses taught in Viet­nam are equiv­a­lent to those de­liv­ered at RMIT Mel­bourne”.

Staff in Viet­nam have about half as much time as their Mel­bourne peers for les­son prepa­ra­tion, mark­ing and stu­dent feed­back, ac­cord­ing to a pe­ti­tion signed by sev­eral dozen aca­demics at RMIT’s Hanoi and Saigon South cam­puses.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, their face-to-face teach­ing load is 25 per cent greater and they are re­quired to teach for nine more weeks a year. They also have no time al­lo­cated for course co­or­di­na­tion and lit­tle or none for re­search, and they are obliged to spend up to eight times as many hours in ser­vice roles and meet­ings, the pe­ti­tion says.

“We lodge this pe­ti­tion in the spirit of up­hold­ing the aca­demic in­tegrity of RMIT Univer­sity’s de­gree pro­grammes be­ing de­liv­ered glob­ally,” the doc­u­ment says. “If equiv­a­lency is ex­pected…suf­fi­cient time al­lo­ca­tion, sup­port and re­sources [should] be given to aca­demic fac­ulty mem­bers at RMIT Univer­sity Viet­nam as…at RMIT Univer­sity Aus­tralia.”

RMIT Viet­nam pres­i­dent Gael McDon­ald said aca­demic work­load ar­range­ments in Viet­nam were re­viewed ev­ery two years. She said a re­view was un­der way, with staff par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“We have re­cently un­der­taken some func­tional changes across RMIT that are de­signed to cre­ate greater align­ment be­tween RMIT Viet­nam and Mel­bourne,” Pro­fes­sor McDon­ald added. “These changes are a vis­i­ble demon­stra­tion of a deeper com­mit­ment to RMIT Viet­nam as we seek to build it as a hub for our re­gional ac­tiv­ity.”

She said the in­sti­tu­tion was un­der­go­ing “a pe­riod of tran­si­tion” which staff in both Aus­tralia and Viet­nam would find dis­rup­tive.

“We will con­tinue to work in con­sul­ta­tion with our staff, our col­leagues in Mel­bourne and in line with the rel­e­vant lo­cal labour laws as we seek to con­tinue de­liv­er­ing high qual­ity teach­ing, learn­ing and re­search out­comes in the re­gion,” Pro­fes­sor McDon­ald said.

The dis­pute il­lus­trates the chal­lenges uni­ver­si­ties face op­er­at­ing in coun­tries with dif­fer­ent labour laws, pay scales and fund­ing mod­els. But Melissa Slee, Vic­to­rian sec­re­tary of Aus­tralia’s Na­tional Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Union, said RMIT ad­min­is­tra­tors had been “prof­it­ing” from rules that stymied col­lec­tive ac­tion.

“[They] get away with a lot more than they ever would at the Mel­bourne cam­pus,” she said. “The work­load mod­els we de­velop here at RMIT Mel­bourne should at least be a foun­da­tion for what hap­pens in Viet­nam. If they want equiv­a­lence, they need to re­source it at the equiv­a­lent level.”

Dr Slee, a for­mer union branch pres­i­dent at RMIT, said the aca­demics had taken a big risk in putting their names to the pe­ti­tion. “They’re on fixed-term con­tracts, and the peo­ple who de­ter­mine whether their con­tracts are re­newed are the same peo­ple they’re pe­ti­tion­ing. If they don’t get their con­tracts re­newed, they’re ex­pected to leave the coun­try.”

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