Monash Extends a Backhander

One of the better offerings for Victoria’s senior students is Extension Studies. Corresponding roughly to America’s Advanced Placement program, ES permits a school student to undertake a university subject as part of VCE, albeit as a lower weighted, fifth or sixth subject.

The extension studies program is not without its flaws. In particular, there are no externally defined curricula or standards, with, rather, each participating university shaping their ES subjects to match their own university subjects. Consequently, there is significant variance in the content, quality and difficulty of the ES subjects offered. This also creates issues for the AP aspect of the program; on occasion, students aligned with one university have had difficulty receiving credit from another; this subject mismatching has also been exacerbated by the arrogance of some university administrators. It can also be a non-trivial task finding keen and competent teachers for ES which, as always, means the wealthier private schools benefit much more than public schools. And, some weirdness from VTAC hasn’t helped matters.

Nonetheless, extension studies functions reasonably well overall and can be of genuine value to a keen or strong student. Apart from the immediate reward of richer study while at school, ES can give a student a jump on their university education and effectively lower their uni fees. (The fees, one is always obliged to mention, which were introduced by this Labor asshole.)

Which is why Monash University’s decision this year to cease offering extension studies is so disappointing, and so annoying. This has created the ridiculous situation where the John Monash Science School, which is, you know, Monash University’s science school, is having to look elsewhere for their extension studies. And of course it is not just future JMSS students that are being screwed around.

What was Monash’s reason? All they wrote to ES subject administrators was, “In recent years, there has been a consistent decline in the number of students taking up this opportunity due to a range of factors.”

Yeah, well, maybe. Maybe numbers have declined, although enrolment in mathematics (with which we’ve been associated) has been healthy and stable. And, Monash might have mentioned that amongst the “factors” in that “range” are Monash’s relatively high cost for a participating student, combined with Monash’s effective discouragement of the participation of smaller schools.

It’s difficult to tell what is really going on, what is the real reason for Monash’s decision. The obvious suspicion is it has to do with money, although the program is not administratively heavy and ought to be pretty cheap to run; indeed, it’s the individual departments that have to pay for the academics to teach and administer and grade the subjects, almost certainly at a loss. The Mathematics Department has always lost money on the deal, and has never whined about it.

The other suspicion is that Monash’s extension program wasn’t attracting sufficient school students to study at Monash, whatever “sufficient” might mean. In contrast, the Mathematics Department has never worried about whether the program attracts more students to do mathematics at Monash; they’ve just accepted that that’s what a principled Department should do.

So, what was it? Was it Monash engaging in particularly obtuse neoliberal bean counting? Or, was it Monash disregarding any notion of community obligation? We’re not sure. But, we’re guessing the answer is “Yes”.

VTACKY

It’s been a long, long time. Alas, we’ve been kept way too busy by the Evil Mathologer, as well as some edu-idiots, who shall remain nameless but not unknown. Anyway, with luck normal transmission has now resumed. There’s a big, big backlog of mathematical crap to get through.

To begin, there’s a shocking news story that has just appeared, about schools posting “wrong Year 12 test scores” and being ordered to remove them by the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre. Naughty, naughty schools!

Perhaps.

The report tells of how two Victorian private schools had conflated Victoria’s VCE subject scores and International Baccalaureate subject scores. The schools had equated the locally lesser known IB scores of 6 or 7 to the more familiar VCE ATAR of 40+, to then arrive at a combined percentage of such scores. Reportedly, this raised the percentage of “40+” student scores at the one school from around 10% for VCE alone to around 25% for combined VCE-IB, with a comparable raise for the other school. More generally, it was reported that about a third of IB students score a 6 or 7, whereas only about one in eleven VCE scores are 40+.

On the face of it, it seems likely that the local IB organisation that had suggested Victorian schools use the 6+ = 40+ equation got it wrong. That organisation is supposedly reviewing the comparison and the two schools have removed the combined percentages from their websites.

There are, however, a few pertinent observations to be made:

None of the sense or substance of the above is hinted at in the schools-bad/VTAC-good news report.

Of course the underlying issue is tricky. Though the IBO tries very hard to compare IB scores, it is obviously very difficult to compare IB apples to VCE oranges. We have no idea whether or how one could create a fair and useful comparison. We do know, however, that accepting VTAC’s cocky sanctimony as the last word on this subject, or any subject, would be foolish.