The College of Arts and Social Sciences Student Forum held on Wednesday 29 May saw much discussion about the college’s attempt to reposition itself in its areas of strength, and contained a frank discussion of some of the changes that were already well publicised. Nevertheless, it was more curious to see what changes the College was unwilling to be completely transparent about, and the ways by which controversial changes were justified.

Hosted by the ANUSA College Representatives, Ruohan Zhao and Mel McLeod in the Student Space and attended by the Dean of CASS, Toni Makkai, two current Associate Deans and one incoming, the meeting was structured as a presentation by Dr Royston Gustavson, Associate Dean (Education), to justify the policy changes being made, before questions were taken. The meeting lasted just over an hour.

Dr Gustavson began by outlining CASS’s rationale for making educational policy changes. In general there is a move towards areas in which CASS is particularly strong and receives the highest scores in the Excellence in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) rankings. In addition, CASS has been removing en-masse their Graduate Diplomas because of low enrolment and shifting to Graduate Certificates and Masters instead. Duplicate Masters programs with essentially identical structures will be removed. Sub-degree programs, for example diplomas, are being removed.

Definite changes for next year are as follows. The Bachelor of Criminology is being established as a new course for the 2014 intake. The Bachelor of Digital Arts is being disestablished although Animation and Video is being created as a new major within the Bachelor of Visual Arts, and Photomedia remains within the BVA. The Diploma of Art has been removed to make way for more bachelor’s degree and postgraduate students to use limited workshop space. The Bachelor of Professional Music Practice, gutted by last year’s reforms, is being removed, while a greater focus is placed on Music Technology in the School of Music with the creation of a minor.

Possible further reforms are also under consideration by CASS’s education committee pending approval. These include the creation of an Asian Studies major/minor to be developed and run by the College of Asia and the Pacific; the creation of a minor for the Australian National Internships Program to allow students to more easily satisfy degree requirements if participating in ANIP; a minor in Demography and Population Studies; and a minor and possibly a major in Digital Humanities (the digitisation and computing of cultural/humanities data).

There will finally be a minor in Economics within the BA after a period of intransigence from the College of Business and Economics. A major/minor in Globalisation and Global Culture will be created after the success of the Master of Globalisation degree. Indigenous Australian Studies will be upgraded to Major status and a specialisation in Politics in the Middle East and Central Asia will be introduced. The Bachelor of Policy Studies will be revised in consultation with the Australian Public Service to better provide the skillset needed for creating policy.

CASS is also reforming its course offerings, removing over 2000 courses in 2012 alone, although many had not been offered since the 1990s. A three-year forward plan is being established from semester one 2014 to offer compulsory courses annually, most courses every two years, and a very few every three years at a minimum, allowing students to plan their courses more effectively.

The BA Honours program will be transformed from its current status as a 48-unit shell, with little transparency or equity across schools in the College, to 24 units of thesis and 24 units of coursework, which will all be in enrolled in and appear individually on a transcript. This will allow students who do not complete Honours to still maintain credit for the courses they have completed in the year. Entry requirements and thesis rules will be standardised across the College.

Finally, the review of the BA program conducted by CASS will revise the learning outcomes, introducing the interesting notion that students must “understand the ethical implications of ideas, communications and actions”. The codification of this idea of morality provides a further purpose for a university education beyond technical skilling. It will be key to see how well this new learning outcome manifests in the college’s and university’s courses, as well as in the actual behaviour of CASS and the university with respect to key controversies.

There was a strong presence at the meeting of students from the Educational Action Group, who have maintained a consistent presence at the rallies against the government’s cuts to tertiary education. EAG members expressed concerns about CASS’s movement towards “prestige degrees” like the Bachelor of Philosophy and Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics, the cutting of less lucrative, career-oriented courses such as continental philosophy and gender studies, and the movement towards quantitative analysis within political science.

For as much as was said by Dr Gustavson, there was much that was kept under wraps and not divulged. Woroni has been informed that disciplines such as Creative Writing and Film Studies are being reviewed in ways that were not disclosed. The structural changes to the School of Cultural Inquiry, the School of Languages and the School of Art were also dismissed as having no educational implications and hence little importance to the discussion at hand, although the Dean, Professor Makkai, said that a draft formal proposal would be released in the next few weeks.