On March 12, 2003 [v11 i11], Athabasca University was about to decide on a new course extension policy that would require all extensions to be purchased 30 days prior to the course end date. Due to protests by AUSU, AU chose not to implement the new policy at that time, but the option has been left open. AU students need to understand how the course extension system works, and ensure that when possible extensions are purchased early. Otherwise, the policy may still be changed, and AU students may lose the ability to purchase last-minute course extensions forever.
The proposed new AU course extension policy, and what it means to you.
The Athabasca University Academic Council will soon be voting on a motion to require students to give 30 days advance notice for an extension. Naturally, this notice will have to be accompanied by the cheque for the extension fee.
What this means for students is that if you thought you were able to finish your course on time and toward the end of your contract realized that you happened to be wrong for any reason, be it a family emergency or simply an increased workload at your regular job, you can be left with nothing at all to show for your course fees.
On the other hand, if a month before your contract end date you still happen to be unsure whether you’ll need the extension or not, you’ll have to pay for it, just in case, even if you find that you don’t need it.
The reasoning that is being given for this is that most students only extend their courses in the last four days of the month, and this places a huge workload on the administrative staff trying to get all of the extensions processed and the tutors notified. This means that, tutors are finding themselves in what is called “overload”, where they are handling more students than they are contracted to. Naturally, faculty and tutors are concerned about this, and worried that Athabasca University may be using the overload provisions to simply avoid contracting (and paying) the tutors for the number of students that they are actually expected to be handling at any one time.
(ed: The Voice has been informed that tutors receive a quarterly pay correction for overload students – tutor’s concerns about the overload situation are related to workload management, not lack of pay.)
Of course, the reason most students extend their courses in the last few days of the month is that they are trying like hell to finish their course on time and not have to pay the extra $127 that it costs to extend. Students often don’t know if they’ll need an extension until just before the end of the month – especially in those courses that do not have final exams.
This policy will actually go directly against Athabasca University’s stated mission, which reads, “Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University, is dedicated to the removal of barriers that restrict access to, and success in, university-level studies and to increasing equality of educational opportunity for adult learners worldwide.” When compared to any traditional university student population, a large ratio of Athabasca University’s students are mothers. The flexibility AU offers is a boon to these women. The new policy aims to take some of that flexibility away.
Since AU has no policy about rescheduling an exam after your contract date, if something happens on your exam day, be it a child is sick, or even the weather simply makes it impossible to get in (and with as many regions as AU students are in, the weather is bound to be bad somewhere) then extensions can be a student’s only option. While the folks at Athabasca University are often reasonable about this sort of thing, not having a formal policy means that students are not guaranteed the ability to reschedule exams beyond the end date even in emergency situations. Extensions serve as a (costly) safety net for these types of occasions.
No longer though. Should this motion go through, if an extension wasn’t purchased early, the unfortunate are just plain out of luck. Thanks for the cheque, please try again.
AUSU, in cooperation with the CUPE (the union that represents the tutors and faculty) are working to address this issue. They have come up with a number of alternative plans that the university could use to enable them to deal with the difficulties extensions are causing while not taking away the ability for distance education students to deal with changing circumstances.
The best option, from AUSU’s point of view, is for the administration of AU to recognize that extensions tend to be requested late in the month and rework their systems to deal with it internally. This would mean automating notices to tutors and ensuring that tutor blocks are not completely full on the tenth of the month (the last day in which new course registrations are possible) so that there is room for students that extend.
In addition, ideas that will also be presented to AU include creating a formal policy of allowing a student to pay a fee and then reschedule an exam past the normal contract date, and of providing students a discount if they extend their course before the tenth of the month in order to encourage spreading out the workload.
At the very least, students should not be made to schedule an extension before they would even have scheduled a final exam. Thirty days is a significant chunk of a six-month course. To assume that all students would know by then whether an extension will be required is unfair.
As students, we need to let AU administration know that this proposed change simply isn’t acceptable. Call your tutors to let them know how you feel about AU taking away an important safety net, and ask them to talk to their supervisors about it. You can also call the registrar’s office and express your feelings about this directly with the administration. If we do not speak up, they will assume that nothing is wrong.
A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.