NOTICE TO AU STUDENTS – Course Extensions and You

As of September 5, 2005, all course extensions will need to be purchased before the start of the final month in your course contract. This was the decision of Athabasca University’s Academic Council at the September 15, 2004 meeting. Your AUSU representative at the meeting spoke against this change and some concerns were noted by other members of the Academic Council but in the end, the motion passed.

For those students new to AUSU and the Voice, you may not remember our earlier coverage of this issue. So a bit of background is in order.

Athabasca University purchases tutor time on a “block” basis. Each tutor is paid for a certain number of blocks each month, and each block holds a certain number of students. As registrations to each course come in, students get assigned to blocks, filling them up, and these get given to tutors based on seniority and how many blocks that particular tutor wants to take. If more blocks are filled than there are tutors willing to accommodate them, AU has to quickly find more tutors or do some extra negotiating to make sure all the students have a tutor.

However, because extensions come in after the deadline for registrations (over 50% of students request their extension in the last 4 days of the month), that means at the end of the month, tutors are often taking on those extending students in excess of the number of blocks they’ve agreed to take. This puts AU in violation of their contract with CUPE, and makes it so that tutors are unable to spend the full amount of time they want on individual students.

AU’s solution to this problem is simply to make it so that students will have to register their extensions before the start of their last month, that way making sure that tutor services has time to find or negotiate ways to accommodate the additional blocks

This is a solution that AUSU feels leaves students out in the cold. There is a reason, after all, that most students do not extend their courses until the last 4 days, and that’s simply because most of the students who are extending thought they’d be able to finish in time. Now those students who are unsure if they’re going to be able to finish or not by the time they have one month left will find themselves having to put out a significant expense to guarantee that they have the time they need, or risk not being able to complete it. Unfortunately, there are no refunds, so if you request an extension and then find you don’t need it, the money is still gone.

The second reason that a lot of students extend is because of the difficulty of scheduling exams. Even for those of us in Alberta, scheduling an exam at the ELC or CLC can be a serious head-ache, as if you don’t call in soon enough, there is no guarantee they’ll have a spot for you. Outside of Alberta, the difficulties of scheduling an invigilator to take your exam can be even worse. In the past, students who couldn’t manage to get an exam scheduled before the end of their contract date were at least able to go the route of taking an extension. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than having to take a failing grade and re-register.

As of September 2005, this will no longer be an option. If you can’t get an exam scheduled before the end of your course term and are unable to get an extension, you may have no option but to take a failing grade on the course.

AUSU is looking for ideas, as there are still implementation details of the change to be worked out and it is hoped we can come up with a way to go about this that can address the needs of the students as well as those of the University.

Editor’s Note: I have been informed that AU VP, Academic Judith Hughes has told AUSU that in the case of a student being unable to schedule an exam with an AU learning center because the exam room is fully booked — assuming that the student called in the requisite two weeks prior to the exam — AU would accommodate that student and not require an extension. From my own experience, however, this was not the case when a member of my household was unable to schedule an exam due to the CLC exam room being fully booked two weeks in advance last year (we had to buy an extension so he could write the week later), and that this is also contrary to information I was personally given by a member of the AU Exam Services unit during a telephone interview last year, who said that AU does not guarantee exam space to students in cities with a learning center, and that when the exam room is fully booked students should look to other universities or colleges in Calgary and Edmonton where they may write. It is not clear if the policy has changed since last year, or if there are differing opinions on how the policy should be enforced. I hope to have an update on this issue in the near future.

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