An internal review of 2015 UWA courses released earlier this year has made a recommendation for an immediate and major overhaul of the design course pathway, foremost of which is the scrapping of the Bachelor of Design.
The review identifies the bachelor as one of “significant risk” to the university, citing low satisfaction rates among enrolled students and a muddled structure and purpose of the degree itself. In interviews with the Review Panel, students collectively expressed their frustrations over the design and relevance of the degree, claiming it to be a waste of their time and money, and even unfair in the ways it privileged some students over others.
Just 36% of students thought that the research training in their Design Degree majors could be classed ‘excellent’. Which is apparently a low score compared to other degrees – surprising, given the overwhelming disenchantment among UWA students with their education, and the deteriorating quality of teaching due to staff cuts and other bungled enterprises afoot. (Just a friendly reminder here – from a QS world university ranking of 79 in 2012, UWA has sunk on a steady decline to place at 98 in 2015).
Offering just four majors, and housed in a small, insular faculty isolated and at a distance from the main campus in ALVA, the Design course has arguably suffered from stagnation and disconnect. With staff cut off from interaction with the rest of university faculties, it seems to have evolved into a breed which evidently horrified the review panel and earned the scorn of the enrolled.
Of greatest concern is the Integrated Design major. According to the panel, the issues with it are boundless. As a mandatory second major to Architecture students, and an optional one to Design students, Integrated Design ultimately serves neither by feebly attempting to serve both.
Architecture students regard the degree as largely faff – finding its teachings irrelevant, and even venturing that it was there as a kind of crutch to “artificially expand” their coursework to accumulate the necessary points to run their degree through to completion and qualify for Masters.
In contrast, Design students protest the degree has too much an emphasis on architecture. Not only did they find it a poor supplement to their study goals and skillsets, but certain coursework such as architectural drawing put them at a lower starting position to their architecture-schooled peers. These “presumed prerequisites” would inevitably come at a chafingly unfair detriment to students’ workload and grades.
Additional concerns put forward by the review include “studio units, which both staff and students acknowledge have too much content for six point units; lack of flexibility; workload problems; unavailability of units; as well as concerns with broadening units and how they fit into the degree, amongst other things.”
To clean up the mess, the review urges replacing the Integrated Design co-requisite major for Architecture students with a straight Architecture double major. It also advocates “immediately suspending intake into the Integrated Design major by students without the Architecture major as their first major due to the major’s lacking integrity as a stand-alone major.”
Professor Simon Anderson, Head of the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts, told Pelican that – holding a position supported by the University Executive – the faculty is currently not acting on the review, as it is waiting on “the final decision on Renewal concerning the location of ALVA in the new proposed 4 faculty academic structure.”
This decision will be made and delivered at an all-staff forum on the 22nd of July. Following this date, the faculty “will be commencing a period of consultation with current students, alumni and industry on the review recommendations in order to develop an appropriate response,” says Professor Anderson.
The review contained in total of 22 recommendations covering over 70 undergraduate majors. The panel was itself a mixed bag, comprising of seven members including the University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Philippa Pattison, UWA’s Head of Pharmacology Associate Professor Peter Henry, and the 2015 Guild President Elizabeth O’Shea.
Words by Kate Prendergast