Poor performing students may be suspended sooner

Poor-performing University of Otago students could be suspended earlier under changes being considered at the university, partly because of pressures from a tighter funding system.

However, an Otago University draft report on possible students enrolment limits, obtained by the Otago Daily Times, rejects imposing any big new limits on first-year enrolment at Otago.

The report, by a university senate working party, recommends a policy change, from next year, under which students who passed fewer than half of their course points would be suspended after two years, rather than the current three.

Students would move on to conditional enrolment after one year of poor results rather than the present two years.

Earlier and more effective "pastoral support" should also be provided.

Students suspended from other universities because of insufficient academic progress should also not be permitted to transfer to Otago until their suspension was over, the report suggested.

Otago University's present more open approach to such transfers was inequitable and it risked "becoming a refuge for poor-performing students from elsewhere".

Research showed that students who spent their first year in a university college of residence were more academically successful than those who did not.

The university should aim to allow local students to also attend such colleges on the same basis as non-locals, the report said.

Tighter restrictions on entry to many courses have been considered by several universities after the Government last year moved to a more constrained funding system, and away from the previous demand-driven approach, under which funding automatically followed enrolment.

The report warned about the risk of the university carrying some unfunded students, where enrolments exceeded the total negotiated with the Tertiary Education Commission.

The economic downturn was boosting student enrolments, but was also constraining the Government's "ability and/or willingness to fund growth".

Prof Gareth Jones, the deputy vice-chancellor, academic and international, who convened the 10-strong working party, said he could not comment at this stage, as nothing had been decided.

The report had not yet been considered by the university senate, and no recommendations had been made to the university council, officials said.

Otago's current "academic progress policy" did not serve the best interests of either students or the university.

Of the 130 students who started this year on conditional enrolment and completed semester one papers, 45% failed to pass any points, and a further 15% passed some points but less than half for which they had enrolled.

"Poor-performing students can take up an inordinate amount of academic staff time, which must inevitably be at the expense of time devoted to other students, to research, or to service."


Getting tough
University of Otago draft report recommends policy changes to counter poor performance and a tougher funding criteria.

Among the recommendations:
- Earlier suspensions for under-performing students.

- Students suspended from other universities should not be permitted to transfer to Otago until their suspension was over.

- University should allow local students to attend residential colleges on the same basis as non-locals.

Performance problems
- Concern over "special admission" students - domestic students who are legally permitted to enter university because they are aged 20 or over, but have not met academic requirements for earlier entry.

- Of the 4167 first-year students enrolled last year, about 94% were New Zealand citizens or residents, and about 89% had NCEA Level 3 or equivalent, or an overseas qualification.

- About 450 were special admission students. About 19% of those students failed every paper in which they enrolled, and a further 10% passed less than half.

- Only 2% of those admitted via NCEA Level 3 failed every course in which they enrolled.