9 December 2010

Mature students and the disabled: fast tracking (cheating?) through university

Revised June, 2012

More insights come to us from the press in the UK and Canada, related to mature students and the disabled.

First, from the UK, an article in the Times Higher about the USA's innovations in university education.' In 'Older, wiser, jobless . . ,' a new program endorsed by City University of Seattle commends and rewards the older student who has gained experienced in life in various kinds of ways, apparently, though the article itself mentions only the valuable contribution of the older wiser person who has previously had a career.

It seems that the original meaning of 'mature student' that was familiar to many of us at Western, that of the older student who was permitted to register for a BA without having a graduation certificate, has now been changed, or gotten lost in the intricate application program that neglects to mention this aspect of 'mature student.' True, this article is about the United States, not Canada or Britain. And the emphasis seems to be on the older person who has previously had a career and now wants a degree so she or he can use it to advance their career or regain one. The essential part of this process - the PLA or Prior Learning Assessment - is based on the candidate having an advisor. But I wonder how easy it is to get an advisor at university who could understand the value of one's life experience and want to see the student progress. I never had such a person, who was willing to take the time to understand and go through it with me, and despite having graduated from high school, and achieved a BA and MA, never got to either continue my education or have a career. This kind of mentoring is the foundation of the Prior Learning program in the USA.

It seems to me that the focus will be on only those students the advisor can relate to, can understand without it having to take up too much time or thought processes. That sounds as though a good many qualified individuals will be excluded, for not having the right network, or not living in the right neighbourhood, or having the right husband (not the mention not previously had the right kind of life experience - the career.) How do we know this isn't just another program created for the benefit of a certain segment in society, or certain individuals, so they can be fast tracked through the educational system, while their initial lack of qualifications stand a good chance of getting lost in the process.

In Canada, a related matter has occurred, whereby a student at the University of Manitoba was given a PhD despite not being able to handle certain situations, as he suffered from ‘exam anxiety.’ If all PhD candidates' weaknesses and deficiencies are overlooked or forgiven, then what would be the state of those who get to educate the next generation.

What of favouritism in higher education? Is it what we want? Or if we are one of the favoured would we, too, look the other way. The comments sections following the article 'Older, wiser, jobless' offer insights into what the people think.

Added June, 2012

Continuing on from the battle over the right of the disabled to be granted exemption from completion of requirements for degrees, in ‘Lessons from Lukács,’ 2011, Todd Pettigrew draws a divide between the administration and the professors, as though this is where the problem lies in differences of opinion about who is deserving or not. I’m not convinced of that. The second new piece, ‘Infamous University of Manitoba Professor,’ 2011, comes from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Justice Studies (CIJS) in Winnipeg, bringing into focus once again the decision-making powers of the administration in areas in which they apparently lack expertise. They may have made the final decision, but along the way surely other professors gave their own views on whether it was appropriate, in their view, that the anxiety-ridden PhD candidate be granted a PhD.

Whether it’s older students who have already had the opportunity to prove their worth in the ‘real’ world, or disabled students who wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise of competing, here are two groups from society that are receiving special treatment. Somebody’s making the decision, as to who gets it and who doesn’t. If exams don’t matter any more, or the ability to think, or do research, or write exams under stress, are universities being fair?

Court battle over PhD
By Aldo Santin
Winnipeg Free Press
Oct 30, 2010

Infamous University of Manitoba Professor Ends Battle for Academic Integrity
By R. Jochelson
CIJS - Justice Blogs
Nov 15, 2011

Lessons from Lukács: How the traditional university is under attack from all sides
By Todd Pettigrew
Nov 14, 2011

Older, wiser, jobless: US adults drawn by degrees
By Jon Marcus
THE (Times Higher Education)
Dec 2, 2010

University defends giving PhD to student who failed
By Nick Martin, Winnipeg Free Press
Vancouver Sun
Nov 18, 2010

Links updated June, 2012