Science is thrown into a restructuring crucible at Massey University and in NCEA courses

Two bits of news would have caused bemusement – if not concern – among some scientists today.

First,  Massey University is considering a shakeup of its science, computing and engineering courses in the first steps of a major restructure that could affect hundreds of jobs and students.

Second, the Ministry of Education has proposed dropping several subjects from NCEA level 1.  One outcome would be to make science a foundation qualification with fewer achievement standards covering a broader range of content.

This entails dropping physics, chemistry, biology and earth and space science from level 1 and retaining just general science and agricultural and horticultural science.

Massey wants to stop duplicating courses across its three campuses, instead consolidating each discipline on a single location where there would be face-to-face teaching, supported by online teaching.

A discussion document given to staff shows  the first targets for this approach are  courses from its College of Sciences  taught at the university’s Manawatu and Albany campuses.

Massey management says the document is  not a formal change proposal.  It  proposes:

  • Science could be “anchored” at Massey where all relevant staff would be based and courses such as chemistry and maths would no longer be taught at Albany.
  • Information science and engineering would be anchored at Albany, with those courses ceasing at the Manawatu campus.

If the changes go ahead, new enrolments in those subjects would stop at Albany and Manawatu at the end of this year .  The remaining students would either complete their studies at their current campus, or transfer to the new anchor campus.

Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger said many of the scientists at the Albany campus were leading researchers.

“We have people here who were head-hunted by Oxford University, we have three Rutherford Fellowships going up here in Albany, we have a Rutherford medallist in Albany, we have highly-acclaimed international researchers and now they want to shut it down? It’s unbelievable.”

Commenting on the Ministry of Education proposal to drop physics, chemistry, biology and earth and space science from NCEA level 1 – but to retain just science and agricultural and horticultural science – Secondary Chemistry Teachers of New Zealand co-chairman, Ian Torrie, said members’ reaction to the plan was strong.

“It is very strong language, very strongly opposed to the proposals,” he said, adding that about 96 per cent of feedback to the association was against the plans.

Torrie said the proposal would leave science with just four level 1 achievement standards covering the ideas that underpin the subject, but not specific knowledge about subjects like physics and chemistry.

Even schools that currently taught general science at level 1 offered achievement standards in chemistry and physics and the ministry should change its proposal to include them, he said.

“We’re concerned that future students will be able to choose a course from 10 languages, five arts, five social sciences, four technologies but there’s only one science subject that they can do,” he said.

“We’re really concerned that this will have huge impacts on future numbers of science, engineering and medical graduates.”

The President of the New Zealand Institute of Physics, Natalie Plank, said teachers were shocked by the proposed changes

“There are a couple of issues at play here. I think what has got our physics teaching community very upset is a lot to do with the process of how this has been announced.

“I think the decision to merge all these subjects into level 1 science – it wasn’t really clear that was going to happen.”

Dr Plank said they also have issues with how the assessment will be done.

Sources:  RNZ and the New Zealand Herald

 

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