Exec Blog: September 2014

If you have been around AU for any length of time, you will have likely heard about the ongoing discussion and often arguments about the “Call Centre” or the “Tutor” model. This debate has been ongoing at AU since I was first elected to AUSU Council (almost 3 years ago) and from my understanding has been going on long before that. Both sides of this debate can often be passionate about their views and arguments on why they think one model is better than the other. Spend time with either proponents of the Call Centre or Tutor model and you can quickly become overwhelmed and confused on what is fact and what is fiction. However, AUSU’s primary concern has been, and will always be, what is best for our 40,000 members who attend Athabasca University. For most of us, issues of Academic Jurisdiction, Pedagogy, and who stands to win and lose within the AU political spectrum mean little. What we are concerned about is our education, specifically, the quality of our education, the credibility of our education, and our overall educational experience.

AUSU has performed surveys and held many discussions with the membership over the years on this issue and what has consistently been crystal clear is that students are concerned about the Call Centre. Consequently, students have a lot of questions particularly in the areas of possible effects on accreditation, student tutor relationships, and the potential effects on the credibility and image of an AU education. For AUSU these concerns have been amplified with recent indications from AU’s statistics on the Call Centre model roll out in certain faculties in the university which seems to indicate that students may just be giving up on asking academic questions all together under this system. This is particularly alarming.

Over the years AUSU has attempted to raise concerns with AU Management in regard to the Call Centre model, which AU has now been renamed the Student Success Centre, and we have repeatedly been brushed aside by AU’s Management. They have continued to push forward with this system without any consultation from stakeholders affected by it. I personally have left meetings on this issue in shock at the complete lack of regard by AU Management for the questions or concerns coming from the customers of the university. This has been disappointing and frustrating for AUSU’s council, staff, and our membership as a whole.

With all of that said, it is important to be clear that AUSU is not opposed to the Student Support Centre, particularly if it is operated as advertised. However, we are concerned that there has been, in our view, a complete lack of consultation with the people this centre is meant to serve. As such, AUSU has continually encouraged AU to slow this process down and to have wide consultation with stakeholders and, most importantly, to address student’s concerns during this process.

Recently, AU underwent some significant management changes, particularly the hiring of a new interim President as well as a new VP Academic. This new management group has brought in a clear change in culture in areas of communication and consultation. Given this change, I am confident that under this new management group we will be able to finally get the answers to the questions students having been asking for years in regard to the Student Support Centre.

Given this new effort toward consultation by AU management, AUSU has expressed our appreciation. In addition, we have encouraged AU management to slow the implementation of the Student Support Centre and work with all stakeholders including AUSU, to address their concerns and ensure that any model used to educate AU students ensures students receive a top-quality education, a credible education, and an overall satisfying education experience. With that spirt in mind, AUSU has compiled a list of questions and concerns that have been raised to us by the student body in regard to this issue and have forwarded it to AU’s executives, who have assured us they will work hard to answer or address them. From there we hope to be able to work with AU to ensure that the model used at AU meets all the needs of AU students going forward.

Jason Nixon
AUSU President