by Tapakshi Magan
Needless to say, the global pandemic had no power in diminishing the aspirations of the student community at the Institute. After the GISA Spring Elections that saw increased student engagement, the Master’s Forum opened its doors for students across the Institute to raise their voice on several issues. The forum, like the elections, was conducted for the first time via Zoom last Wednesday, May 6.
Chaired by the outgoing Vice President for Masters, Frenkchris Sinay (MA, International Law), this year’s forum covered a wide array of topics. These ranged from the grading policy of professors to the Institute’s policy on bilingualism, as well as the administrative changes with respect to academics in light of the pandemic. The forum focused primarily on three main issues: the accountability of thesis supervisors, the need for better feedback on academic performances, and the need for more structured criteria for grading evaluations.
In regards to supervisor accountability, students were encouraged to speak directly to either Andrew Bianchi (Director of Studies) or Dr Laurent Neury (Academic Advisor), about the issues students face with their supervisors. In order to take action, however, Sinay noted the need to present evidence— names and experiences — in order for these issues to be brought to the floor. “I need names,” Bianchi had told him.
Moreover, while it was acknowledged that it may be difficult for professors to individually reach out to students in large classes, students suggested that teaching assistants might play a more active role in facilitating feedback. This could be done by conveying individual feedback to students through Moodle or email, as well as using Excel to keep track of individual performances. With respect to the grading criteria however, Sinay quoted Bianchi in saying that there is a “need for academic freedom,” emphasizing that professors do have some flexibility in deciding grades. However, it was proposed that a clear rubric should either be provided by the professor in the course syllabus and have this be clearly communicated to the students.
Students present in the forum were noticeably more proactive in providing solutions to improve the academic situation at the institute. Some students suggested having “reading week”, where students officially do not have classes before the final exam or paper submissions. This will allow students to fully concentrate on their class requirements, and use this time to get in touch with their respective professors in case they have doubts. Adding to this, they also proposed the idea of conducting mid-term course evaluations where the teaching assistants can send an anonymous questionnaire after the sixth or seventh week of classes.
Students vehemently spoke up about the gaps they noticed in the transparency in communication, especially on matters such as financial aid and clarifications on the PhD Fast Track program. One also spoke about the improvements they hope to see in the career services, where it appeared to be unanimous agreement on how important it is for students to exert pressure towards resolving this issue. The forum also witnessed deliberations on financial aid, and the need to be spread evenly across diverse geographies. It was noted that the on-going pandemic might make things difficult for incoming students for the new academic year.
Finally, a considerable amount of time was spent on discussing the issue of bilingualism at the Institute. Certain students conveyed their interest in accessing the Institute website in French, a feature that had been lost in the release of the new website. What followed was a heated discussion on reported feelings of mutual alienation during classes due to the language barrier, and implications for concealment on both ends. A number of students expressed a view that prior communication needs to be made to have a certain level of knowledge in French before classes begin, or alternatively, for proper translation mechanisms to be made available during classes. When this was brought up with respect to the re-accreditation process, it was mentioned that under the Swiss educational laws, accreditation needs to be held in the language of the region (i.e. French in the Suisse Romande). That being said, the need for translations and more holistic planning of the bilingual policy was duly acknowledged in the forum.
Featured photo by @Chayanit on Raw Pixel.