PAL Gets Cut: Is Macquarie putting education last?

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Words | Gabrielle Edwards

While Macquarie University’s budget has yet to be released in full, early reports of large cuts to student programs have been revealed. In particular, cuts to the budget for Peer Assisted Learning Program (PAL) as run by the Macquarie Business School, formerly known as the Faculty of Business and Economics. 

If you have ever attended or listened to a commerce unit lecture you have most likely been well acquainted with this program. Though, in case you haven’t been made aware, the PAL program is one of the two support initiatives from the university to assist learning. They involve weekly workshops or study sessions led by high achieving students in a variety of commerce subjects, particularly first and second-year units. The sessions encourage revision of content and collaboration between participants as opposed to simply teaching and are aimed to support new and inexperienced students. The program has run for 15 years, with sessions currently running for 19 units. 

According to the Macquarie University website, students who have taken part in PAL sessions “consistently produce higher results than those who do not attend”. With the sessions all being well-attended and popular amongst students, some even saying they are more helpful than lectures or tutorials.  

One cut has included reducing the amount of PAL units that a leader can take on, resulting in fewer sessions overall with fewer leaders running sessions per unit. Furthermore, the ‘Super-PAL’ sessions which consisted of an overarching revision of all of the unit’s content throughout the semester has been reduced. These sessions were particularly popular and highly attended as many students found them extremely helpful when preparing for final assessment tasks and exams. While there used to be two of these revision sessions each semester, a lack of funding means there can now only be one. However, this is also being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, meaning there’s a chance there could be no revision sessions this semester if funds don’t allow.

For PAL leaders, the budget for peer observation reviews has also been slashed. In the past, leaders were able to be paid for an hour to observe the work of their peers during a session. This was an incredibly helpful tool that allowed leaders to expand their knowledge and skills through learning from others, though this is now no longer possible.

The English Speakers Club, a program created for international students to practice their conversational English skills and connect with other students in a social setting has also received cuts. While sessions previously ran three times a week, they have now been cut down to two times. This means less opportunities for these students to make social connections and improve their English.  

Furthermore, a supposed 20-30% from every Macquarie Business School program has been cut in this year’s budget. These are presumably programs meant to support students with their current studies and help them enter the job market and further their future careers.

These decisions could directly affect students who now have fewer opportunities to get assistance with their studies for free. Particularly for new students starting at the university, this takes away opportunities to become more confident in their coursework as they adjust to university life. This could detrimentally affect students’ grades and hence, future career prospects.

For the students who run these sessions, this reduces the opportunities they have to gain experience in leadership or mentoring roles. Many PAL leaders are passionate about their positions and will now have fewer chances to lead units and improve their work.

When asked for comment on the cuts, Ammy Kwong, the current PAL supervisor, clarified that the changes would not be compromising the quality of sessions and the feedback leaders receive would remain the same, stating that the program would be run to the same high standards as previously. PAL sessions for all business units covered in 2019 would continue being covered in 2020.  

Additionally, the Macquarie Business School has been a continual supporter of the PAL program for the PAL supervisors, leaders and interns. Beyond just providing employment opportunities, there have been additional opportunities to attend annual PASS and Peer Learning Conferences, providing valuable experiences.

In 2020, the number of PAL leaders has increased from 24 to 33 which appears to be another factor behind the changes. This includes the restrictions for how many units a PAL leader can take up due to a redistribution of leaders confirming that some units will have fewer PAL sessions than previously. Hiring a high number of leaders ensures a variety of high achieving students are given employment opportunities at the university.

Funding to other Macquarie Business School programs has remained, including Lucy Mentoring, First STEP mentoring, the Young Leaders Program, Dean’s Scholars Program, MQBSucccessful and CourseCompass. 

The release of the university’s full budget should clarify where these funds have been redirected to and for what benefit. PAL session offerings will be re-reviewed at the end of each semester by the National PASS Centre, and with the quality of PAL sessions and feedback leaders receive apparently remaining the same, time can only tell how these changes will affect the program and students studying business.