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The GIG Program: A Tale of Caution

LW Note: these opinions are from a small group of students who attended GIG, the negative experiences described were not necessarily endured by the entirety of the GIG cohort, and the plural ‘students’ is used for accessible reading, not to insinuate every student. The students who have written the piece have asked to be anonymous.  

 

If you are a first-year student studying Arts or Global Studies, whether or not with a double degree, you might be considering going on the ‘altruistic’ Monash paid program, Global Immersion Guarantee. 

If you’re thinking this, fucking think again.  

Think that thought straight into oblivion.  

In its first year, this program is incompetently run, dishonest, misleading and a prime example of false benevolence to bolster public image: a true testament to how the Monash Business School operates. There is a myriad of reasons why this program left so many unwitting students furious, confused and disappointed. But worst of all, the program could actually be a great opportunity, and for many, the enjoyment of the actual program itself alleviated the issues we will lay out, however for us, it did not. 

We want to make it clear that the partner programs in each country (Indonesia, India, Malaysia, and Italy) are all fantastic and truly are attempting to educate students in an immersive and culturally specific way. The program itself is interesting, engaging and for most was enjoyable. It was how Monash managed, organised and advertised the program that desecrated all its advantages. This either needs to be fixed, or students should not sign up at all.  

The program seems to exploit the confusion and innocence of first-year students. Thus we hope that this article will help elucidate many important factors that we did not understand before signing up. We would also like to very seriously commend the New Colombo Plan (NCP) as a fantastic and important initiative, but Monash’s exploitation of this program was dishonest and parsimonious. 

First, the advertised GIG ‘paid for program’ spewed across its website is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at clever financial shuffling. A normal Arts course costs the average student $820, which is similar to global studies courses. However, much to the surprise of many nescient students (who at no point were told the price, nor was it even suggested to them), all teared at the $2339 cost that was added to their HECS debt. We aren’t ‘paying’ for the program, only for the extremely hiked subjects. However, Monash was cautious to not outright lie, as the website states that students will only pay the ‘associated subject costs.’ 

One student upon seeing the giant leap in prices from their average course sent an email to the GIG team asking why it was so much more expensive. Their response was vague and carried the scent of bureaucratic slime: “the government decides what disciplines sit in each band” and that it was out of their hands. Just to obfuscate any more enquiries, they directed students to ‘Finances’ for further questions.  

To unpack this, the government does indeed decide the price of subjects by deciding what band disciplines fall under. They are classified as bands: one, two or three, which increase in cost. However, it is the University that decides which discipline each specific subject falls under.  

Band One includes: Humanities, Behavioural Science, Social Studies, Clinical Psychology, Foreign Languages, Visual and Performing Arts. 

Band Two includes: Computing, Built Environment, Health, Engineering, Surveying, Agriculture, Mathematics, Statistics, Science.  

For students who undertook this program, it would make sense for their subject costs to fall under Humanities, Behavioural Science, Social Studies or even Foreign Languages, similar to other overseas courses. Yet of the Band Two disciplines, only the slightly applicable Built Environment was assumedly chosen by the University as viable for the course. According to ‘The Good Universities Guide’ in Victoria, Built Environment is everything man-made built, as opposed to natural. It is more closely aligned with construction, design, management, maintenance, and architecture, and is not commonly attributed to most Arts disciplines. Even more infuriating, the only applicable aspect that related to Built Environment in the course was brief discussions about infrastructure, yet they were in regards to development and poverty.  

This seems to omit most skills learnt in this course, such as, humanitarian work, environmental sustainability, intercultural competence, development/development theories, poverty, agricultural work, language, culture and much more. Band One subjects show four very applicable disciplines to choose from. Yet, GIG decided on a discipline that barely associates with the course and was so lightly touched upon it is almost absurd.  

This then leads to the next major issue, the 12 credit points, or two subjects worth. This is the equivalent of 24 weeks of a Band Two subject, done in two weeks. This raises dubious financial questions. Out of the numerous applicable options to create this unit, Monash decided on the one that costs the maximum amount of money, but was just within the threshold that could be rationalised; even if that rationale may be thin. There is absolutely no doubt these decisions were entirely financial; merely a clever way to offer a non-existent ‘paid for program’ abroad. 

Secondly, the GIG team decided that upon participating in the program, one could not pick up their normal year of subjects. No of course not, that would be endorsing determination for education and motivation to learn! By including yourself in this program there is the added benefit of crippling your educational opportunities for the year. You have to drop two of your subjects for a two-week program. To some students, this may be a godsend. But for many of the students on this program, it was absolutely infuriating, especially because the GIG team did not tell anyone until nearly the end of first semester.  

As GIG has four different blocks, each travelling at different times from the end of 2018 until the start of 2019. The unfortunate ones who had unwittingly decided to go on the program that left in 2018 were faced with an ultimatum: drop two subjects next semester or don’t go on the program at all. Many students who would never have had this opportunity had to drop the whole program. They simply couldn’t afford a severed year. While others scrambled to decide which subjects they had to drop in the next week or so with absolutely no pre-warning, and then embark on a semester that was technically part-time with only two subjects 

Some students reported that they attempted to just ‘let it slide’ and continued their four subjects next semester in the hopes GIG wouldn’t notice. But just as expected, GIG members came around to classes pulling them out and bullied them into dropping subjects purely because the deadline to drop classes was approaching fast. Even worse, they attempted to prevent GIG students who were doing double degrees, to drop the two extra subjects. This is neither typical nor normal, and seems to be just a blatant lie. Many faculties claimed this restriction is not necessarily enforceable, and arbitrary or absurd at best. Upon seeking explicit clarification from their dominant faculty, some students doing double degrees continued their year anyway and no GIG watchdogs came to bully them out. 

On top of all this, an arbitrary 48 credit point enforcement is not even a strict rule. When asking other faculties, most said that it was fine to do more than 48, some said even 72 is typically when they will step in. This begs the question: what would be the point in having summer or winter programs if it severs the rest of your university year?   

One student reported that they talked to the head organiser of GIG about these questions, after speaking to their dominant faculty who had said it was perfectly fine. The GIG organiser angrily responded, “you’re not special, everyone else has to.” When asked whether they could request for an overload, she smugly responded, “sure you can try but Arts will just block your request.” When asked the actual reason for this arbitrary enforcement, a vague “we have a duty of care”  apparently handed down by the University was stated, yet this precise ‘duty of care’ was not explained. 

Next comes to the brilliant unit plan that the GIG ‘academics’ had created: fit for a five-year-old and marked as if a master’s program. Many students again, were frustrated and disappointed. For 24 credit points, that’s two subjects for the whole semester, there was grand total of three thousand words (when combining all written assessments), a three minute or so presentation individually, and three quizzes that a brainless monkey could ace (or perhaps a better metaphor would be a GIG organiser).  

If this sounds relatively okay, 55% of the curriculum was split into three parts. First, three reflections, each 250 words, which were so short and pointless you could barely even explain what you had learnt, let alone be expected to describe and analyse extremely complex ideas within your experiences. Second, one ‘image scape’ where you again ‘described’ three images in roughly 130 words each, yet also had to explain key concepts and ideas on the program. Finally, three ten question quizzes based off a reading, that could be completed by simply pressing Ctrl F, a function that GIG had apparently been unaware of. This 60% represents the premise of the entire program: a facile, incompetently led quasi-educational ‘service’ with next to no merit or worth for students actually aiming to apply their knowledge of international development or sustainability. 

You might be thinking that perhaps the other 45% might make up for the previous spittle of assessments. It won’t. The final parts were a group presentation, where you each had perhaps two to three minutes to try and explain as much interesting content and ideas as possible. And the final essay, which was the only part that appropriately allowed students to apply their knowledge, yet it only made up 25% of the curriculum. 

Finally, to top it all off, everything, the reflections, essay and the image scape, barring the group presentation, were marked by a few people in Melbourne. They were not on any of the programs and they had no contextual knowledge or understanding of what a group had done or learnt, making the ridiculously small freedom in which to discuss your experience and ideas, even more difficult; as you were explaining to a complete outsider from the program. This may be why so many students did relatively poorly on seemingly brainless exercises, but perhaps the incredibly harsh marking was a factor also. Equating this pathetic excuse for assessments with two whole subjects of potential learning and enjoyment, and then enforcing restrictions on your education at the same time, is an affront against, or even a spit in the face on University level educational standards. 

Also, to make matters worse, many students were given mixed messages from their Monash ‘teacher’ on the program, compared to the actual unit marker, or given a vague “just look at the unit guide” because even they weren’t sure. One group in Italy said they barely passed some of their assessments as their group teacher said they wouldn’t have to reference, yet this was obviously not the case. A lack of communication between staff, plus a shortage of staff running the program, it seems contradictory, as you would think less staff might allow for easier communication amongst them, yet somehow GIG managed to pull it off. 

If you enjoy fucking around with reflections, barely writing anything and not really applying anything you’ve learnt, while also being marked extremely harshly, then GIG may be for you! But if you enjoy actually learning about humanitarian work, sustainability, development and applying your skills and knowledge in an interesting way, we urge you to seriously reconsider doing this program.  

The next issue of this program came with the rudeness, inaccessibility and incompetence of the staff, especially when responding to those burning questions that were on many students’ minds mentioned above. At the Arts office, GIG representatives were rarely available, only confused Arts representatives who attempted to answer questions which they did not know the answer to.

Even when they were available, many students complained of the dismissive, rude and abrasive manner in which they responded to reasonable questions. GIG staff were not even available in the pressing time period when some groups passports had to be sent to the consulate for a visa to be approved, a stressful and absolutely essential aspect of the process. Again, Arts staff had to read off a sheet with instructions about the process but could not actually help with any issue that didn’t pertain to GIG’s ‘sheet of wisdom.’  

One student reported that she was told to go to the Indian Consulate to pick up her visa as she is Indian born. After they could not find the passport she called GIG and they told her to actually go to the Indonesian consulate, twenty minutes before it shut, on a Friday, two days before she left to Indonesia on Monday.  

This leads us to the incompetent organising of the program. If you want to actually know where you’re going or what you’re doing at least a month before the program, then GIG is not for you. Just the bare minimum of a travel itinerary, stating where we’re going, and where we’re staying, was not sent to GIG students until a week or two before leaving the program. For some groups the itinerary changed upon arrival unbeknownst to them. The only aspect that was organised with ample time was our flights, yet unsurprisingly this was performed by an external company. Good on you STA Travel, for doing your fucking job competently.  

Upon arrival, a more detailed program outline was given but again this could and often did, change at any minute. It was actually a common running joke amongst some groups that they would answer their parents’ curious and even sometimes concerned questions: “where are you going” or “what are you doing” with “I honestly don’t know.” But this ambiguity wasn’t down to typical youth aversion or edgy non-compliance. No, this was down to GIG’s unequivocal and all-encompassing incompetence. 

The absolute final kick to the throat was the exploitation of New Colombo Plan (NCP). According to their website, this government-run program is a great initiative that gives students grants for overseas studies in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, and in all regards, this is absolutely true. However, Monash and GIG basically forced it down student’s throat in an attempt, to again, spend less money. Of the four available countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Italy, three were applicable. To anyone applicable, GIG sent out the cavalry, emailing everyone claiming there was an “offer” given to them specifically. Guess what? You could not defer it! This again was obviously a lie. NCP is supposed to be a student ‘opted into’ program, and especially for more impoverished or disadvantaged students. This lie was so blatantly obvious when following GIG’s link to the page it said, “apply now”; but we thought we already had the offer? 

For most students, they unwittingly accepted the NCP, not knowing that you can only use this $3000 grant once, and not knowing that they didn’t have to. Of course, the students did not receive, or even hear of where this money went. For a ‘Monash paid for program’, $5399 per student going to some of the least expensive nations in the world begs some pretty suspicious questions.  

Just kidding. It begs some big giant fucking huge questions. Where did this money go? Why was this money not put towards the giant subject costs? Did some of this money go towards the comparatively huge costs the Italy trip would incur? Why did GIG lie that it was compulsory to sign up? Why were students not told more about where the finances (meant for the students, not the universities) were put?  

Case and point: when at the Australian Embassy in Indonesia, talking to an NCP representative, one student asked if the program was ideally meant to bring up students to greater opportunities and availabilities, or for university funding. The answer was obvious, “individual advancement and opportunity” was the direction of the program. Other programs actually gave the students the funds directly, or at least had some degree of transparency and availability if it was a large university organised program like GIG.  

Another student asked the NCP representative whether there was any accountability system in place if universities mismanaged funds, after saying that there wasn’t really but just that the university has to “report back to the government”, the confused embassy worker asked, “why have there been so many questions about this with Monash.” In response, the Monash teacher swiftly stepped in to answer the next question on funding, then hushed the students away. Our group’s clear ‘renegade status’ caused the Monash teacher to follow us around at the NCP function (a meeting of all NCP recipients in Indonesia at the time). One student even overheard them telling the other group leader that “we need to watch them”. 

After all this speculation and dishonesty, the even more insulting and straight up immoral aspect was hearing the stories of other NCP recipients at the NCP function. The speakers talked about adverse financial situations that led them to being able to be there. One was a single mother of two, the other a passionate learner without parental support who couldn’t afford the funds. Similar stories were spread throughout the room, differing reasons and challenges, full of minority figures and diverse groups from Australia, whose financial burdens and lack of privilege generally were alleviated by the NCP. The NCP is a truly fantastic initiative to not only endorse learning in our Asian neighbour nations, but also lift up students who otherwise, would never have this opportunity.  

Then we have Monash. The money hungry cooperate monster who advertise their altruism and ‘immersive learning systems’ (undoubtedly luring huge amounts of new interested students). They shamelessly rape the student of any benefit, educational advancement, and disseminate a program designed for disadvantaged students widely just to cater for their business financial needs; all so they can appear charitable and ‘caring’ of student education. 

Also for all those who may have been enraged by Arts cuts last year, this is also for you. Any of the money that was paid by Monash (which we speculate was relatively low), or perhaps we underestimated the cost and the price was high; either way 451 first-year students were prioritised over the rest of Arts students. To us the obvious reason would be that third year Arts students who enjoy educating themselves does not make money, but advertising a ‘paid for trip’ to first-year students fresh out of High School, would provide massive income from increased enrollment. 

A program that was ultimately expensive to the student, not free, incompetently run, disrupted educational learning for a year, had poor educational application and organisation, dishonest and abrasive staff, and exploited a program ideally meant for poor or disadvantaged students. From the GIG students who wrote this we would officially like to say to Monash University, either fix this program and be more transparent, or to the students, don’t go. 

 

Lot’s Wife attempted to organise an interview with GIG to respond to these accusations, but the case was handed to ‘Monash’s Media Relations area’, which would not allow the request due to “busy schedules”, but attempted to provide some information. In most regards they referenced their SETU results to invalidate the complaints. They claim that “of the 451 students the results were overwhelmingly positive” with “less than 7 providing negative reviews”, however upon further questioning, it turns out only 35% of the students (roughly 150) conducted the evaluation; detracting from their claim and overall honesty. In regards to transparency and good faith, Lot’s Wife felt compelled to publish these results, however, we would suggest to exercise skepticism due to various reasons. Firstly, the relatively low number of people who did the evaluation, the nature of SETU utlising leading or ‘issue focused’ questions, and the SETU evaluation being dominantly about the in-program section and less about organisation/executive concerns. Secondly, the GIG team initially claimed that Lot’s Wife correspondence was the first email “noting any concerns”, but then admitted to “less than 10 students having similar concerns” in their evaluations, and following from this, when attempting to find out the full number of students who did the evaluation, the number was changed to “less than 7 students”. Anecdotal evidence provided by word of mouth and interviewing students, certainly seems to suggest this number is higher than 7, but most likely others with complaints did not do the survey. 

Lot’s Wife is here to represent aggrieved students against Monash incompetence, exploitation, and maliciousness, many students are frightened or anxious to voice their concerns against such a massive corporation, and thus the overall attitudes towards GIG are still undetermined, yet there are certainly many positive experiences. A full response, or interview, will be available as soon as the Arts Faculty is able to accommodate us. 

 

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