Education Report: Fighting a uni restructure, funding cuts and Job losses

The University of Sydney discussion paper released just over a month ago on the “strategy” of  “undergraduate offerings” at the university has signalled a massive restructure of the University through the 2016-2020 period.

The discussion paper and statements Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has made to the media suggest that the University of Sydney is to emulate the “Melbourne model”, a model of tertiary education based on the University of Melbourne, in pursuit of a top ranking for the country or region.

What this means in practice is cutting over a hundred undergraduate degrees, resulting in a broadened (generic) education to push more students into more expensive postgraduate study. Already the University is suggesting necessarily extending three-year degrees to a further fourth year, and changing double degrees from “horizontal” (two concurrent undergraduate degrees) to “vertical” (an undergraduate degree followed by a postgraduate degree ($$$)).

These changes would have a big impact on the amount of money you’d need to study here, and appears to be an internal response to a) a very real lack of funding from the government (Australia ranks 33rd out of 34 OECD countries in terms of higher education funding as a percentage of GDP) b) the failure of university fee deregulation to pass the Senate, which included a further 20% cut in higher education funding, for which Michael Spence was a devout and adamant advocate.

Join students and staff from the NTEU and the EAG on the 5th of August outside the Madsen building at 1 PM to protest the hundreds of job cuts this would mean for staff, and on the 19th of August at 1 PM on the New Law Lawns to join a nationwide campaign for better conditions for universities. Get further involved by coming to EAG meetings on the New Law Lawns on Tuesdays at 2 PM throughout semester.

Queerkats Collective Report

Queerkats is looking forward to semester two 2015! The winter break gave many members of Queerkats the opportunity to attend Queer Collaborations at ANU, an unforgettable experience of learning, knowledge sharing, and meeting queer students from all around Australia.

We managed to send so many members of Queerkats to the conference thanks to the hard work of many in both QuAC and Queerkats, hosting many fundraisers throughout semester one including bake sales and a 90s trivia night. We hope to continue running successful events like these that reach out to the whole of the university and further throughout semester two.

Sadly this semester Queerkats says goodbye to one of our officers, Amy Davis, but we thank them for their tireless work in the collective, including being in personal contact with our accommodation in Canberra to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students from both Sydney University and other universities whilst at Queer Collaborations. We wish Amy luck in all their future endeavours!

Queerkats is a sub-collective of the Queer Action Collective, autonomous to people who experience oppression on the basis of sex and/or gender (e.g. trans women, trans men, cis women, intersex people, non-binary people, brotherboys, sistergirls, etc). We meet on Thursdays at 2-3pm in the Queer Space. Contact queer officer Jay Pankau for more information at queer.officers@src.usyd.edu.au

Welfare Department Report – Week 1, Sem 2

After a gruelling holiday period of late nights, later mornings and the latest in caffeine technology to get us through the day again, your Welfare Department is eager to get back on track with our respective campaigns for Semester Two! While recently the ALP and LNP have been celebrating an uncharacteristically bipartisan relationship founded in a mutual respect for the disregard of basic human rights, we have been celebrating a more lighthearted approach to bipartisan friendship. On behalf of all four of the Welfare Officers, I would like to express my humble gratitude for working with a passionate group of people who are able to look beyond their political persuasions in order to work together on the issues that affect student wellbeing in our university. Hats off to us.

In other, and more relevant news, you may recall hearing about Welfare’s next publication, ‘Your Stories, Your Words’, which will be published within the next few weeks and distributed to the University’s base of student collectives shortly after. If you’re interested in perusing a copy, there will also be a stack residing in the SRC office, along with a few dozen lining Eastern Avenue’s rubbish bins. Such is life.

Also on our agenda this semester will be a further investigation into the welfare issues regarding international students, along with several other campaigns tasked to better support them. And finally for the clairvoyants among you who see canned goods and grocery gift cards in your future, we will also be looking into establishing a USYD emergency food bank and SRC cookbook.

Much to look forward to.

Campus Refugee Action Collective Report

CRAC will hold a campus meeting with ex-Manus Island Salvation Army worker and whistle-blower, Nicole Judge (soon to appear on Go back to Where You Came From) on Tuesday, 4th August 1pm, New Law 442

The Abbott Government is attempting to erect an iron curtain of secrecy over Australia’s immigration detention system. The Border Force Act, passed in May with the full support of parliamentary Labor, is a deliberate attempt to silence whistle-blowers who speak out about conditions in the offshore processing centres and prevent media scrutiny of anything to do with immigration detention or Operation Sovereign Borders.

The act carries the threat of a two year jail sentence for anyone working in the centres, affecting medical and welfare workers in particular. It also extends to journalists, who could be punished for obtaining information from detention workers.

But medical workers are not taking this affront lying down. On July 11, around 300 nurses, physiotherapists, doctors and social workers gathered outside Sydney’s Town Hall to protest the new laws and send a message of defiance to the government, joining protests in other cities and towns across the country.

Since the centres on Nauru and Manus Island were opened, a steady stream of workers from the centres have spoken out against conditions in detention and the treatment of asylum seekers, demonstrating that the offshore processing system has been in crisis from the beginning. A senate enquiry into conditions on Nauru has revealed shocking incidents of neglect, self-harm and abuse in the detention centres. These include child sexual assaults, guards trading drugs for sexual favours, and mass suicide pacts. Yet the government refuses to take responsibility for these horrors, and has instead opted to “shoot the messengers”. As long as offshore processing and mandatory detention continue, asylum seekers will be vulnerable to this kind of treatment and harm.

In supporting the Border Force Act, federal Labor has continued in its race to the bottom on refugees with Abbott. Key Labor leaders have now also signalled their willingness to turn back the boats, sending asylum seekers back to danger, in a desperate bid to score electoral points. Bipartisan support for cruelty towards refugees must be broken.

To this end, over the weekend of July 24th, CRAC, along with refugee activists from around Australia, attended a rally outside the ALP national conference in Melbourne, to back Labor4Refugees, encourage more members to join the refugee rights campaign and push open the growing cracks in Labor. The rally was followed by an activist conference to discuss the way forward for the movement on the streets, campuses and in workplaces across the country.

To get involved with CRAC or for more information, call Caitlin 0421 180 853 or Adam 0400 351 694 for more information.

Vice Presidents Report – Week 1, Semester 2

You must have set a new record. You’ve found the netherpages of Honi Soit in the first few days of semester. Congratulations. How are you?

If you’re reading this – unless you’re on a misguided search for the puzzle pages (~in some ways, you’re already here~) – you are, if not already a seasoned old-timer circling the drain of academic eternity (welcome!), now a proverbial ‘big name’ on campus. You’ve been at USyd at least one semester, you’ve survived (or, even, flourished) – and a motley crew of new students start in your place. These students will be wandering around our sandstone labyrinth with a bewildered look and a chaotic schedule; and, with your freshly minted ‘experience’, it’s easy to forget that you were, once, a lost soul walking out of an Access tent; or at a lonely desk in a tutorial.

Predominately, students starting at this time of the year are with non-typical pathways – such as mature age or international students. I know I’m often caught carelessly in a little cocoon of luck – ignoring how lucky I am to be at University at the age I am, with the few difficulties I’ve had in my life, with the education I had already gained prior to USyd – and in the safety of that cocoon, complain relentlessly about my tutorial partners’ perceived incompetence; or mock other students who dare to ask questions in lectures. These assessments we make are by no means ‘equal opportunity’. We target these at those with we identify with difference: and we justify it as lighthearted, as purely harmless. But now that you’re back – with all the stature your semesters’ past accord you – you can take those throwaway lines, and their underlying attitudes, seriously. You don’t need to burn an effigy to be that Marxist radical your parents worry you’ll become: realise carefully your own privileges, and talk with students from different backgrounds. Not as a sideshow or as your ‘pet-project’, but as a way of understanding – and, maybe, you can play a small part in ensuring their first semester is just as successful as yours.

Daniel Ergas

Students come back to Uni amid news of Uni Restructure

On behalf of the SRC I would like to welcome all students back to uni for Semester 2 of 2015. Hopefully you had an eventful and/or relaxing July break. During the time you’ve been gone, the Executive and myself have been reviewing the University’s Complaint’s and Policy Procedures which have been forwarded to higher management as a recommendation. We have also worked to propose changes to the way Special Consideration will be handled by the University making it more student friendly and accessible to students with a lot on their plate. These will be discussed in the Academic Board in approximately one month from now.

The big news, however, is the University’s announcement that it will be undergoing a massive restructure – Un. I should say at this point that the SRC is strongly opposed to the restructure, as it will mean a loss of jobs for many of its staff and an increased need to continue to a Postgraduate Degree. This might seem okay but it will be harder to transfer your credits to different universities and Postgraduate degrees do not have a cap on the amount they can charge, widening the gap between rich and poor students. You could literally end up with a $100,000 HECS debt. This is an internal plan from the University to make it more like the Federal Government’s higher education model after it was voted down twice in the Senate. It will be back in the Senate for its final vote in November.

On August 19th I encourage you to defend your degrees and say no to course cuts, job cuts and deregulation by joining the student protest on the Law Lawns on Eastern Avenue. We must make our university accessible to all because the current management team clearly isn’t.

Kyol Blakeney, SRC President 2015