David Pink outlines some important student rights you should know about

The Student Bill of Rights
In your dealings with the University and its staff you have a right to:

At all times either as a group or an individual you have the right to seek representation. Your SRC can and will advocate on behalf of students.

No Sexual Harassment
Students have the right to freedom from sexual harassment and other offensive material and behavior.

No Discrimination
Every student has the right to be free from discrimination based on a characteristic or condition such as race, sex, disability, and sexuality. This includes the behavior of University staff and fellow students.

Disability Support
All students with a disability have a right to expect action by the administration or teaching staff to accommodate their specific needs. This includes lecture taping and the provision of course notes.

You have the right to expect timely, confidential, procedurally fair and unbiased appeals, academic exclusion/satisfactory progress or misconduct decisions.

Privacy and Confidentiality
You have the right to ensure that the University does not disclose any of your personal information including marks to other without your formal consent.

Freedom of Information
The University often keeps a file on all students. Every student has the right to access their file. Students also have the right to see their exam papers after have been marked.

Assessment Criteria Information
Students have the right to clear and early written information about all your assessment requirements. These requirements should not change without equal written notice being provided to students.

Assessed Against Explicit Criteria
Grades or marks that are best determined on the basis of performance against clear criteria or standards rather than by reference to the performance of the group.

Special Consideration
If students suffer illness, misadventure or is impeded from meeting assessment criteria you have the right to be granted special consideration.

Consultation Time with Academic Staff
While staff are very busy, all teaching staff should be required to be provide each course with consultation time. You should check your course information hand-out for this information.

Security on Campus
Students need to feel safe on campus. You have a right to expect adequate security services and lighting.

Students have the right to expect from the University accessible and affordable childcare.


David Pink points out what the SRC has done for you lately

Students had two big wins at last week’s Academic Standards and Policy committee. If its recommendations are adopted by the Academic Board:

1. Absent fails will no longer count as a 0, instead a mark between 0 and 49 will be recorded.

2. Discontinue fails will continue to count for progression requirements, but won’t have any mark recorded or have any effect on WAMs.

This took place in the context of a review of grades – a particularly contentious discussion was over whether or not Absent Fails (where a student misses an exam, or does not submit an assessment) should continue to attract a mark of 0. The SRC argued very strongly that a mark of 0 was a disproportionate and harsh penalty, especially because it could potentially knock someone out of Honours because of one subject on their transcript. Under the new system the exact mark an Absent Fail will attract will not necessarily be tied to assessment results, but will be determined at the discretion of the Faculty.

There was consensus in the committee that to continue to give a mark of 0 for Discontinue Fails would only create a perverse incentive for people to Absent Fail (and therefore not seek help from the university, but simply fail to hand in assessments). As a result, Discontinue Fails will still affect progression requirements (meaning the university can help students stay on track), but they will not mean a black mark on a student’s WAM.


David Pink thinks seeking asylum is a human right

Welcome back to university. I thought I’d tell you this week why Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party’s Papua New Guinea solution is a disgrace.
Papua New Guinea is not a country that is safe for people seeking to escape persecution.

It is not safe for women or queer people: one in two women in PNG have been raped, and two out of every three have been victims of domestic violence. Homosexuality is a criminal offence that attracts a 14-year gaol term, which is especially dangerous given that many refugees base their asylum claims on their homosexual and transgender status.

It is a severely underdeveloped country, where 60% of people have no access to clean water, 55% no access to sanitation and 55% of children receive no education. It ranks 168th in the world in life expectancy, 148th for death rates, 173rd for health. Smartraveller (an Australian government website) currently warns that Papua New Guinea is suffering a cholera epidemic, and cautions Australians not to travel there unless they take extraordinary safety precautions (against gang rapes targeting foreigners, the “ever-present threat” of car-jacking and violent clashes between ethnic groups, etc.).

We have actually received a significant number of asylum claims from refugees fleeing the country – there is absolutely no way that it can ever serve as a sanctuary for people fleeing persecution.

Apologists for the policy have already started arguing that it doesn’t matter if Papua New Guinea is a hellhole; a policy this hardline will be such a powerful deterrence, that no refugees will actually flee to Australia.

That has already been proved wrong. People have already come to Australia by boat under this policy and marked for resettlement to Papua New Guinea. This includes children. These are people whose lives have now been destroyed by this ‘solution’.

For many asylum seekers their only means of escaping persecution is to travel to Australia by boat, and Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention provides refugees an inalienable right not to be penalised on account of their mode of entry into Australia.

There exist alternative ways of dissuading refugees from taking dangerous sea voyages, primarily by creating a vastly expanded and timely pathway for resettlement from Indonesia, but even if such policies are implemented asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are exercising an inalienable right to take that pathway and should not be punished for it.

We should open our borders to those fleeing persecution immediately: we have no right to choose who comes into this country, or the circumstances in which they come.

David Pink, SRC President



David Pink talks federal politics

We’re halfway through the year now, so I thought it was time to make myself accountable to you and detail some of the things you can look out for the SRC next semester.

We will be organising a bigger and better SRC stall at Re-O-Week, so that you can have a chance to sign up to the SRC and grab a free SRC bag. We’ll also be going hard on defending staff conditions, and help put pressure on the University administration to give staff decent conditions.

I will also be following up with the police Ombudsman the allegations of police violence against students at last week’s strike. On a less exciting note, the revamped and user-friendly SRC website is now up and running – soon we’ll be adding to it regularly updated SRC reports from the office bearers, minutes and agendas for council and executive meetings.

The SRC Breakfast Bar will also be up and running. Free breakfast for students who often can’t afford to eat is something that we really prioritise. I’ll also be working with LPAB diploma students to see if there is a way to improve the quality of their teaching, which is really not very good.

I will also be working closely with the University to try and guarantee that there is affordable and quality student housing available. I will be organising to meet with office bearers to make sure that they have campaigns to run next semester.

One of the SRC’s biggest problems, year after year, is that the flurry of activity of first semester subsides into the hugely draining SRC elections. Hence, I am going to work with office bearers this year to make sure that second semester is a time of activity and vibrancy for your student union.

The biggest surprise of the year so far was Gillard’s Higher Education cuts of $2.8 billion. As a member of the Labor Party, this has put me in the awkward position of organising demonstrations with the National Union of Students against the policy of a government I have been spending my evenings and weekends tirelessly campaigning for. But I hope you would all agree that I have done my job well, and haven’t let you down because of my political affiliations.

David Pink calls on the VC to take responsibility for student safety on campus

Dear Michael Spence,

As you will no doubt be aware, a number of students were seriously injured during Tuesday’s protests.

One student had his leg broken. Another student is in hospital with fractured ribs and possible internal bleeding. Several students were trampled. Many others were shoved, grabbed, bruised or struck. These attacks on peaceful protestors were nothing less than outrageous. Another student was put in a potentially life-threatening situation when a police officer strangled him for nearly two minutes. He went without air for a minute and a half and has had to seek medical attention.

The danger with something like strangulation is damage to the hyoid bone, which is susceptible to fracture. It holds up the larynx (and therefore the entire breathing apparatus), and thus prolonged, forceful pressure against the neck is incredibly dangerous.

Asphyxiation is similarly life-threatening. Permanent damage from oxygen deprivation can occur within a matter of minutes. One and a half minutes without oxygen is a long time in terms of respiration, and cerebral hypoxia (reduced oxygen supply to the brain) begins to set in rapidly. The fact that a police officer was willing to put a student in such danger is absolutely unacceptable. The argument that the riot police bring order to the campus is transparently absurd, all footage and testimony shows that the police have been a force for violence and disruption. One student also came at risk of suffering an epileptic fit. Despite repeated requests the riot police refused to help them, which is a clear indication that the riot police are not there for our safety.

Students and staff of the university have every right to protest peacefully. We have never been violent. What’s more, students have every right to protest free from the fear that they will be targeted and needlessly attacked by riot police.

All of these assaults and indignities could have been avoided if you did not allow the public order and riot squad on campus. The university has the right to exclude police from campus, and in the past it was very rare for the police to come on campus for this very reason. We are terrified that a student will suffer a more serious injury than a broken leg next strike day. The riot police have been so violent that we are terrified that one of our friends will be killed.

We call on you, Vice-Chancellor, to take responsibility for the safety of the university community and cease inviting the public order and riot squad onto Sydney University grounds.

The 85th SRC Executive

David Pink talks about the challenges facing students in the Diploma in Law

The Diploma in Law is the little known third entry pathway into the legal profession (other than a JD and an LLB), and is designed to be accessible to mature age and full time working students through night and weekend classes. However, the retention rate for the diploma is as little as 30%, and the fail rate for the introductory subject is 40%-60%.

Systemic issues that have recently come to the attention of the SRC include:

– An up-front fee which has been increasing every semester for years (it is now $700 up-front per subject).

– No assessment weighting: if you fail one assessment (even if just a quiz or short research paper) you are then disqualified from sitting the exam.

– Prohibitive special consideration applications: you are only eligible for special consideration if you inform the Law Extension Committee in advance AND it is an emergency. This means, for example, that if you had a heart attack and were in hospital on the day of the exam you would not be able to receive special consideration, because you had not informed them in advance.
- No provisions for make-up exams: even if you receive special consideration for the exam, you are forced to repeat the subject because there are no provisions for re-arranging the exams (albeit it will be refunded).

– For centrelink, the Diploma in Law does not fit the AQF and as such has no defined EFTSL despite the huge workload requirements. This means that it is almost impossible to apply for Austudy.

– No access to formal complaints or appeals processes: the Student Appeals Body explicitly lacks jurisdiction.

The SRC will be looking at ways we can help integrating LPAB LEC students into the regular student body, so that their rights can be more effectively protected.

David Pink reports back from the alternative education conference, EduFactory

An Education Network

“Previously activists in education have been disconnected, geographically fragmented, without the capacity for coordination, and dependent on the whim of bureaucracies beyond our control. We aim to resolve these difficulties, and to take immediate action on education.

We propose that there be a national education network established, to fight attacks on education. This network will prosecute campaigns against cuts against fees, for autonomy, for diversity and for education funding. We believe that education should be democratic and participatory, and not run by bureaucrats in the interests of capital and the state; we stand for a democratic society.

This network regards itself as wholly distinct and autonomous from any other existing groups that claim, truly or falsely, to represent us, though it does not exclude the possibility of working with such groups. This network instead regards itself as an association of activists in the education sector and not as representatives.

This network will maintain a Facebook Group and Email list. It will endeavour to have members in every state and territory, or if that is not possible, from a broad geographic range, as part of this project it will endeavour to establish state networks. Anyone involved in education who agrees with the objectives of the network may join by attending a meeting.

This network will be governed by meetings at Edufactory, and by phone linkups between conferences. All decisions, unless delegated, will be made through these meetings. The method of decision-making will be consensus, and if consensus should not be achieved, a two-thirds majority vote.

This network will support local and regional organising by education activists and, where possible, work with activist associations on relevant campaigns.

This network sees grassroots education action groups (or other local activist formations) as vital to building a network of education activism nationally, and encourages those groups to actively participate in the network. This network will if capable, support these grassroots groups in forming.

For the name of this organisation we propose, ‘Class Action’.”

Passed by an overwhelming majority of participants of EduFactory 2013.

26 April 2013

Fighting cuts to higher education

The federal government’s decision to cut $2.3 billion out of higher education funding is a disgrace. The idea that the only way we can fund public education is by robbing Peter to pay Paul – to cut university funding and student support, in order to boost Gonski  – is absurd. It’s definitely going to see the quality of your education decrease, and without a doubt harm educational opportunities for new tertiary students (even if their schools are great).

Last week, at Academic Board, I had an opportunity to ask the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Garton, what sort of cuts we were looking at. His answer: something in the order of $50 million. Where were these cuts going to come from? All areas, including faculties.  Would this affect the EBA negotiations? It would sharpen discussion about what was realistic. Would there be redundancies? The University would obviously like to avoid dismissing anyone, and priority would go to simply not filling vacancies, but staff cuts would definitely be on the table. General staff cuts and administrative efficiencies would be prioritised over cuts to teaching and research.

The SRC really wants to avoid a fight with the University over cuts, like we had last year. Our side won that battle, but there’s no guarantee the outcome would be the same this time around.

We want to keep this fight national, against the government and their disastrous cuts.

So what will we do?

Both staff unions, the NTEU and the CPSU/PSA, and the national student union, NUS, have indicated there will be a real and powerful fightback.
The National Union of Students has indicated that May 14 will be the day for a national student strike. Whether this will involve student pickets around every university in the country, or something more resembling a massive rally in every capital city, is yet to be determined.

The NTEU will be discussing at their National Executive meeting the prospect of calling a Community Day of Action on May 14 in co-ordination with the NUS. It is as yet unclear whether or not this will involve industrial action.

The CPSU/PSA have indicated that they will be “consulting with [their] members state-wide to identify the areas of greatest risk to jobs and services and develop a plan to protect university education in NSW.”

The SRC is fully behind NUS’ plans for May 14. As a snap action, we will be holding a speak out with the Cross-Campus Education Action Network next Wednesday April 24 at 12 pm outside Fisher Library.

The EduFactory! Conference being held at the University of Sydney from this Thursday-Sunday (April 25-28) will be an important opportunity to organise the national student strike. There will be over 300 activists from around the country all in one place, and the timing could not be better.

Check out the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/489445797742449/?fref=ts

It’s not too late to register. And there has never been a better opportunity to get involved.

David Pink is not happy about $2.3 billion in cuts to higher education funding

So I woke up yesterday to find out that the Education Minister had decided to strip $2.3 billion out of higher education funding. Why has the government decided to initiate the single biggest cut to the university sector since 1996? To fund Gonski.

So basically the Federal government’s response to a funding crisis in the public school system has just been to embiggen the funding crisis in the university system, by churning the money around.

The government will be making the following ‘savings’ from higher education:
– an ‘efficiency dividend’ of 2% for for 2014 and 1.25 % for 2015 ($900 million)
– the conversion of student start-up scholarships to a HECS loan ($1.2 billion)
– the removal of the 10% up-front payment HECS discount ($228.5 million)

We support the changes to the HECS discount. This has been a glaring inequality for far too long, and for little purpose other than favouring the rich.
However, the other changes are a disgrace. In particular, it smacks of hypocrisy for a government which has deregulated student places – and thus decided to place thousands more students into universities – to simply pull out the money needed to maintain student support.

Fortunately, this is one issue where the university management are our allies. And they’ve been quick to condemn the cuts.

According to the Chair of Universities Australia, Glyn Davis: “The cuts come on top of the $1billion stripped out of the system less than 6 months ago through the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook process.”

Their research shows that 87% of Australian parents support greater funding for universities. They value university just as much as primary and secondary schools. This is why the cuts just don’t make sense: education at all levels is important, the government should be funding universities and schools equally, not playing divide and rule.

Our reaction will be fierce. Next Wednesday, on April 24th, we will be having a day of action outside Fisher Library in protest commencing at 2 pm. I ask you to join us.

David Pink talks about student activism

Wow, what a whirlwind week of activism it’s been. We’ve pulled off a successful two day strike with the NTEU and CPSU. We had a National Day of Action that saw hundreds of students mobilize at UTS and march to Sydney Uni to help build the pickets. We sat down on City Rd and shut down traffic. It was amazing.

Across the country Sydney had the most successful and well-attended National Day of Action. In my opinion this was because it wasn’t constrained by hierarchical organising and was instead fueled by a genuine grassroots movement. CCEAN, the primary body that organized for the National Day of Action in NSW, agrees. It passed the following motion for consideration by education activists around the country:

“The CCEAN calls for the formation of autonomous rank and file networks in states and regions across Australia. We call on these networks to fight back effectively and without bureaucracy against the brutal attacks of all major parties on education. Where currently there exists a culture of anti-democratic, inaccessible and inept student organising, we call for a broad student movement from outside the cadres of aspiring parliamentarians and union bureaucrats. The CCEAN will provide support to students in their efforts to organise autonomously with advice, solidarity, and within our means material assistance. We will also support such efforts to organise on a national and global scale.”

In Hope,
The Cross Campus Education Action Network

We need to organise now. Our education has been under attack for decades by successive neoliberal governments, and the attacks by the coming Abbott government will probably be more severe than any that preceded it. The point of the CCEAN motion is that we need to start organising ourselves rather than waiting for others to do so, and on our own terms. The era of student politics being run by self-interested hacks fighting for a career, rather than by students fighting for a future, must end.

Our tutorials are packed. Our courses are being cut. Housing costs a limb. Many of us cannot afford proper nutrition. We have to choose between having enough money and enough time to study. We’re stuffed with titanic debt that takes years to repay and that many of us never will. We’re resentful, stressed, we’re bubbling, seething. It’s time to bring together our anger and begin to build mass organisation. Everything we had, like free education, had to be fought for. We can win it back, and more.