SRC President’s Special Report – Servicing and Supporting Students During COVID-19

Liam Donohoe, SRC President 2020

The SRC has been working hard to deliver ongoing and additional services to students throughout the challenging COVID-19 period. Here is a summary of some of the important work undertaken by SRC student representatives and staff.

  • Continued to provide our free legal and caseworker services, taking on more cases than ever before through accessible online procedures. Further, we have expanded our legal service from 1 solicitor to 2, adding a paralegal as well for good measure. This has increased the breadth and depth of cases we can process, and has particularly allowed us to offer more migration advice.
  • Established a Mutual Aid program, which has sourced an extensive amount of goods from various sources and bundled them together in “essentials packs”. These essentials packs have then been delivered directly to students’ houses, with each step conducted entirely by a team of over 50 unpaid volunteers. This program has provided essential resources—like dry food and hygiene products—to well over 100 students.
  • Played a leading role in national and local University student protest campaigns, pushing the National Union of Students and other Unions to take a more progressive and forthright approach to the ongoing higher education crisis. Among other things we:
    • Were early and loud advocates for the inclusion of students in March’s JobKeeper and JobSeeker packages, successfully doubling welfare payments for many domestic students.
    • Have campaigned against course cuts, particularly in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition to advocacy in fora like the Academic Board and private meetings with University management, the SRC has organised multiple well-attended protests on campus and informed students of the implications. Further, we have assisted specific campaigns against cuts in the History, Music, and Gov. / IR faculties, respectively.
    • Have campaigned viciously against the Morrison government’s negligent treatment of the higher education sector, including their refusal to assist Universities with JobKeeper payments.
    • Have similarly campaigned viciously against the Morrison government’s recent attacks on the sector, drumming up mass student outrage at fee increase and funding decreases, while organising numerous rallies to help protest.
    • Have worked alongside rank and file members of the National Tertiary Education Union to resist attempts to reduce staff wages and undermine conditions. This has involved pushing for members to Vote No on the National Jobs Protection Framework, while developing links to staff which will be useful in resisting the Morrison government’s latest attacks.
  • Undertaken extensive advocacy on behalf of students, raising student concerns in official fora, like committees, and ad hoc meetings with key University decision-makers. Our advocacy has concerned, but has not been limited to:
    • Special considerations reforms, successfully pushing the University to ease evidentiary burdens, simplify the process, and offer further categories of misadventure, including for technological issues. This has led to a more lenient and accessible system.
    • Minimising and avoiding the use of ProctorU, pushing the University to limit its use as much as possible. As a result, entire faculties (e.g. Science and Law) avoided using ProctorU while overall exams sat using the software were relatively minimal. We will continue this work in semester 2.
    • Mark adjustments and grading in the COVID period, pushing for alternatives to standard grade outcomes and achieving them through the proliferation of RI, UC, and DI marks, as well as the introduction of the CWAM.
    • International students seeking financial support from various hardship and bursary funds, including by pushing to make International students eligible for those funds in the first instance. Beyond that, further advocacy work has gone into following up the process and assisting students with various delays and bureaucratic procedures.
    • Student housing rights, pushing for a moratorium on evictions in University accommodation and for special financial arrangements to be made for struggling students. Further, the SRC has organised meetings between tenants and key University figures to help convey student concerns and expedite remedies.
    • Support for International students affected by the travel ban, organising protests on their behalf while pushing the University to offer financial and general assistance to help them survive the semester.
    • Access to library and research facilities during lock downs.
    • Awarding refunds and DC or DF grades for students struggling throughout the semester, while pushing for fee decreases across the board.
    • Online learning, and ensuring it is delivered to a standard which justifies student fees and meets pedagogical best-practice.
    • Return to campus, offering thoughts on what it could look like, what students are likely to want, and how students are likely to engage with different options.
  • Created a COVID-19 SRC response group on WeChat and Facebook to help involve a wider range of students in efforts to help students.
  • Continued to produce and even print the University’s student rag, Honi Soit, to ensure students stay abreast of important changes and so University decisions don’t go unquestioned.
  • Supported and funded a variety of Collectives so they can continue to create communities for members of marginalised groups and / or so they can continue to undertake political advocacy on certain issues.
  • Designed our process for conducting elections at the end of the year so that all students continue to have a say in the operations of their union.

Liam Donohoe
SRC President 2020