Felix Faber and Charlotte Bullock

Week 13, 2020

Recently we have been working with other office bearers to continue and develop the SRC’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the move to online learning.

We have continued to meet weekly with University management. At those meetings we have addressed a number of ongoing issues, including issues with the University’s travel specific and general hardship funds. The issues students have faced in accessing these funds are deeply concerning and we hope they can be rectified shortly. We have also discussed the decision to delay Semester 2 this year by three weeks. We hope this decision means that we may be able to return to some form of face to face learning before the end of the year. The university is still working on their plan for the return to campus in accordance with government restrictions, and we look forward to ensuring this plan centres the needs of students when it eventually becomes available.

We have also been working in these meetings to stop the University’s attempts to cut Arts courses. We encourage students to get involved in the campaign against course cuts led by the Education Action Group and the NTEU. While we are working to lobby the University, these efforts will only be as effective as the strength of the campaign behind them. This campaign has already seen exceptional success, reducing the cuts from 30% to 8%, but wins like this will depend on ongoing student action.

Charlotte has been in attendance at several committee meetings recently as well. This week she attended both the Research Education Committee and the Student Consultative Committee. Charlotte also attended a meeting with other officer bearers regarding potential changes to SRC regulations to ensure provision is made for an online election, should that be necessary.
Felix has been continuing his work with the SRC’s mutual aid program. The SRC has now sourced approximately 200 food packages, and is in the process of distributing them to students in need. The SRC is still accepting requests for help through the mutual aid program, so if you are in need of food or other essential supplies please contact us at vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Week 9, 2020

Recently our focus has been mostly on helping to develop and set up the SRC’s new mutual aid programme. These packs will supply essentials, mostly food, but hopefully also some sanitary items, to students. We were particularly able to assist in this project by contacting external organisations, eventually finding an organisation we were able to partner with to provide the SRC with hampers to form the basis of our programme. Given the contacts we have established with the faculty society presidents through the re-establishment of the Interfaculty Committee we were able to distribute this information to the faculty societies to share with students. We also recently had the second meeting of the Interfaculty Committee, in which we were able to catch up on what the faculty societies are doing to engage and support students in the midst of this crisis.

We have also continued our regular meetings with university management, which provide us an opportunity to raise any issues affecting students as a result of the shift to online learning or the pandemic more broadly as they come up. Most recently, we raised issues pertaining to overseas OLEs being cancelled, and the potential for replacement units to be offered. We have also been asking questions to understand how the university’s new approach to the WAM for this semester will operate. We also recently attended a meeting regarding one of the SRC’s projects for the year – constitutional and regulatory reform. In this meeting we worked on shaping our short term and long term goals for this project, particularly any adjustments to regulations that need to be made given the current restrictions on meeting in-person.

Week 7, Semester 1, 2020

As the situation surrounding Covid-19 rapidly changes, we’ve been doing our best to address the manifold issues occurring. Students’ lives have been dramatically altered in almost every way; academically, socially, and financially, our lives are radically different to how they were only two weeks ago. Our priority has been to ensure that the wants and needs of students are kept at the forefront of decision-making – both by the University’s administration and in wider society. To that end, we’ve been working with other office-bearers to support students on a number of issues.

One of our top priorities has been advocating for students academically. Due to the inviability of in-person exams, the University has chosen to outsource online exams to ProctorU, an independent contractor whose software raises serious privacy concerns. ProctorU gives its proctors access to students’ computers, giving the company access to private data which could be sold to third parties. Naturally, the SRC opposes this breach of student privacy, and has been working to pressure the University to find an alternative. We’ve been regularly meeting with University staff to raise these concerns and advocate for the academic needs of students in general.

We’ve also been working to organise support for students whose financial situation has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The casualised nature of many student jobs in hospitality has led to many students suddenly losing their main source of income with little support. We’ve been working with other SRC office-bearers to develop mutual aid programs to support students who are suffering due to Covid-19, such as distributing food packages to students.

A feeling of shock is a natural response to the situation we’re currently seeing. Institutions that many students rely on for support and comfort have ceased to function in a matter of weeks. However, it is important that we do not lose hope. As jarring as it is, this crisis cannot last forever. This period of quarantine will end, things will return to normal, and we will once again step out into the world. The work now is to envision the type of world we want to return to, and work to build it.

Week 4, Semester 1, 2020

In the wake of the rapidly escalating Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been working hard to ensure that students are adequately supported in an obviously trying time. In meetings with the University, we have voiced our concerns that students are particularly vulnerable during this crisis as so many of us support ourselves from casual jobs in industries which are on the brink of collapse, and many students are now facing the prospect of unemployment, leading to housing issues and struggling to source day to day supplies while hoarding increases. Further, we raised issues such as how this semester will be presented on our transcripts and whether it will be included in our WAM, given that we, as well as staff, are adapting to new forms of assessment. We also raised the possibility of a compulsory reading week for all students prior to the transition proper.

The SRC has set up a Covid-19 Response Group with a number of office bearers. While it is still very early days, and the government’s approach is rapidly changing, we are hoping to organise on a number of levels through this group. On a local level, we are hoping to work with other organisations to deliver staple goods to students and vulnerable members of the community. Further, we have been developing a set of demands on the government, to ensure that every sector of society, not just students, is supported during this time. In conjunction with student representatives from campuses across the country, we’ve worked to translate these demands to a national campaign, run by the National Union of Students, which we are also actively participating in.

Finally, we’ve been working with faculty society presidents to share information and ensure a coordinated response from all student representatives.

These are trying times, but we hope that as a community we can work together to care for each other. We encourage you to be responsible, practise social distancing as much as possible, and support those who are bearing the brunt of this crisis. In times like this, compassion and solidarity are not merely luxuries – they are necessities.

Week 3, Semester 1, 2020

Over the course of the last two weeks we have been working on a number of projects, separately and with other officer bearers. We recently attended the inaugural meetings of two SRC working groups established to carryout the major projects of the SRC for this year. The first of these meetings was about constitutional and regulatory reform. This is an area of particular interest for us, and we were very pleased with the outcome of the meeting. The meeting begun with a broad discussion of our ideas and aims for constitutional and regulatory reform, with maximising both the efficiency and potential of the SRC as our core aim. From this discussion, we were able to identify a number of goals and a timeline outlining the progress we hope to make on this project throughout the year. The second meeting we attended was with regards to the SRC’s campaign for concession Opal cards for international students. This campaign is an important one as the NSW government continues to discriminate against international students, who are particularly vulnerable to financial difficulty already given the increased fees they are expected to pay and limits placed on their working hours by their visa. We were able to identify some key strategies we hope to employ over the course of the campaign, with particular thought given to how to engage both domestic and international students in the campaign. We were also able to develop a timeline for how the campaign will develop. We have also been working on a number of smaller projects. Charlotte is in the early stages of developing a review of the university’s 2018 curriculum change. Through this process, she hopes to conduct a survey of students affected by the curriculum change, addressing the introduction of OLEs, Advanced Studies and Interdisciplinary Impacts units in particular. Felix has been continuing in his efforts to re-establish the Faculty Societies Committee. He is currently in the process of confirming an initial meeting with the President of each faculty society. We are looking forward to detailing the progress of both of these projects in our next report.