Abbey Shi and Liam Thomas

Week 9, Semester 2, 2020

Over the last two weeks I have been kept busy with a number of responsibilities from meetings with University management, to continued work on our SSAF application for 2021 as well as continuing to engage with the SRC’s mutual aid program.
I would like to quickly touch on the events that transpired on campus last week during the teach-in protest against the Government’s shameful higher education cuts. Once again we saw a disgusting heavy-handed response from NSW Police, with videos showing officers throwing students, legal observers and Professor Simon Rice to the ground. A number of students were injured, some lucky to escape serious injuries. The conduct of NSW Police last week was not unprecedented but was a continued escalation of threatening and violent behaviour by officers in response to peaceful protests. Whilst it is welcoming to see the recent easing of restrictions on protests, which can now have up to 500 people present, this does not address the disgraceful violent behaviour of NSW Police, nor help the countless students, teachers and activists facing $1000 fines. NSW Police have continued to prove that they do not exist to protect the community, but instead to protect the interests of the Liberal Government. We must continue to push back against the threatening and violent behaviour of NSW Police, which disproportionately is carried out against marginalised and oppressed communities.

In meetings with the University, a significant amount of discussion has centred around the recent higher education bill and the impacts it will have both on the University and on students. It is promising to see that the University is already in the process of planning as to how they can best help students who might be affected by the changes, especially around the issue of HECS being made unavailable to students who fail their first year units. The University of Sydney has been outspoken in opposition against the changes which will no doubt result in a reduced quality of education and further entrench barriers to university accessibility, however the lack of action from the peak body in Universities Australia in response to the bill has been incredibly disappointing.

I have continued to work with members of the SRC executive to develop our SSAF application for 2021, with a number of critical projects outlined that will be crucial for students. Finally, I have also been involved in the SRC mutual aid project, helping to deliver packages to students in need. This project has been an incredible success is one we want to continue to build upon next year.

Week 7, Semester 2, 2020

It’s been a busy few weeks for the SRC and activism broadly, from pushing back against the Government’s education bill and police repression on campus to conducting our annual election.

I would like to quickly apologise for the lack of General Secretary reports in recent weeks, unfortunately, due to a period of ill health I have been out of action over the last 2 months, however, I’m incredibly excited to be back to finish out my term over this semester.

Firstly, I’ve been in attendance at several meetings with representatives from University management, where a broad range of issues have been discussed. One of the key discussions had been around the precarious situation for tertiary education with the passing of the Government’s shocking education reform bill. This bill is undoubtedly the most serious attack on higher education we’ve seen in years, if not decades, with cuts to funding for every course and even more barriers put in place to accessible, affordable education. In these meetings, there has been discussion about how the University will respond, with the University considering possible measures to help students, particularly on the issue of failing first-year units locking students out of HECS.

On top of this, I’ve been engaged in meetings with other members of the SRC Executive to begin putting together the SRC’s application for SSAF funding for 2021. The constantly changing circumstances around COVID and uncertainty as to the impacts it will have continuing into next year is an unprecedented challenge for us to deal with. Over the past year, the SRC has been able to provide a number of critical services for students in a tumultuous year such as our mutual aid program, and there is no doubt that programs like these will continue to be vital for many students in the year to come. We hope to be able to continue and expand upon programs like these next year and as such have identified It as a priority area for funding.
Also, over the last weeks, we have seen several protests held to fight back against the education cuts. Whilst I have been unable to attend the recent protests I would like to commend the student activists involved in organising around this critical issue. Furthermore, I condemn the repressive actions of NSW Police breaking up socially distanced protests and intimidating, harassing and fining student activists. In recent weeks we have even seen police from the riot squad attend a lunchtime organising meeting of fewer than 20 people, for no reason other than to intimidate and harass students.
Finally, with the conclusion of the SRC elections I extend my congratulations to all the councillors and NUS delegates who have been provisionally elected and thank everyone who participated in the election, be it standing or election or voting.
– Liam Thomas.

Week 9, Semester 1, 2020

This week the General Secretaries are working on the platform of student advocacy given the continuous COVID-19 situation. We have been receiving students’ feedback on the academic arrangement of different faculties and advocate their opinions at weekly meetings with University officials. In the past week, the SRC mutual aid group project is rolling out smoothly. We have been in contact with some not-for-profit organisations for resources to reallocate to the student council for distribution. We have surveyed the students who are in need of various types of assistance previously and now we are looking into the types of health goods and food that can be sent to students.

Meanwhile, the financial aids for international students have been gradually granted as a result of the previous petition work. We have received lots of gratitude from students who received the grants. For a significant number of students who are in need of feedback in application, the General Secretary has been abiding the constitutional requirement of the council and redirect their enquiries to proper party that can grant valid advice.

During this special period of time, we have also been working on advocacy for international students JobKeeper and JobSeeker scheme. We have conducted surveys in conjunction with Union NSW on various social media platform.

We are also in the process of administering the translation of SRC student advice materials. We have looked into markets with the assistance of the council secretary. Given the high pricing advised by the NSW Government official department, we are seeking alternative resolution to the translation in spirit of effectively allocating student’s every penny.

We have also advised the university officials to consider Melbourne University’s WAM model as part of COVID-19 readjustment plan. The University, in response, is considering adopting the model. Further notice will be given in future scheduled meetings.

Week 7, 2020

Over the last fortnight we have been incredibly busy working closely alongside the President, Vice-Presidents and General Executives to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, and the implications this has had for students.

We have been in regular Zoom meetings with Susanna Scarparo (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Student Life) and Peter McCallum (Director, Education Strategy) regarding the University’s response to the situation. We have raised a number of concerns that students have identified in the switch to online learning, predominantly the implication on students’ performance, special consideration and the use of ProctorU software for exams.

We are pleased to report that these meetings have been largely productive, with the University implementing, or in the process of implementing, a number of measures to better support students. We do however still share the concerns of the SRC more broadly concerning the use of ProctorU software and are incredibly disappointed that the University refused to listen to students and push back the census date.

With mid-semester exams still to come, we will soon get a better picture of how ProctorU is going to be implemented across different faculties and units. If you’re interested in more information on the software and how to fight back against the use of it make sure you check out the ‘SRC COVID-19 RESPONSE GROUP’ and the ‘Usyd – Say No to ProctorU!’ groups on Facebook. Make sure you also follow the SRC on social media for updates on all the stuff we’re doing to help students at this difficult time.

Week 3, 2020

With Welcome Week all done and dusted we have been able to dedicate more of our time to working on essential tasks in the SRC office.

Over the past two weeks Liam, along with President Liam Donohoe and the rest of the SRC Legal Board, has been busy sitting down and interviewing a number of shortlisted candidates for the position of the second SRC solicitor. We are pleased to report that we have been incredibly impressed by the standard of applicants for the job, with many candidates catching our eye. This hiring process is in the final stages now and we can’t wait to announce soon the candidate we’ve selected!

We have now had the opportunity to sit down and work on the SRC budget for the year. We will be delivering this at the upcoming council meeting on Tuesday 10th March.

We also wrapped up our SRC UE Wonderboom prize draw, announcing the winners on Thursday! Congratulations to everyone who won and thank you to everyone who entered. This prize competition has been a resounding success with hundreds of entrants and the SRC social media seeing huge increases in likes/followers. We look forward to continuing to explore ways to expand our social media presence throughout the year, ensuring that all students are aware of the SRC services available to them.

We have also attended the first meeting on the campaign for international student opal card concession. We look forward to further meetings to plan this campaign.

We have been continuing to deal with the unfolding COVID-19 Coronavirus situation and its impacts on University of Sydney students. Abbey has been working with SUPRA to organise a survey for students who require financial subsidies. We have made demands to the University that they turn on lecture recordings for all units of study and for the University to come up with better measures to ensure that information is being circulated to all students. Abbey also attended a panel with Michael Spence and Jenny Leong MP on combatting racism arising from COVID-19.

Week 1, 2020

Had 2000 SRC tote bags that we successfully distributed to students throughout the week, including items such as pens, flyers, stickers and the Countercourse Handbook and flew off the shelves
Went through over 1000 in a couple of hours on Wednesday. As part for O-Week, we liaised with various Office Bearers from the National Union of Students and organised for a number of them to be present at the SRC stalls throughout the week. These NOBs spoke to students about the various campaigns that NUS is running this year.

Organised for a UE Wonderboom prize draw designed to promote greater engagement with the SRC’s social media pages. Our social media pages have increased by hundreds of likes this week
organised the “Lift the travel ban – healthcare not racism” together with NTEU, CRAC, Asian Australian Alliance and International Student Collective. Abbey MC the event and the protest crew marched to the lobby of F23 Admin Building

  • Travelled to Melbourne to attend the National Union of Student’s President’s Summit, along with President Liam Donohoe
  • Hiring another lawyer for SRC for the role on SRC Legal Board
  • Found pro-bono leading immigration law legal counsels acting for students who had their visas unfairly cancelled without notice, as it is unprecedented legal complication caused by the travel ban.
  • First student launched the appeal now returned on campus and planning on attending class next week
  • Organised a petition urging university reacting to travel ban policy, signed by 5936 students
  • In response the University has developed a series of academic and fiscal policy adjustments to help stranded students
  • Pushed the University to initiate anti-racism campaign and produce 3,000+ anti-racism posters in counter of ill-designed Department of Health posters
  • Developed peer mentoring program in support of students stranded in China with University, lobbied University to put student mentors on University’s payroll. Received 1200+ application for mentors. – Program now is on the next stage of calling out mentees and designing mentor training material
  • Confirmed attendance on a public panel on combatting Coronavirus, misinformation and racism on Mar 2 at MacLaurin Hall, University of Sydney