Felix Faber and Charlotte Bullock

Week 11, Semester 2, 2020

As the year winds down, our priority has shifted towards ensuring next year’s SRC is able to hit the ground running and keep up the important work that it has been doing over the year thus far. The parlous state of education on campus is seriously concerning. Between government funding cuts and attempted University staff and course cuts, the need for determined work by student representatives to fight for a quality education is not set to diminish. Felix has been focusing on preparing for the handover, organising a handover meeting of the Interfaculty Committee, and organising the SRC’s affiliation with the National Union of Students.

In the past fortnight there have not been any committee meetings, but Charlotte was in attendance at the most recent fortnightly meeting between the SRC Executive and University Management. At this meeting, Charlotte raised issues regarding degree progression, which were carried over from the previous meeting. At this meeting, there was also some discussion with university management and office bearers from SUPRA and the USU about the recent outage of Canvas and other university websites, and how the uni could ensure students are still able to access online tutorials if another outage occurs.

Week 9, Semester 2, 2020

The past two weeks saw the passage of the government’s disastrous higher education package through both houses of Parliament. While this is an exceptionally disappointing outcome, and will undoubtedly have an adverse impact on the quality of our education for years to come, it is not the end. While the government has pushed through cuts to university funding, the allocation of those cuts is to be determined by universities themselves; whether the scarce funding the University of Sydney receives in the future is spent on student learning and staff wages, or kickbacks for the upper echelons of the University’s administration, is still to be determined. In that vein, we encourage you all to continue to engage with the Education Action Group and other campaigns to fight for a fair education.

Felix has been engaging with this campaign over the past two weeks, attending an organising meeting for an upcoming action on the 3rd of November. Easing coronavirus restrictions have meant that rallies are now allowed to be up to 500 hundred people, so we encourage anyone who is able to to attend. Felix has also been organising the SRC’s affiliation to the NUS.
Recently Charlotte has continued to attend committee meetings, as well as the regular fortnightly meetings between the SRC executive and university management. These meetings have continued to prove useful as an excellent opportunity to ask questions, clarify information, and make suggestions, especially relating to things that have come up at committees, as compared to the more formal committee setting. Most recently, Charlotte attended the UE: Student Life Committee on Wednesday 21st October. Further, at the most recent fortnightly meeting, issues of degree progression were discussed, as well as the university’s plans to ensure international students have adequate access to accommodation and other services over the summer break.

Week 7, Semester 2, 2020

We would like to begin our report by expressing our anger and sadness at the passing of the Job Ready Graduates Package during the past week. We feel especially angry for students in Year 12, struggling through a final year like no other, who have had their options further pared back by a government that does not care about them. We are angry for those kids in regional areas, those kids for whom university already seemed like an insurmountable goal. We are especially angry at Centre Alliance, for quashing the dreams of thousands of young people, for the tiniest of rewards for their constituency. We encourage all of you to attend the action on Wednesday.

Felix has been continuing his work in the no-cuts campaign, working to engage Clubs Against the Cuts in the latter stages of protest. Over the last two weeks, Charlotte continued to attend committee meetings, attending the UE: Education Committee on 28 September. Charlotte and Felix have both recently attended meetings to discuss SSAF for next year along with other office bearers.

Week 3, Semester 2, 2020

The campaign for a quality education has seen some notable events over the past several weeks. The August 28th NDA saw an incredibly excessive deployment of police to disrupt student activists, and the government’s university fee package passed the House of Representatives. While these events have been demoralising, there is still chance for the package to be voted down in the Senate, so long as we keep up the fight. In this time, Felix and Charlotte have both been working hard to advocate for students’ needs.

This fortnight Charlotte has primarily been working on a review of the new curriculum. This review has been a goal of hers since she began her term as VP. She started work on it at the beginning of the year, but decided to put it on hold at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more pressing student welfare issues became apparent. Although the situation with COVID is far from over, given that students who started the new curriculum will be coming to the latter part of their studies, now seems the right time to run a survey to understand their experience. Charlotte is working on drafting the survey and considering how to get the most detailed and informative responses.

Felix has been continuing his work with Clubs Against the Cuts, hosting a forum for STEM students to hear about the impact of fee changes, and discuss possible opportunities to combat them. He has also been working with other office-bearers to get the mutual aid program operational again after the winter break. If you would like to ask us any questions about our work over the past fortnight, send us an email at vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Week 1, Semester 2, 2020

As semester starts again, the quality of our education is becoming more and more apparently at risk. The Covid-19 pandemic has robbed the tertiary education system of much of its revenue, and the government has poured salt in the wound by failing to intervene, excluding many university staff from JobKeeper. All this has been compounded by the difficulties of online learning and the increasing casualisation of university staff. This has resulted in widespread cuts from Arts courses, a proposed 30% staff cut in FASS, and ill-conceived learning conditions, such as SCA students being forced to learn online. These changes will only get worse if the government’s proposed funding cuts are passed. In the midst of this, we have been working with the rest of the SRC to fight for a better quality of education, accessible to every student.

On University committees including Student Consultative Committee, UE Education Committee, Academic Board, and in regular meetings with University management, Charlotte has been raising student’s concerns at recent developments. In particular, Charlotte argued against the change to a 12-week semester that will see staff paid less for more work, and students given less time to approach their course content. Charlotte also raised concerns about the lack of information students are provided with before the semester begins, suggesting that university could release unit of study outlines earlier or provide reading lists in advance.

Felix has been working to engage the wider university community in the campaign against fee changes, organising Clubs Against the Cuts, a coalition of clubs and societies against the proposed fee changes. Clubs Against the Cuts has now formed several contingents at rallies against the fee changes, and is organising forums for STEM and Education and Social Work students to discuss the changes to education and figure out a plan of resistance.

The fight for a fairer education will require as many students as possible coming together to oppose the government’s fee hikes and funding cuts. If you would like to get involved, email us at vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Week 13, Semester 1, 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, Semester 1, 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.