Over the past month, humanities and social sciences students at Adelaide University have successfully fought back against attempted cuts to their tutorials.
In July, deputy vice-chancellor Professor Pascale Quester announced cuts to tutorial numbers from 12 to 10 or nine. The lost tutorials would be replaced by optional one-on-one consultation time with tutorial teachers.
On August 24, at a student-management forum organised by Adelaide University Union (AUU) president Raffaele Piccolo, Quester tried to justify the cuts on educational grounds.
She said the current model of teaching was not working and the changes were part of a university-wide policy of “transformation” to focus on how students learned.
However, this claim was blown apart by a leaked email from School of Social Sciences head Greg McCarthy, which clearly said cost-cutting was the motive.
McCarthy said in the email: “The response I am suggesting is to reduce the number of tutorials per course, in non-language courses and therefore tutorial payments in non-language courses, from either 12 to 10 tutorials or from 12 to 9 tutorials, and that the weeks where there are no tutorials there be some form of directed studies and/or consultations, where the casual staff are not paid …
“This would free up funds to pay for some but not all of the marking cost increases.”
The “marking costs increases” were the result of casual tutors winning the right to be paid to mark students’ minor assignments, something they previously had to do unpaid.
Despite the leaked email, the university continued to say the tutorial cuts were not financially motivated.
Quester reassured students in an email: “Being student-focused and co-creating the learning experience with, and for our students, is an important philosophy which the University of Adelaide is embracing … Less teaching does not necessarily mean less learning.”
On September 8, more than 60 students attended a meeting hosted by Piccolo “for students to come together and decide what the plan of action will be”.
But they were surprised when it was revealed the meeting was not for students to plan or organise a fightback campaign, but was a forum where students could tell Piccolo what points he should put forward at an upcoming meeting with Quester.
Some students disagreed with the manner in which the forum was run. A group of 20 students who wanted to take action immediately held an impromptu organisational meeting that discussed protesting at the opening of the university’s much-vaunted “Learning Hub”.
On September 9, Quester decided to reinstate the tutorials. “The about face also follows embarrassing revelations that senior staff saw the move as being driven by cost cutting, rather than enhancing student learning as claimed by the university.
The September 12 Australian said: “The decision to restore the lost tutorials came as students were planning to ramp up the pressure on management by protesting at the ‘soft’ opening of the university’s new student ‘Learning Hub’ building today.”