Staff and students from across all six University of Western Sydney (UWS) campuses protested on November 21, in opposition to university management plans to axe several courses.
Among the courses to go are Arabic, Spanish, Italian, the Bachelor of Communication sub-majors in writing, performance and animation, and the entire Economics degree. Along with these, the jobs of 29 academics in the School of Business and a further 25 in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts will be cut.
Also facing the chop is the Student Learning Unit, which provides academic skills support to undergraduate students. Almost a quarter of UWS students come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and more than half are the first in their families to go to university.
The announcement was made with almost no notice to students, now in the middle of exams, and despite the university projecting a $30 million budget surplus.
UWS National Tertiary Education Union branch president Jan Falloon said: “The staff and unit cuts appear to be a panicked reaction by UWS to a drop in enrolments this year even though the university still has a large budgetary surplus.”
Rather than a funding problem, the issue at UWS has much more to do with where the money goes.
“Schools get only 37.5% of the income earned for undergraduate teaching,” said Falloon, “a reduction of almost a third over the past decade, and a 5% reduction since 2011. The remainder of the income has been diverted to administration.”
This is despite UWS having the third highest student-staff ratios (26:1) for any university in Australia.
One law student wrote on the Facebook page for the protest: “It was not until last week that UWS law students were alerted to the cuts being made to our degree.
“$2 million has been taken from the law school with half the electives available being cut. Subjects such as anti-discrimination law, medical malpractice law, advanced criminal law and environmental law have been completely cut.
“With a reduced number of electives students are primarily left with international law and business law electives. Better yet, they have decided to only tell us this after the possibility of transferring out of the uni to be provided with some actual variety is no longer available.
“All of the core units will have a reduced amount of classes to enrol in, but these classes are already overrun.
“How can they just disregard our actual education but spend millions on visual campus makeovers?”