Nursing cuts make us sick

Issue 

Julia Costello & Frances Usherwood, Sydney

The University of Sydney recently proposed the cutting of its nursing faculty. This proposal, announced by Vice-Chancellor Gavin Brown, states that the faculty will not take any more undergraduate Australian nursing students after this year's intake. Places will still be available for international full-fee paying students.

The proposal is in response to the federal Coalition government's higher education "reforms", which allow for a 25% HECS increase on all courses except for nursing and education. This is a demonstration of how economically driven our higher education system has become. The reform was supposedly to allow universities to carve out their identities according to where a university believes its strength lies.

The university administration appears to have decided that nursing — despite the course's unique and respected curriculum, and the nursing shortage state- and nationwide — is not prestigious enough to be considered one of its strengths.

It appears that a faculty that offers a degree studied predominantly by female students; that does not raise enough revenue; and that even offers a course that is the only of its kind in the world, is not esteemed enough for Australia's oldest university.

The closure of the nursing faculty will eliminate the only Indigenous health nursing course in Australia. The new nursing curriculum has only just begun: the first students started in 2003, and there has not even been a chance for anyone to graduate from that course or the four-year Indigenous Australian Health course.

The health situation of Australia's Indigenous population is equal to, and in some cases worse than, that in the Third World. It doesn't take a genius to work out that having more nurses able to work with Indigenous communities could improve this situation.

The greater Sydney metropolitan area currently has four nursing faculties, at the University of Technology Sydney, the Australian Catholic University, the University of Western Sydney and the University of Sydney. Each has a different focus, which leads to a variety of orientations of nurses graduating from them.

The closure of this faculty will decrease the choice of nursing courses. It will also cut the only combined nursing-science and nursing-arts degrees in Australia. It will also lead to the closure of the rural arm of the university's nursing faculty in Orange.

This sets a precedent for undermining other courses and will put increased pressure on other universities' nursing courses in regards to class size and student-staff ratios. It will also put further strain on the health-care system, amplifying the existing nursing shortage.

We want the public to be aware not only of what is happening, but of its significance. This is not just about a university faculty or course. This directly and indirectly affects the health and care of individuals, families and communities.

Nursing cuts make us sick — and could leave you sick.

From Green Left Weekly, July 7, 2004.
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