By Kylie Moon
HOBART — On July 30, at 1.30pm, students across the University of Tasmania campus blew 500 whistles distributed to protest against the university administration's decision to reduce the end of year exam period, and introduce exams during "swot vac" and night exams.
In a letter received by students with their mid-year results, the administration says the decision will allow graduations to begin in December, rather than the following year, a change it claims will be more convenient for all students.
In fact, the change will mainly benefit international (who are also fee-paying) students, who could graduate before returning home.
"The plan means that students will have a lot less time to study, making it harder for them to graduate", said Mathew Munro, Resistance campus activist and member of the Higher Education Action Team (HEAT).
The university claims that all students will have a three-day break between their exam in the swot vac period and their next exam, and that students will not have consecutive morning and afternoon exams. There is no guarantee, however, that they will not have consecutive evening and morning exams. Many students are also completing assignments during swot vac, or doing oral exams.
"The university is refusing to consider other options, such as putting the academic year forward an extra week", Munro said.
Child-care is much more expensive in the evenings, recent cuts to public transport will make it much harder for students to get home after exams, and many students do paid work after-hours. Night exams also pose safety problems, especially for women. Last semester, there was an attempted rape of a woman near a university bus stop.
"The university has refused to properly address the problem through lighting, security, and emergency phones", said HEAT member Anita Gorriss-Hunter. "One night-time security guard is expected to cover all the main campus and three satellite campuses."
Many academics are also opposed to the plan, which will allow less assessment time before the December graduation deadline. The National Tertiary Education and Industry Union has supported students' protests.
The university was forced to shelve a similar plan last year after students organised a protest outside the meeting due to decide the issue. The university was forced to consult with students further, and conducted a survey of 2000 students over the summer break. Although the survey questions were biased towards the proposed changes, 60% of respondents indicated that they did not want evening exams, and 86% disagreed with a reduction in the study break period before exams.
Last semester, the university's plan to close down the Biomed and Scitech libraries collapsed. Munro explained that, "there simply isn't space in the main library for all the extra books and students. Students had been opposing the plan for more than nine months, but it wasn't until there were organised, public protests that the university began to listen."
A rally against the exam change is being planned for August 6 by some members of the Student Representative Council and the National Union of Students. "It's fantastic to see the SRC and NUS taking the initiative", Munro said. "This needs to be encouraged. But students also need to be prepared to take action independently. Last year, the SRC and NUS weren't prepared to build the campaign, and actually opposed student actions against the library closures. If it weren't for actions organised by HEAT, the library closures would not even have been postponed".