More than 100 students from the University of Tasmania attended a forum on October 16 to question university administrators over plans to restructure the Faculty of Arts.
It was organised by students of the university in response to disquiet over potential changes to degree structures and curricula.
This came just a week after the faculty dean, Professor Susan Dodds, announced that the existing 10 departments would be amalgamated into three bigger entities.
The forum provided an opportunity for students to meet Dodds and other faculty administrators, including Joe Bugden, the project manager of the review into the Faculty of Arts structure.
Each member of the panel explained their rationales for the plans, and students responded with their concerns about the situation. Dodds said the restructure is being implemented to lessen the administrative burden on teaching staff.
She said an external review indicated that the same functions could be performed in the faculty with fewer staff. Other academic positions may be created for those made redundant.
The University Council commissioned the report to which she referred from consultants KPMG in November last year. This occurred, in addition to an arts faculty Curriculum Review, for the Arts Faculty Strategic Plan for 2012-2014.
The plan is a part of a broader move by the university to improve administrative efficiency and compete with research and performance benchmarks set by other Australian universities.
However, numerous stakeholders of the university have complained that the process has lacked consultation and that these changes have not been presented in university communications to the public or staff.
Robert Binnie, industrial officer for the Tasmanian division of the National Tertiary Education Union, said the union’s attempts to view the KPMG report were rejected by the university. He said faculty staff had access to the report for only a limited time in a closed area.
The National Tertiary Education Union has asked Fair Work Australia to force the university to reveal details about a redundancy program that is in operation. The union is concerned that staff welfare will be sacrificed to improve the reputation and finances of the university.
Students at the forum were also concerned that they were not considered stakeholders in the university review process. Proposals were put forward for formal structures to be put in place so students can take part in these decision-making procedures.
Another point of contention was the reduction of units available in degree majors and minors. Dodds said that although courses will have less choice in them as a result of the curriculum review, the quality of the courses offered will not be diminished.
However, students at the forum were against the idea of more prescriptive curricula at the university.
“So subjects are only worth having if lots of people do them? That’s rubbish,” one student said.
The next move for the students of Tasmania not yet clear.
Universities around Australia are cutting courses to streamline their institutions. Students like the those who attended the forum at the University of Tasmania will either have to stand up for what they want to learn or become used to a more limited study experience.
The sign, in Tasmania at least, is that changes to degrees and courses will no longer be able to be made without the knowledge or resistance of the student community.
Socialist youth organisation Resistance will continue to support and campaign with students around the country to continue down this path and ensure that the welfare of students, teachers and learning is the most important factor considered in any review.