The University of Sydney ended last year with a $117 million surplus, but is moving close it's Koori Centre. The Koori Centre has supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the university since 1989. It also coordinates the teaching of Indigenous Studies and provides a library, comfortable meeting space and computers.
The Centre provides support staff whose role was to help Aboriginal students through their degree. Instead of maintaining and expanding the Centre, student says the university is seeking to close it.
University management says the Koori Centre’s functions will be incorporated into a broader “Centre for Cultural Competencies”. It assured staff no jobs will be lost in the process, but in the context of course and job cuts meted out last semester, Koori Centre students and staff suspect the worst.
Kyol Blakeney, an Aboriginal student who often uses the Centre's facilities until late in the evenings to finish his assignments, told Green Left Weekly that “two main support staff have been taken out of the Centre and students have been forced to trek half way across campus to meet with them.
“Staff doors are now closed, making it hard for students to feel they can ask for help, when they have previously been open. The two staff members who have replaced our main support staff don't say hello to students and are not helpful or encouraging.
‘On all the main entrance gates of this university are “Gadigal Nation” signs. This university recognises Aboriginal ownership but can't grant us a small space of our own. International students have a whole floor and Muslim students have a large prayer room to themselves. Why can't we have our Koori Centre?” asked Kyol.
“I’ve got great assistance from the Centre, as did other students. But I don't know if I will be able to finish my course without the Koori Centre. Others feel the same.”
Students fear the Centre will be closed and locked during the summer break. Nicola Bewley, a social work student, told GLW that she was told in her “Introduction to Indigenous Australia” lecture on October 24 that “the Koorie Centre was being closed down” and “that you people doing this are the last ones doing this subject under the Koori Centre, as it will be dispersed into the Arts after this.'
Students have vowed to take more protest action before the break against management's attempts to mainstream Aboriginal education. They have called a protest outside the university’s Fischer Library for 1pm, October 31.