Uni education under fresh attacks

The attacks on tertiary education around Australia continue to escalate. The University of Wollongong has announced it would reduce the current 11 faculties into five “super-faculties” as part of a five-year plan aimed at putting the university in the “top 1%” of global institutions.

University vice-chancellor Paul Wellings told ABC News: “The proposal is merge faculties, it’s not about laying down activities, it’s about a reorganisation to maximise the assets that we've got.”

Wellings told the Illawarra Mercury the super-faculties plan meant “[in terms of courses] we will be expanding our brief rather than reducing our brief. It’s about enhancing the student experience and creating more opportunities for interdisciplinary courses and joint degrees across subject boundaries.’’

However, Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association President Peter Hughes told ABC Radio that students still have big concerns about the subjects that will be on offer.

He said: “We’re worried that with the streamlining of faculties some of the degrees offered to especially undergraduate students may be watered down. There are concerns that the more profitable, more vocational degrees will be given priority over perhaps more classical degrees such as humanities.”

The university’s draft strategic plan is open for consultation until the end of next month.

Elsewhere around Australia, universities have been criticised over arrangements to allocate the proceeds of the Student Staff and Amenities Fee (SSAF).

Students at Sydney's Macquarie University held a public forum on August 7, hearing from postgraduate and undergraduate students who have faced impediments and frustration from university management.

Student member of the Macquarie University Council, Gemma Brooks, outlined big problems she had with the body drawn up to determine allocation of SSAF funding, including the poor representation of women and the small minority of representatives directly elected by students. Brooks was the convener of Macquarie University Student Representative Association (MUSRA) last year.

At the University of Queensland (UQ), students have expressed outrage after every major ticket competing against the incumbent “Fresh Union” group was declared invalid for upcoming student union elections. The tickets were excluded from the election under constitutional changes made just days before the elections were announced.

An appeal to the student union’s electoral tribunal was dismissed. About 60 candidates have withdrawn from the election to protest Fresh’s moves.

Students have called a protest in the Great Court on August 29. Facebook page “Democracy 4 UQU” said the protest will “demand free and fair elections and a more transparent UQ Union”. The group has also called upon the university management to intervene in the union.

As neoliberal attacks on tertiary education and the right to independent student organisations grow around Australia, so does resistance. Students, academics, educators and campaigners from around the country will gather at the Australian National University for the EduFactory conference from September 30 to October 1.

The conference calls for “students from far and wide to converge at the home of the Australian political class and build a strong student movement”. Register for the conference on its website.

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