UNSW staff vote to support student strike
By Helen Jarvis
The academic staff union at UNSW has voted to support the National Day of Action on March 23, by cancelling classes and holding a stop-work meeting.
A well-attended meeting of members of NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) on March 13 voted overwhelmingly to take this action. Members saw a clear link between deteriorating conditions for university workers and increasing fees for students as funding cutbacks bite ever deeper, and the "degrees 'r' us" ethos contaminates the whole tertiary education system.
A stalemate appears to have been reached in enterprise bargaining, with the administration seeking more trade-offs in the future in guaranteed productivity gains, while the union maintains that these gains have already been wrung from the staff in recent years.
Student/staff ratios have increased, and funds have been shifted away from faculties into central administration. UNSW has continued to perform well in all the new competition sports that DEET is making the universities play, such as the recently completed second Quality Assurance round, attracting research grants and selling its services overseas.
Staff feel that these "successes" should result in some benefits for them also, aside from the campus beautification program, which has certainly improved facilities for all who work and study on the windswept Kensington sand hills.
Academic staff are also angry about a number of internal matters, including fallout from management decisions on restructuring the university. The dismantling of the Centre for Liberal and General Studies has led to considerable resentment, particularly for the poor conditions now faced by longstanding casual staff from the centre, some of whom had taught up to 12 hours a week for up to 10 years, but now have no job security.
A recent decision to set up a new department inside the School of Sociology has again ignited resentment against decision making from on high which flies in the face of the university administrations's prevailing enthusiasm for "managing change".
The National Day of Action, in focusing on "no fees for degrees", has the potential to start building a coordinated campaign among students and staff alike to turn back the commercialisation of education and to seek substantial increases in government funding.