By Toby Walmsley
Returning to UNSW, you might notice that change is in the air. No longer will UNSW “Never Stand Still”; we’re now “Australia’s Global University”. It’s an ambitious tagline. If you’re new to New South (or if you were living under a rock last year), you might not know about the extent of the upcoming adjustments. But if you’re just beginning your studies, the changes will affect you the most. So what’s happening at UNSW in 2017?
This year marks the beginning of the implementation of the 2025 plan. Every ten years, the university organises a committee to develop a document to act as the university’s strategic guideline. It is an opportunity for the Vice-Chancellor and governance team to make a lasting impact on UNSW’s structure and community.
Development of the 2025 plan began in 2015, with the intention of consulting students and staff in 2016, and implementation beginning in 2017. However, many of the changes have students and staff alike up in arms. For brevity, I will focus primarily on the effect these changes will have on students.
What’s the Controversy?
Whilst change often sparks controversy, resistance to the 2025 plan has been unusually fierce. The proposed restructuring is ambitious, with students and staff arguing it will adversely affect their studying and working conditions.
The most controversial change is the switch to a trimester calendar system. Our current academic calendar has two, 17-week semesters, with one week’s mid-semester break, one week’s StuVac, and two weeks of exams. A full-time study load is four subjects per semester. The university is now planning to have three, 13-week semesters, with no mid-semester break, only one week’s StuVac, two weeks of exams, and three subjects per semester.
The university argues that this gives students more flexibility to complete their degree, aligns better with northern hemisphere universities for exchanges, and will reduce workload for students. However, students (primarily through the SRC) argue that course content will shrink, with no reduction in course costs, that the workload will be more intense, (due to a lack of a mid-semester break and small semester breaks) and, as a result, students who work or face other barriers to their studies will be further marginalised.
Meanwhile, faculty specific administrative staff members are being made redundant in an effort to centralise the university’s administration. The university argues that this is to make the administration more efficient. By automating previously manual processes, and removing duplicated administrative positions, the university can lower its operational costs, and improve consistency. However, many students and staff argue that faculty-specific administrative staff are trained in direct response to the needs of a school or faculty, and that this is something that general administrative staff will not be equipped to handle.
Additionally, the automation of administrative roles will make it harder for students to receive support and advice. This change is also controversial because faculties are expected to oversee the implementation of the 2025 plan; without local administrative support, this could prove unfeasible.
You may have been surprised to hear that students were consulted last year about these changes. However, UNSW’s attempt to connect with and gauge the mood of its students has been objectively poor. The university bases its understanding of student attitudes on an email survey sent to all students, around 5,000 of whom replied.
The university states: “Of [the 63% of students] who preferred an alternative [calendar] model, the UNSW3+ model was most popular.” However, this neglects the fact that 37% of respondents preferred the current calendar, and only 28% of students preferred the UNSW3+ (trimester) model. This survey was conducted before complete information was available about the proposed plan.
The university has continued to engage poorly beyond this survey. The university talked to a few student leaders, but often behind closed doors, and there were few noticeable changes made to the plans. After the plan was released, there was a passionate student response, and an SRC-directed rally against the changes.
The 2025 committee used this forum to address students concerns, but according to an SRC exit survey, most students were unsatisfied with the response. The university sent a new survey out to students, which asked recipients to choose from a set of pre-approved positives and negatives about the plan.
The SRC requested that the university release a document outlining: the methods used to handle student feedback, the key concerns identified by students, and changes made in response to these concerns. The 2025 committee promised this document in November, postponed it to December, and has now dropped the matter.
The 2025 plan aims to internationalise UNSW. This is clear in UNSW rebranding itself as “Australia’s Global University”. The university aims to increase the number of students taking exchanges overseas, and increase the number of international students at UNSW. But whether trimesters actually facilitate this is, at best, questionable.
What’s the Plan?
Despite the university’s actions to date, implementation of this plan requires the cooperation and compliance of the student body. The university is confident in (and reliant upon) student apathy, evidenced by their poor engagement and consultation.
Students need to raise their voices, and get involved. Every bureaucratic and alienated decision made on your behalf erodes the value of education and student autonomy.
So what can you do? If you want to hear more about the proposed changes, students are meeting in protest at 1pm, 8 March 2017 (Wednesday, Week 2) on the Library Lawn.
The Education Collective meets every Wednesday, 12-1pm at the Arc offices.