President’s Report: Jen Light
In mid January the Group of Eight (a collection of Australia’s supposed top eight universities, of which Sydney University is) made a submission to the Federal Government’s review of the demand driven funding of Higher Education. The submission called for the first step in the ever-pressing push by some universities in Australia to fully deregulate fees and the sector.
The submission suggested that Australian Universities should be able to opt out of Government funding and in exchange charge fully deregulated fees for particular courses. The GO8 proposal was to deregulate law, economics, accounting, and commerce. The submission argued that these specific courses traditionally award with high paying jobs and therefore student’s long-term benefits would allow a higher fee. The proposed fees would be three times the current rate.
The deregulation of fees is an incredibly dangerous road to go on and one that the SRC is firmly against. Allowing Universities to choose the rate in which they charge, will evidently lead to fee increases and create a greater socio economic gap. It will encourage a culture in which those who will be completing high return courses such as law and commerce will be the students who can afford it. The push over the last decade for Universities to increase the amount of students from low socio economic backgrounds and create a more inclusive acceptance system is counter acted by this push for deregulation of fees.
Although this proposal was submitted without knowledge from the VC Michael Spence, and has not been approved by the Sydney University Senate therefore not an official policy of the University of Sydney it is still a policy endorsed by the group of eight.
On the 26th of March the SRC will be Marching with students all across the state and the country for the National Day of Action against Abbott and Pine’s Education cuts. Join us at Fisher Library at 12pm to fight against any further cuts to your education.
General Secretary’s Report: James Leeder
It is clear to anyone who has seen the QS university rankings over the last few years that Australian higher education has a funding problem. This problem has not only meant that we have seen higher education cuts repeatedly over the last few years, but also that a clear principle over how education should be funded has now cemented itself; that the cost of education should be borne by the individual.
At the moment we know that the federal government is considering moves to reduce direct funding of courses, as well as funding of universities as a whole. The removing of subsidies for courses (which means higher course costs for students), which has recently been proposed by the Group of 8 universities themselves (this includes Sydney) for law, economics and business degrees, has also been lauded as an optimal solution. Ultimately, changes that raise course costs only have negative impacts to students and to society, and this has been seen clearly when similar proposals have been implemented in other countries.
A research briefing on the effect of the 2010 higher education reforms in England was published by the British parliament in February this year. It details in clear statistics the impact that removing subsidies and uncapping fees had on students. It found that within two years of implementation, large reductions to student numbers occurred with a 12% reduction in domestic and international undergraduates and a 9% reduction in postgraduates by 2012. These drops where serious enough to warrant a response from the Governments’ Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which described them as “significant”. Considering what the reforms did, it is not hard to see why. Students are not interested in graduating with crippling debt and for many potential students, particularly those who are less fortunate, raising fees shifts the balance in their consideration of whether or not to go to university. Making university more costly and placing the burden of fees directly onto students drastically affects the accessibility of tertiary education. For a country that prides itself on high social mobility and a deeply egalitarian culture, moves to reduce the accessibility of university should be stopped at all costs.
Unfortunately, it is clear that the government does not care what the impacts of its changes are. They have already reformed the start-up scholarship, a scholarship for students who receive centrelink, to change it into a HECS-style loan, meaning poorer students will now be graduating with more debt than their wealthier counterparts. If you care about what these changes may do, I encourage you to get involved with the SRC and I hope to see you at the National Day of Action against the proposed cuts on March 26.
Education Officers’ Report: Ridah Hassan & Eleanor Morley
The Education Action Group has been really busy the last couple of weeks trying to build for the national day of action on March 26th. We have been contacting clubs, societies and collectives to participate, putting up posters, leafleting, chalking, making lecture announcements, and setting up stalls to get the word out. Hopefully you have heard it’s happening by now. If not, well, shit.
Next Wednesday March 19th, exactly one week out from the NDA, we’ve planned a blitz day. The Abbott government isn’t going to fight itself and we want to try bring as many students as possible to scream against our scummy PM and his snake-like crony Christopher Pyne (eurgh). We’re going to start the day leafleting Redfern station at 8am, before setting up on Eastern Ave for a day of banner painting, placard making, and photo petitioning. Stop by if you see us!
March 26th is shaping up to be a really important day for students. Last year proved that protests can win. By hitting the streets we turned education into an election issue, and forced the Labor party to back-flip and oppose the cuts they introduced, when they took opposition. Just recently, the Senate also rejected legislation that would turn Start-Up Scholarships into loans, another victory for the campaign. But we’re not in the clear, and need to keep up the fight.
Politicians aren’t interested in meeting us and reasonably discussing our issues, they’re not interested in well articulated letters or argument. We can only force them to change their minds through mass action. March 26th is our first chance to do just that.
If you think Abbott and Pyne are fucking bastards, if you are sick of your tutorials packed to the brim, if you are frustrated by course cuts, if you want to support staff wages and conditions, if you want to demand more student welfare not less, if you want to support international student rights, if you want quality and free higher education – you need to be at the rally on March 26th, 12pm outside Fisher library. See you there!
The education officers apologise for any content included in the 2014 Counter Course Handbook that was not attributed to its author. There was content we included from previous handbooks, and unfortunately we forgot to seek out their authors and add them to our thank-you list at the end. We apologise for this mistake.
Wom*n’s Officers’ Report: Georgia Cranko, Phoebe Moloney & Julia Readett
We are very excited to be a part of the SRC this year and continue the great tradition that the Wom*n’s Department has held over the years. Over the summer we had a great time organising our annual publication Growing Strong. Developing new skills such as InDesign and Photoshop thanks to our publications managers was fantastic, as well as working with other wom*n students on producing a beautiful celebration of wom*n’s writing.
The publication was officially launched ay O-Week and was a huge success, with new students and old students really enjoying what we all came up with. We’re really excited for our launch which will be held at the Newsagency in Marrickville and will feature slam poetry, tea and the chance to meet new students and catch up with old students.
Our O-Week experience was nothing but positive with over 120 sign ups and lots of enthusiasm and passion from students all round. We loved selling our consent undies which featured embroidered phrases that raised awareness about consent in a fun and informative way. We also attached a leaflet that further explained the complexities of consent and provided services and access to further resources. We were also very excited to promote the Wom*n’s Self Defence workshops that we’ll be running this semester. Lots of students were really receptive to the idea and many felt that should never be the sole solution to ending violence against wom*n, but is an important part of developing confidence and empowerment.
We would like to thank all those students and staff who have helped us throughout the summer and helped prepare us for the year ahead. We are really looking forward to working more with staff and students of the SRC and feel that the summer and O-Week have prepared us with the experience we need to start the year.
Indigenous Officers’ Report: Kyol Blakeney, Madison McIvor, Brad Hanson & Crystal Dempsey
Last year, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students spent a majority of the year increasing awareness on Indigenous issues within the University and also gained attention from the wider community from down the road at Redfern to Alice Springs radio. Attention was drawn to the Koori Mail and the Indigenous Times with the controversial question, “What is happening to the Koori Centre?”
Here is the truth. After negotiations between students and management, the Koori Centre has remained a space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students so far. It is equipped with a study area, library, and a common room. While these are the bare essentials, there has been major staff shortage in the space and most of the rooms that used to be offices are empty. The Koori subjects are now being amalgamated into the Education and Social Work Faculty.
As far as we know, there is a five-year plan to build another space within the University known as The National Centre of Cultural Competence. While there have been many questions and concerns regarding the changes in the Koori Centre, we cannot make a judgment on this strategy yet. One legitimate worry, however, is the fact that there has still been no immediate improvement to the conditions of the support network for the students.
The remainder of the year was about increasing the awareness of Indigenous issues and presence in the University. The collective made history this year by having the first Aboriginal student councilor to be elected by the students and the first Aboriginal Vice-President of the SRC. To further achieve this goal, the Indigenous students founded the Wirriga Society. This society is open to all students of the University and encourages the coming together of cultures to gain understanding between them. Wirriga has also been given the opportunity to co-ordinate the Indigenous Festival
This year, we will be pushing for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to be permanently flown on campus along with some physical changes to our space in Old Teachers’ College to promote our culture. We will continue with our aim to work collaboratively with staff and management and hold regular autonomous BBQs and lunches across campus for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The Indigenous Office Bearers for 2014 are Crystal Dempsey, Madison McIvor, Brad Hanson, and Kyol Blakeney. You can contact them at email@example.com.
Vice Presidents’ Report: Laura Webster & Max Hall
We’ve always thought it was slightly unfair that Sydney Uni management do little else but treat students as nothing more than numbers on a page. In order to celebrate the release of the new Veronica Mars movie (which one of your VPs watched at 3 in the morning) we decided to do some not-so-subtle sleuthing to find those dirty facts the Uni doesn’t want you to know.
You, dear reader, are likely a non-Indigenous, Australian wom*n who was raised in the affluent Inner West… you’re also studying a BA. The numbers don’t lie and the numbers paint an interesting picture of the people that populate your lecture theatres, dictatorially dominate your tutes and get between you and a meat box after a hard days study at the neoliberal factory. Inside these sandstone walls, 57% of 53 000 students are female, just ahead of the national average of 56%. International students comprise 22%, while regional and Indigenous students make up only 5.6% and 0.8% of the populace respectively.
This places USyd behind the national average in intake of both regional (6.5%) and Indigenous students (1.1%). These shortcomings, whilst embarrassing, don’t come close to the extraordinary underrepresentation of people from a low socio-economic background. Nationally, 17% of students come from a low SES area. At USyd, that number halves to 8.6%.
These statistics are damning to a University that claims to be “founded on principles of diversity and equity”. If Spence continues to run with this people pleasing line, he should closely follow it up with “but if you have the dollars, I have your acceptance letter!”. No brochure filled with buzzwords can apologise for the inequitable reality that this number represents, no matter how much money the university throws at ‘media consultants’ to cover it up. If education remains the silver bullet that improves the livelihood of all who receive it, then our University is failing abysmally to share this.
It goes without saying that an attachment to traditional demographics and tuition cheques should never be allowed to stand in the way of an inclusive and socially conscious admissions policy; yet if recent alterations to housing scholarships are anything to go by it seems as though the university could care less. These changes will leave students in need of accommodation unsure whether they will receive assistance until well into the semester – long after they have signed a lease and begun paying rent (which is also ridiculously high). Students in need of help = not Spence’s division.
Management and admin must stop thinking about their ludicrous pay checks and realise that education is a privilege owed and deserved by all who seek it, rather than a commodity exchanged with those who can afford it.