On Monday night the University of Sydney Senate decided to hold a “mass gathering in the Great Hall” with students, staff and alumni, rather than Convocation, to discuss changes to higher education funding.
This afternoon Senate Fellows Verity Firth, Catriona Menzies-Pike and Patrick Massarani sent an email to those who had petitioned for a meeting of Convocation that reads:
“Although it will not take the form of a formal Convocation, the Senate has determined that there will be a town hall style mass gathering in the Great Hall to begin the extensive consultation process which the University was already planning. This gathering will include students and general staff alongside academic staff and alumni.”
This gathering will be the first formal meeting for members of the USyd community to discuss higher education funding. Importantly, it includes students, who would have been excluded from a meeting of Convocation.
Massarani, elected by the undergraduates, emphasised the benefits of student participation. “Students both undergraduate and postgraduate must be at the centre of any discussions around responding to these changes,” he told Honi.
Today’s email is the only evidence available to the public about what happened during the Senate meeting on Monday. Honi attended the meeting and sat outside for three and a half hours whilst matters were discussed in confidence.
Fellows are barred from speaking about matters discussed during sessions in confidence.
It seemed that the meeting was incredibly tense. Some Fellows were constantly walking in and out of the room, and at times raised voices could be heard. A few hours into the meeting the Senate took a break, during which small clusters of Fellows had fretful discussions outside.
Honi saw the large stack of letters from petitioners for Convocation being carried in by Senate Fellow Andrew West, which looked roughly five centimetres tall. It remains unclear whether the Senate discussed the petition.
After the Senate meeting, Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson told Honi that the gathering would happen in the not too distant future.
Hutchinson cited the Alumni Council meeting held two weeks ago, the staff-student consultative committee and other town hall style meetings as parts of the consultation process. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence called these events a “warm-up”.
Other details of the gathering are either undecided or in confidence. The scope of the agenda, how the speaking list will be run, when exactly the meeting will be held, and how the University will treat the views aired remains unknown.
The gathering could differ from the meeting of Convocation called for by petitioners in a few ways. If the Senate had agreed to summon Convocation then the meeting procedure would be governed by the university by-laws. It would have to be called within 28 days, the motion proposed would be debated, and the meeting would be able to make formal recommendations to the Senate.
Massarani said he believes that the “process will be a genuine platform for students to express their concerns and suggest solutions.”
“Our ongoing lobbying on the equity of the proposed loans scheme is of huge importance to students and continues to yield promising material results,” he added.
Whilst still shrouded in secrecy, this plan for a public meeting could be a unique opportunity for large numbers of students to be formally listened to.