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Provost commits to student consultation group to oversee SCA negotiations

Max Hall and Subeta Vimalarajah report

Professor Stephen Garton, the Provost, has agreed to consult with students on the impending closure of SCA. Professor Stephen Garton, the Provost, has agreed to consult with students on the impending closure of SCA.

Provost Stephen Garton committed to the formation of a student consultation group regarding the future of Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) in yesterday’s meeting of the Academic Board.

During question time, science faculty student representative Philippa Specker successfully pushed the Provost to establish a formal mechanism for SCA students to continue voicing their concerns to University management.

Specker’s question followed over an hour of exchange between SCA students and the Provost concerning inadequate facilities and academic support for SCA students if the Callan Park campus is closed.

Tamara Vorinski, a current PhD student and single mother at SCA, said many had chosen SCA for its guaranteed, purpose built studio spaces. She particularly expressed concerns – which were later echoed by another member of academic staff – that continuity in PhD supervisors would be compromised and students would need to pay for their own exhibition spaces.

“Students certainly won’t have to pay for exhibition spaces,” Garton promised, guaranteeing the University would make arrangements for SCA’s PhD students on an individual basis. He cited the creation of a “significant new museum on campus” to compensate for loss of exhibition space at Callan Park.

“We do sustain disciplines because of their inherent importance,” Garton acknowledged to Specker, who feared for the future of the Conservatorium and other faculties that run at a deficit. However, Garton also repeatedly said the “financial circumstances [regarding SCA] are complex.”

Garton contradicted previous statements made on Tuesday that SCA enrolments had declined by 25 per cent over five years, telling Honi after the meeting that the figure was actually closer to 18 or 19 per cent. He also revealed SCA’s 2015 deficit was $5.5 million, but refused to detail the financial circumstances of any other faculties to provide appropriate context.

SRC Education Officer, Dylan Griffiths, also emphasised the specific benefits of the Callan Park campus – including disability access not available at future sites and 12 kilns (as opposed to one on main campus) – but Garton was clear that the University “have indicated [to the NSW government] that we would intend to vacate the site”.

“When we do it is up for consideration,” he said.

Characterising SCA as “financially unsustainable” due to the retention of staff whilst student numbers had dropped, Garton argued there “needs to be a natural shrinkage of staff”, and that some staff currently employed by USyd might be sent to UNSW. He also admitted “there’s obviously issues around professional staff”.

The outcome for students and staff remains uncertain. The agreement with NAS and UNSW is to engage in good faith negotiations, which “doesn’t mean the outcome will necessarily happen,” Garton told students.

In the event negotiations do not lead to an agreement, SCA will become a school in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.