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University considering permanent shift to 12-week semester

Opponents argue the change would lead to reduced course quality and staff pay.

With a delayed start and end to this semester as a result of the three week winter holiday extension, Sydney University is seeking to delay the start of Semester One by one week and shorten the semester to 12 weeks. 

However, in a proposal spearheaded by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Pip Pattison, the University is also controversially considering making this a permanent shift, telling Honi this is “in line with many other universities.” A decision on whether this will be permanent is set to be made early next year.

The University last attempted to shorten semesters to 12 weeks in early 2017, but the proposal was roundly defeated at Academic Board, largely due to a coalition of SRC, SUPRA and NTEU Academic Board members opposing the motion.

Students opposing a 12-week semester proposal in 2017.

2017 SRC representative on Academic Board Imogen Grant has told Honi, that there was a “strong backlash from student and staff unions because it both waters down our degrees and reduces the income of casual academics.”

2017 FASS representative Georgia Mantle said that “myself and other students saw this as an opportunity to rip students off by charging the same amount for less content. Staff members also felt that it would put them under a lot of pressure to reconfigure courses to ensure they met the same learning outcomes with one week less of teaching.”

Whilst the University seems to be pursuing somewhat of a more rigorous consultation process this time around, including emailing all students on Monday with an invitation to provide feedback, there are still concerns.

Staff and student representatives remain unsupportive of the proposal.

“How do we know this is not simply lip service before management just implements ongoing 12-week semesters anyway,” Toby Fitch of the USyd Casuals Network tells Honi.

SRC President Liam Donohoe told Honi: “The consultation process isn’t awful, but ultimately it’s far too rushed for such a big decision… they would like to finalise the consultation process within a few weeks. This is clearly not enough time, no matter how many representatives from key stakeholder groups they chat with about this.”

Donohoe and Fitch see the proposal as a cost saving measure.

“The proposal by management to shorten semesters is yet another move to dilute our education to enrich themselves,” Fitch told Honi

In addition to having to squeeze content into 12 weeks, the shift would also see one less week of pay for casual staff, a cohort who are already under immense pressure at the University.

“Given the lengthy breaks between semesters and with no leave entitlements, casuals would be left adrift for even longer periods of the academic year”, Fitch said.

When asked whether the University would decrease fees proportionally in line with a shorter semester, a spokesperson told Honi that such a measure was not under consideration because management believes students will “gain the same educational outcomes.”

A reduction in semester periods to 12 weeks would bring Sydney University closer to UNSW’s 10-week and UTS’s 11-week trimesters. 

The Sydney University branch of the NTEU did not respond with comment in time for publication.