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“Our education is not a commodity”: Students and staff protest ongoing uni cuts

There were contingents from both USyd and UTS.

Photography by Aman Kapoor.

A contingent of students and staff gathered in front of Fisher Library on Wednesday to protest continued cuts to staff and courses throughout the higher education sector.

Co-organised by the Education Action Groups from USyd and UTS, the rally saw protestors speak about the impacts of staff redundancies, subject cuts across multiple faculties, and university fee hikes.

Casual tutor Robert Boncardo described the University’s cuts as “pandemic profiteering,” alluding to the University accepting hundreds of voluntary staff redundancies despite ending 2020 in a surplus.

Boncardo also described the “ridiculous” workload metrics that casual staff are subject to, and cited upcoming enterprise agreement negotiations as “an unprecedented opportunity to ask for better teaching and learning conditions.”

SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu criticised the University’s  proposal of twelve week semesters.

“Students and staff have recognised that it is adverse to their interests, it worsens the quality of their learning and ensures that more content is crammed into less time…casuals have to do even more work for even less pay,” Sanagavarapu said.

Protestors marched down Eastern Avenue and City Road to meet another contingent in front of UTS Tower.

There was a considerable police presence at the protest. Photography: Aman Kapoor.

Marching protestors were escorted by a considerable police presence, including approximately fifteen officers on foot and several patrol cars. Six mounted police were on standby in Victoria Park.

At UTS Tower, protestors listed their demands for no job or course cuts, free education, no forced online learning, and no exploitation of international students through fee hikes.

UTS casualised academic Mark Gawne argued that if universities are allowed to continue with cuts, staff and students would be forced to “foot the bill for this [economic] crisis”

“Many of the worst case scenarios projected for the sector did not materialise…Despite this, we were told by the University that we had to accept the cuts to save the institution itself.”

UTS Ethnocultural Officer Melodie Grafton questioned UTS’ decision to cut specific courses including ‘Sex, Race and Empire,’ which explores the historical and ongoing impacts of colonialism.

“Racism requires your silence, anti-racism demands your voice…Where is your voice UTS, do you stand with us?”

UTS International Students Officer Luna Manandhar also spoke, saying that “treating international students like a money pot is not acceptable — don’t use us as a business.”

NTEU organiser and academic Paddy Gibson spoke about the precarity of work faced by university staff, saying that over twelve years of employment at UTS, he has been kept only on single-year contracts.

“Untold numbers of casuals and insecure staff have lost their jobs…the University wouldn’t even provide the NTEU with their figures,” Gibson said.

Protestors marching down Eastern Avenue. Photography by Aman Kapoor.

The protest ended with a final march to the UTS Alumni Green in front of the Chancellery.

UTS Education Officer Ellie Woodward said: “This is not a business, our education is not a commodity to be bought and sold. Our education is a human right.”