Is There Joy After Sydney Student?

Why is enrolling at USyd so hellish?

One of the funnier memes in circulation imagines people befriending long dead peasants in hell, a thought experiment revealing the temporal and cultural differences that limit one’s ability to form forever-friends in the afterlife. Thankfully, USyd students will be at no shortage of small talk with centuries-old serfs, with your average Byzantine peasant well versed in the sort of abysmally designed, void-like bureaucracy common to both medieval governments and the Sydney Student website. Indeed, they might be left wondering what the discovery of electricity, an industrial revolution, several leaps forward in global telecommunication, and the advent of the internet was all for if administration and enrolment is still so horrific hundreds of years on. 

My story with Sydney Student begins at the end of last semester, when I confirmed with both the outgoing and incoming honours coordinator my eligibility to continue in the School of Economics Honours stream. I had to submit enrolment exception requests via Sydney Student to enrol in pre-honours units. Fine. The advertised ten business days it takes for these requests to be processed came and went, at which point I learned these turnaround times don’t apply in “busy periods”. To me, that seems akin to buying a lifejacket that floats, just not in water. 

In the weeks-long wait for my enrolment to be finalised, University administration managed frequent updates on all the important deadlines I was missing by not re-enrolling, but remained radio silent as to my actual enrolment. 

Three weeks later, my enrolment exception requests were finally accepted, a victory abruptly halted by Sydney Student’s direction to complete “departmental permission” applications for these same units. Why I couldn’t have completed these seemingly identical forms at the same time as my enrolment exception requests is a mystery, only explained by Sydney Student’s apparent affinity for useless correspondence. 

While this sounds like a massive whinge on my part, substantial delays in enrolment can have serious consequences. As one student who completed an internal degree transfer (which they note should have been straightforward) explained, resolving these issues can take up the “entirety of the summer”. Moreover, delays mess with your timetable: because I couldn’t properly enrol for six weeks, I’ll be on campus every single day. For anyone with even a whisper of a commute, this is a timesuck that can make work, study, and any semblance of a life outside uni difficult to plan. The impact is particularly brutal for students who must work to live and study in Sydney, where inconvenient timetabling can mean forgoing shifts.

In addition to the myriad issues with Sydney Student, separate problems stemming from the centralising of requests to discontinue a unit can uniquely impact disabled and disadvantaged students. A discontinue (DC) grade can be recorded on Sydney Student in place of an absent fail (AF) or incomplete result (IC) when a student discontinues a unit after the census date. Having DC grades recorded in a timely fashion is essential for many students to re-enrolling and meeting WAM requirements. While students could previously go through their relevant faculty to discontinue a unit, changes made late in 2021 now require discontinue requests to be submitted through the Student Services portal. 

This involves far less human contact in a system that is already difficult to navigate, a change that SRC Welfare Officer and inaugural SULS Disabilities Officer Grace Wallman describes as making re-enrolment “massively difficult”. As Wallman also notes, disabled and disadvantaged students are more likely to access these services in the first place, compounding the issues with this system. For students who lack the institutional knowledge and support to navigate this bureaucracy, the task can become unbearably difficult. 

Unsurprisingly, the discontinuation process is also plagued by massive wait times. Honi spoke to one student who has waited 26 days and counting for their discontinuation request to be processed. In lieu of any clear chain of command in the centralised discontinuation process, let alone clearly advertised turnaround times for requests, students are being left to languish in uncertainty while waiting for DC grades. 

In all of my conversations for this story, one recurring issue was that attempts to streamline and centralise  enrolment created more problems than they fixed. Opaque enrolment interfaces dissolved any sort of chain of command in these systems, making it difficult to figure out who to contact when issues arose. Automated complaint and query lodging forms, like those offered by the Student Centre website, lead to delayed, non-specific responses to even simple questions (methods you might try for more success: prayers, manifestation, Mark Scott’s Twitter DMs, public toilet cubicle graffiti). 

As 2021 SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu notes, these systems are often disconnected, leaving a “hodgepodge of centralisation and decentralisation” that makes it difficult for any one person/interface to resolve problems. 

The bottom line is this: enrolment is already confusing enough, but the second you demand anything more than the bare minimum from the system –an honours application, a request to discontinue a subject –the entire thing buckles under the pressure. This is not a system designed for disabled people, working people, people who are the first in their family to go to uni, or the time-poor. This means it is not a system designed for students. Hopefully it makes a good story in hell.