Uncertainty is the dominant feeling amongst students, staff, and patients as the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) finalises moves to axe the long-running Bachelor of Health Science (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and its Chinese Medicine Clinic in the heart of Sydney.
The four-year degree — initially established as one of the first outside China in 1969 — will be axed in 2021 after a review by the Faculty of Science found the course was neither financially viable nor in the faculty’s strategic direction.
The move has attracted stinging student opposition after close to 9000 alumni and current students signed a petition demanding management retain the degree, referring to its important role in improving community access to complementary medicine.
Students and staff rallied on the University’s Alumni Green today, demanding the Faculty stop prioritising “profit over healthcare.”
A part-time student who wished to remain anonymous told Honi of how the decision came without warning.
“I am both shocked and very angry. I feel UTS should have a responsibility to see the current students accepted into the program through to the end of their course.”
Under current plans, students who are not on track to complete the degree by 2021, including students commencing this year, will be given two options: Internal transfer to another major in the Faculty, or external transfer to an existing Chinese medicine program at another, yet unconfirmed, institution.
First year student Georgia told Honi that UTS previously suspended intake for the degree back in 2018, but reopened enrolments after receiving advice that at least two years would be required before the course could be discontinued.
“[UTS] knowingly gave us a position and took our money with no intention to let us complete our studies. Furthermore, [UTS] provided letters of guarantee to international students that they would be able to complete their studies.”
“I feel grave misfortune that we will lose an establishment with such a high quality of staff and education,” Georgia said.
The Faculty has been conscious of student concerns over the future of the degree, with a special Faculty Board meeting slated for tomorrow which is expected to confirm the axing.
“I do accept that the uncertainty created by the absence of concrete information in relation to the future of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at UTS is a cause of frustration and anxiety for TCM students, staff and community more broadly,” Dean Dianne Jolley wrote in an email to students on Tuesday.
The UTS Chinese Medicine Clinic — which hosts student interns and offers clinical treatment to members of the public at a significantly reduced cost — is also on the chopping block, despite ranking fourth in revenue generated for the Faculty of Science, and supporting more than 6000 patients every year.
“The purpose of the clinic is not a money making machine, but to serve the community,” a recent graduate told Honi at today’s protest.
Affected staff declined to provide comment to Honi because the University’s employment policy prohibits staff from talking with media.
Back in June, the peak body, Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) wrote to the Faculty Dean to oppose the course’s discontinuation.
“AACMA strongly urges UTS to carefully consider any decision to close the course,” AACMA President Waveny Holland wrote in the letter.
Traditional Chinese medicine — a broad school including acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, and practices like qi gong — is on offer at three Australian universities, including undergraduate and postgraduate programs at Western Sydney University.
More than 3 million people are clinically treated using traditional Chinese medicine annually, according to research by AACMA, with increasing interest in the ancient therapy techniques in recent years.
Students told Honi that the course offered an important body of knowledge around the non-invasive treatment of chronic health conditions.
“I want to be doing something which I believe in, which is beneficial and can help people, and is an accepted and well-researched alternative to Western medication,” one student remarked.
“TCM can really help situations that are not clinically diagnosed,” final year student Bonte added.
A UTS spokesperson confirmed a majority vote had been cast to discontinue the program because of its “poor financial viability, research productivity in comparison to other areas of the faculty, and strategic fit within Science.”
“UTS is currently negotiating details such as credit recognition with an alternative provider to ensure the smoothest possible transition with the maximum possible credit, of any students who are not able to graduate before the end of 2021.”