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Students and staff protest University cuts

Over 100 were in attendance to fight staff and course cuts.

Photo: Chuyi Wang.

Organised by the Education Action Group (EAG) and staff activists, over 100 students and staff protested against the University’s proposed cuts to staff and courses.

The protest comes after a joint staff and student action won major concessions from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) over proposed cuts to courses last week. Course cuts have been reduced from 30% to 8% of courses this semester.

Chaired by SRC Education Officers Jazz Breen and Jack Mansell, the protest began outside Fisher Library with a strong focus on the common struggles of staff and students and the need for solidarity.

The first speaker, USyd NTEU branch President Kurt Iveson, congratulated students saying he had “deep bloody gratitude” for all the organising that has been occurring over the past few weeks. 

Iveson explained that the current cuts are nothing new, and need to be fought against.

“There are already only about two thirds of the courses that were available to students six or seven years ago.”

Iveson also encouraged students to contact their Heads of School, and enrol as soon as possible in courses the University is considering cutting.

“Managers will rethink cutting a course when there’s already thirty students enrolled in it.”

Kurt Iveson speaking at the protest. Photo: Chuyi Wang.

As of publication, Honi understands that 85 classes have passed motions against any cuts to courses, staff or working conditions throughout this crisis. 

The motion also calls for the same full list of courses available before the COVID-19 pandemic and for the Federal Government to fully fund the higher education sector, and extend JobKeeper to universities. 

Whilst USyd was briefly eligible for the scheme, the government tweaked the scheme for the third time denying USyd staff from continuing to receive the payment.

The harm to casual staff under the cuts was highlighted by several speakers. 

“I was sacked via email ten minutes before a staff meeting, where it was not acknowledged,” Yaegan Doran, a fixed-term lecturer in Linguistics and representative of the USyd Casual’s Network, told the crowd.

“But many have it worse, I know of one casual in Education who thought his job was safe because he was the only person in the department who had the expertise to teach the unit.”

“But he was laid-off, and is now forced to leave universities altogether or look overseas to support his family.”

Protesters outside F23 Administration Building. Photo: Jazzlyn Breen.

Nina Dillon Britton, a research assistant in the Government and International Relations Department told  the crowd that “after a semester of overwork and underpayment in transitioning to online learning, casuals are being thanked with being sacked.”

“We need to remember that, when asked, the University said these aren’t related to the COVID-19 crisis, they said they were to ensure the ‘financial viability of FASS’. They’re using the cover of the crisis to push through these cuts.”

The protest moved to the Quadrangle and F23 Building, where students also spoke to the harm cuts had to their education.

The motion attached to the window of F23 Administration Building. Photo: Chuyi Wang.

Manon O’Neill, a student in the Department of Government and International Relations (GIR), told the protestors she had “cried” when she had seen the cuts to almost half of the Semester 2 courses.

“If we can win this, we can inspire nurses to fight, teachers to fight, all the essential workers who’ve been crushed by neoliberalism to fight.”

The rally’s final speaker was SRC President Liam Donohoe who spoke out against the commodification of education.

“An education is not forcing casual staff to work unpaid hours to prepare online material at the drop of the hat.”

“An education is not firing them shortly after.” 

Towards the end of the rally, protestors attached a copy of the motion, complete with the names of hundreds of signatories, to the wall of the F23 Building, which houses Vice Chancellor Michael Spence’s office.

Protesters also briefly occupied City Road, chanting “no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities”, before moving on following rumours police were on their way.

Protesters occupying City Road. Photo: Chuyi Wang.

Breen and Mansell told Honi, “Staff and students have a common enemy in this fight; the increasingly corporatised university sector which prioritises business and profit over quality of education.”

“When we see units of study cut, class sizes increased, academics overworked, underpaid and fired it is clear that the age old saying still rings true; staff working conditions are student learning conditions.”