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Staff and course cuts at Macquarie University planned for 2021

Austerity measures to be introduced at Macquarie University.

Macquarie University’s Managing Executive has announced that it plans to cut $125 million from the University’s budget and to reduce the hiring budget for casuals to $0. This will lead to a significant decrease in the number of courses and units available to students. 

In August, Vice-Chancellor Professor Bruce Dowton emailed staff and students, informing them of an estimated $170 million budget shortfall. Macquarie’s Managing Executive, however, has not consulted staff or students about the recent, hasty decision. 

All undergraduate classes with less than 50 students enrolled and postgraduate classes with less than 25 students will face the axe, making elective units and specialised courses particularly vulnerable. In the Faculty of Arts alone, 30 out of 56 majors are being targeted.

Students enrolled in impacted courses may be forced into new degree programs and future students may soon find their first-preference courses are non-existent. The proposed change will result in the prioritisation of lectorial-style classes over tutorials. 

Macquarie’s Executive will make a formal decision about these proposed cuts tomorrow, but, according to inside sources, the Vice-Chancellor does not plan to inform students until October, well after the Managing Executive will have reached a decision. 

Macquarie University dissolved the student union in 2007, after student politician Victor Ma appropriated more than $200,000 from university organisations, funneling the money into his own personal account. Despite a smaller student-activist presence on campus, as compared to other local universities such as UNSW and USyd, students and staff have united and pledged to fight against the proposed cuts. 

Harpreet Dhillon, President of the Women’s Collective and an arts student at Macquarie University, bemoans the loss of her major, gender studies. “Gender studies was my refuge… It helped me to unbottle, put into words, visualise and understand my experiences and social problems that impact communities.” 

The timing of the announcement – during mid-semester break – and the lack of consultation irks Dhillon. “Staff have told me they themselves don’t feel like they have a voice.”

Joshua, another arts student at Macquarie University, says that the majors under threat, which include ‘gender studies’, ‘social justice’ and ‘race, gender, and diversity’, “put a spotlight on often marginalised groups and global issues and create a respectful dialogue about how to not only talk about them, but assess them in a practical way… Students should not only have access to study areas such as these, they should also feel as though, as marginalised groups, they are being represented in academia for other people to learn about, and understand.” 

Louise D’Arcens, a member of the Department of English at Macquarie University, states: “We need majors such as the gender studies major to ensure that our degrees can produce graduates with the depth of knowledge and understanding to perpetuate equality and inclusion in their future lives and workplaces.”

According to 2020 Times Higher Education data, Macquarie has 1 teaching staff member for every 68.6 students, giving Macquarie the worst student to teacher ratio of any university in Australia. Questions remain surrounding this imbalance and how University management will solve this issue if staff cuts eventuate. 

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