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University considers ‘mitigating’ 12 week semesters with alternative proposal

Student representatives and casual staff say they have not been consulted about the new proposal.

Professor Pip Pattison, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education) has proposed that the University retain 13 contact weeks a semester, but that Week 13 become a revision week and that non-examination assessments be due during STUVAC.

Pattison will recommend to the Academic Board that for the 2022-2026 academic calendar, they choose between the new proposal (Option B) and the 12 week semester one (Option A), which has been met with overwhelming opposition from students and staff. An option to keep the existing structure is not included.

SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu told Honi that the new proposal was “unwarranted and unnecessary,” saying that it did not receive the same level of consultation as the initial one. “A proposal of this kind should not be introduced at the eleventh hour, in a limited number of working groups and at the University Executive (where there is no student representation).”

“As students and staff have pointed out ad nauseam, the status quo is perfectly acceptable … We are also particularly worried about the prospect that students will now have a diminished stuvac, and [will be] forced to spend the time reserved for completing exams on time-consuming assessments.”

Framed as a mitigation in response to negative feedback about 12 week semesters, Pattison has also proposed that if the Option A 12 week semester proposal is approved, the University will offer up to three hours of “relevant, funded professional learning” prior to the semester in place of lost classes for casual academic staff whose income will be hit by the change.

Robert Boncardo of the USyd Casuals Network told Honi that there was no consultation with casual staff in the drafting of the recommendation, which would see the exploitation of casuals “exacerbated” while further “degrading education opportunities.”

“It’s a completely unsatisfactory response. These three hours of funded professional learning would not be paid at the same rate as teaching a tutorial or lecture; they would be paid at the administration pay rate which is about a third. It would not be compensation at that level.”

“We would still be having to prepare the same amount of material in those 12 weeks. Where the most exploitation takes place is in that preparation.”

Moreover, Boncardo said that Option B, the 13 week proposal, “shows something of the level of management’s ignorance of what goes on in the classrooms. We already use week 13 to consolidate and integrate learning.”

A University spokesperson told Honi that they “would not expect to see a great deal of change” if Option B was adopted, claiming that “spreading assessment and revision across Weeks 13 and 14 affords more flexibility in use of time by students for assessment and revision.”

The University has contradicted claims that staff and students were not consulted for the new proposal, stating that consultation had been “undertaken via the Semester Advisory Group which includes the leadership of staff unions and student organisations as well as representation from different units across the University.”

The spokesperson also said that “the details will need to be worked out” when asked what rate casual staff will be paid for funded professional learning if the 12 week semester is adopted.