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FASS Draft Change Proposal unveils further mergers and cuts

Enrolment numbers will determine what will be cut, merged or otherwise diminished.

Image credit: Infracraft

A Draft Change Proposal (DCP) to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) was released on Thursday 16 September, proposing a new round of changes, mergers and cuts. Proposed changes include two options for the restructuring of schools, and changes to undergraduate and postgraduate course guidelines.

In news that comes as no surprise to the 4104 casuals who were denied conversion to ongoing employment, no full-time equivalent (FTE) changes have been proposed. However, a University spokesperson told Honi that “No staff reductions or departmental closures are proposed. This will have no impact on our current mechanisms for conversion to continuing employment.”

In response to the news that no staff reductions would be proposed, a representative of the USyd Casuals Network told Honi that “We absolutely welcome the announcement that there will be no cuts to continuing jobs. There has been an axe hanging over the heads of jobs and whole departments for 7 months, which has been horrific for those staff. The DCP process has been farcical and it’s something we seek to change in the upcoming EA.”

While the DCP does not propose to reduce the overall number of schools, two options for the restructuring of schools have been proposed. Both options will involve merging and shuffling disciplines across different schools. The proposals are similar, with changes like the relocation of Gender and Cultural Studies to the School of Social and Political Sciences, and the merging of Indian Subcontinental Studies with Asian Studies in the School of Languages and Cultures being proposed in both options.

Option 1 proposes to move a combination of English and Writing Studies to the School of Communication and the Arts, while Option 2 proposes more extensive changes: to establish Film Studies as an autonomous discipline in the School of Communications and the Arts, and to relocate Anthropology, grouping it with the fieldwork-based disciplines of Archaeology and Linguistics “to create synergies for exploring human diversity in the School of the Humanities.”

For staff, the restructuring of schools may see some departmental structures being removed from all or some schools, which will see current Chair of Department roles transition to Discipline Lead roles, as well as changes to reporting lines.

Despite promises of “synergies” and “high-quality student experience”, it is clear that enrolment numbers have become the central consideration for the quality and availability of education. This has been criticised by education activists and the USyd Casuals Network, who believe that “Decisions about units of study should be based on solid educational outcomes, rather than cost-cutting. Consultation is also essential and should include all impacted casual, fixed term and permanent staff, as well as students.”

No undergraduate units at levels 1-3 will be offered that have historically attracted fewer than 24 students “unless necessary for student progression and completion.” In postgraduate coursework, programs that attract below 20 EFTSL (equivalent full-time student load) will be either closed or merged. However, a unit of study being essential has not stopped USyd from cutting subjects or staff before, as was noted in education rallies last year

Under the DCP’s changes, students will have less variety in their studies. In both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, many units of studies with similar content will be co-tabled and co-taught. Undergraduate students will experience a reduced shared pool of Advanced Coursework Units for Bachelor of Advanced Studies. Additionally, the DCP proposes to cut OLEs that have “historically attracted fewer than 3 EFTSL”; this equates to 72 students for 2CP units and 24 students for 6CP units. 

Meanwhile, postgraduate students will see the cutting of units in Table R that have attracted fewer than 16 students. The overall size of the Higher Degree by Research student cohort will be reduced “to better align HDR research with strategic research initiatives, improve on-time completion rates and enhance the quality of our HDR student experience.”

In response to a question regarding how FASS will uphold a “high-quality student experience” amidst these changes, a University spokesperson told Honi that “The focus is on curriculum reform to ensure a consistent and high-quality student experience, and some changes to the Faculty structure to reduce costs and support greater cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

The fight against cuts will continue as staff and management continue Enterprise Agreement negotiations. The USyd SRC Education Officers confirmed that “the EAG will continue to fight these shameless cuts, no matter how they may be obscured in bureaucratic jargon.” 

The USyd Casuals Network celebrated wins for staff, noting that there is more to be done. “We were told that $3.6 million in cuts were necessary and unquestionable, despite FASS surpluses. But last week these financial figures melted into the air, reduced to $500k-$750k in cuts. If we can stop almost $3 million in cuts, we can and must keep up the pressure.”

The USyd Education Action Group is holding a Student General Meeting on October 27. Follow their Facebook page for more details!