The last cohort of the University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) discontinued Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) students have been thrown into uncertainty after students received sudden emails informing them that in-person practical classes would resume from 1 October, ahead of the planned lockdown lift on 18 October. In essence, TCM students are being forced by their faculty to choose between their health and their education.
According to a press release sent to Honi by the UTS Education Action Group (EAG), TCM students received an email two weeks ago from Peter Meier, the Acting Head of the School of Life Sciences, which notified them that the faculty would be seeking a Public Health Order exemption in order to resume in-person practical lessons. These lessons would entail class sizes of over 50 students learning practices such as acupuncture on each other in classrooms that do not have capacity for social distancing and COVID-safe practices.
With the announcement of the resumption of in-person practical classes, it is clear that TCM students are “outraged and scared for their health, and the future of their already threatened degrees,” as the press release highlighted. An anonymous TCM student expressed their concern about the decision to resume in-person lessons, saying: “I am extremely concerned about this decision, which has the potential to impact not only my life-long health, but also risk my life, and the lives of others, including 50 fellow students and UTS staff… Some students care for newborn babies, young children, or elderly family members.”
The anonymous student also fears that “enforced attendance at UTS by students would very likely eventuate in a COVID-19 outbreak on the UTS campus amongst students and staff.”
“Many within the hierarchy of UTS appear desperate to close the TCM degree down within a set timeframe, without any consideration given to students’ health… I would like UTS to take the safety of students, student families, and teaching staff seriously, and not allow this exemption to proceed, as it would endanger myself, approximately 44 other fellow students, the UTS teaching staff, and the reputation of UTS.”
Bizarrely, students have also reported being suddenly informed via email that they have been removed from the TCM course, without due process or justification, which would prevent them from completing studies that they had planned to undertake before the conclusion of the degree in 2022.
Ryszard Kudelski, a third-year TCM student at UTS, was one of the students who received an email informing them of their expulsion from the degree. “I am totally devastated as I was unexpectedly and unlawfully removed from my studies at UTS by university administration,” said Kudelski in the UTS EAG press release. “It happened very suddenly — I just had [sic] got my test results (at 87.5% which is HD) and was preparing for the next one when I received an email about my removal from the university.”
Kudelski, who is more than halfway through the TCM degree, said: “I already invested heavily into my studies (time, money, hard work)… it is extremely unjust and detrimental to me to just terminate my studies by university administration without any due process and rules.”
The current cohort of TCM students will be the last, after UTS terminated the degree in 2019 due to the course being deemed unprofitable. As such, current students of the degree have until the end of 2022 to complete their degrees, or else have the past few years of education declared void. If the practical lessons go ahead as the Life Sciences Faculty is planning to, students will not have the choice of postponing their studies if they are afraid of contracting COVID-19.
Today, TCM students received an email from the faculty informing them that students may have the option to do their practical subjects in February instead; yet, the University has not been able to confirm this, leaving students confused and uncertain about the future of their education. Woodward told Honi that “this deflection to personal responsibility and choice is bogus.” If students were to chose the as-yet unconfirmed February option, they may be disadvantaged when it comes to accessing their placement.
The UTS EAG is demanding that all unfairly expelled students be reinstated to their degrees, and that UTS postpone all in-person classes until it is safe to hold them. In a comment to Honi, UTS Education Officer Ellie Woodward criticised UTS’s decision, saying that “this is a characteristic and horrible display of how ruthlessly UTS often handles students and their education.”