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Despite 1500 students signing open letter, USyd refuses to reinstate CWAM

The SRC intends to continue advocating for the reinstatement of CWAM and has called on students to email the Vice-Chancellor.

Photo: Paul Jones, Sydney Morning Herald

On Wednesday, the University of Sydney notified student representative bodies SRC and SUPRA that they would not be reinstating the Converted WAM (CWAM) for Semester 2, 2021.

SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu said he was “devastated” by the University’s response, calling it a “tremendous letdown” for the students who signed the open letter as well as for every student struggling this semester.

In September, the SRC and SUPRA launched a campaign demanding the return of the COVID-adjusted WAM — implemented in Semester 1, 2020 to ensure students weren’t academically disadvantaged as a result of online learning and the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as the waiving of attendance requirements for all courses and a week-long extension of Discontinuation (DC) deadlines.

The campaign, which was widely publicised on social media, involved an open letter calling for ‘no-disadvantage’ measures which gained approximately 1500 signatures. The SRC and SUPRA also raised the issue at various committees including the Academic Board and UE Education.

The SRC’s open letter cited the return of harsh lockdowns and major increases in COVID cases in NSW during the 2021 lockdowns as justifying the reinstatement of CWAM, in the context of the University having provided no-disadvantage assessment measures including CWAM in Semester 1, 2020.

Sanavagarapu explained that Semester 2, 2021 was unique in that it was entirely online, with a few weeks in Semester 1, 2020 having been in person.

The introduction of academic ‘no-disadvantage’ measures during the pandemic is not without precedent at other universities, with the open letter highlighting that UniMelb had already introduced such measures in August. Other Australian universities, including La Trobe have also introduced WAM adjustments during the current lockdowns.

The open letter also noted that students had lost work during the recent lockdowns, with many not having access to adequate income support, and the broad impacts on students’ mental health and wellbeing as reasons for the reintroduction of CWAM.

The letter also highlighted that the current lack of academic ‘no-disadvantage’ measures at the University had exacerbated students’ stress levels by increasing the existing pressure on students to perform academically, despite the inherent difficulties of online learning and lockdowns.

Sanagavarapu told Honi that not reintroducing CWAM would have “devastating” impacts on students’ future “career prospects [and] future study prospects.”

According to a statement posted on the SRC’s social media, “the University’s response to the open letter suggested that special considerations was the appropriate and more direct means of addressing the impacts of the pandemic on students.”

“Notwithstanding the current attempts to reform special considerations, the process is hopelessly inflexible and needlessly bureaucratic. Many of the subtle difficulties faced by students are not captured by special considerations or any other existing administrative processes,” SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu said of the University’s response.

In July, Honi received multiple complaints about excessive delays to the special considerations process which had negative impacts on the mental health of students already struggling through a lockdown and online learning.

Sanagavarapu re-affirmed the SRC’s intent to continue advocating for the reinstatement of CWAM and raising it in future after the university’s rejection of the open letter.

The SRC has called on supporters to email Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott (vice.chancellor@sydney.edu.au) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Pip Pattison (dvc.education@sydney.edu.au) demanding they reinstate CWAM.

Sanagavarapu said that the “University needs to listen to students and take them seriously” in their calls for greater support in the context of the “profound disruption to learning” they have faced this semester.