Don’t abolish 5-day simple extensions

The decision to change the system needs to be from the democratic voices of students and staff, not made by managers out of touch with student and staff experiences.

The pressures facing University students are increasing, and it is the University of Sydney’s job to ease these pressures and offer an inclusive, accessible education. Simple extensions are a straightforward and effective tool to address stressors, life events and manage time. 

5-day simple extensions were introduced last year as a method to alleviate strains on the special considerations system, which had long been at a crisis point causing extraordinarily long wait times of up to 30 days. When 5-day simple extensions were introduced, the special cons system concurrently hired more staff. It has since seen a 40% reduction in applications compared to this time last year. 

Put simply, 5-day simple extensions are doing what they are supposed to do. However, it remains to be seen whether broader changes to special considerations have made lasting reductions to the obscene wait times which significantly harm students. 

Recently, the SRC and SUPRA conducted a survey that received over 900 responses from undergraduate and postgraduate students, to understand the student perspective on simple extensions, and to decisively display student sentiment. The results of this survey were overwhelming. When asked “would you prefer that the University maintain simple extensions as 5-days, or reduce the time to 3-days?”, 98% of students preferred 5-days, and just two per cent preferred 3-days. This was unsurprising, since similarly large proportions of students identified simple extensions as having a positive effect on their grades and mental health. 

Numerous students provided detailed testimonial evidence on our survey, identifying stress caused by special considerations and the positive outcomes of 5-day simple extensions. Importantly, a large number of students from equity backgrounds filled in our survey, and it was clear that students from different cultural and religious backgrounds, varied abilities and level of study found positive outcomes.

The responses we received included the following: 

“It is so much less daunting and mentally I feel a lot calmer submitting my application through the system instead of asking a teacher and feeling like I’m annoying them. I felt embarrassed asking for an extension as my cultural background meant I felt ashamed and didn’t want to let my teacher down.” 

“As someone who has had a chronic illness since 2020 and only received a diagnosis (and disability provisions), late last year, I often used to rely on these extensions and I think the 5-day system is the best, most accessible system that the uni has offered.”

External factors from the University greatly affect our study. 5-day simple extensions were introduced when COVID was causing increased applications. This year, we can see the cost of living crisis, rent increases and heightened HECS indexation as other major stressors. As one student response said, “with more students having to work as rents increase, shortening time will only increase pressure for no academic benefit.” The University is aware that students are working more than ever, with full-time study loads falling as the average student takes less subjects each year. Despite this, they are proposing to remove the single most versatile tool available to students who wish to autonomously manage their work-study-life balance.

The increasing cost of healthcare and recent reduction of bulk billing GPs is a strain on the ability of students to satisfy the requirements of special considerations — sometimes being forced to see their doctor a second time if special cons deem the medical documentation insufficient in detail. This is in contrast to simple extensions, which are automatically approved upon submission of a student declaration, a non-legal, free and readily downloadable pdf document. 

We have prepared a briefing to the University using this data and resources from the SRC. It was the advocacy of student organisations (the SRC and SUPRA) that forced the University to change their broken, harmful systems last year too. The decision to change the system needs to be from the democratic voices of students and staff. As with any other system, there are issues with simple extensions, specifically the hours required by staff to log them in canvas and the uni portals. The solution however, cannot be a simple reduction in duration of simple extensions, which the Uni does not even claim would solve this or any other issue. 

In the managerialised University, where decisions are made by a class of professional managers, we know that student voices will be ignored when they do not suit the narrative of the University — as has been the case with the University’s response to casuals demanding pay for all hours worked. But it is imperative that the University listens to the overwhelming student response: 5-day simple extensions are critical to student well-being and academic achievement and should not be scrapped.