NSW universities on the attack against students and staff

Sydney University’s 2016-20 Strategic Plan is well under way. Course cuts, job losses and more expensive degrees are all vice chancellor Michael Spence dreams about.

The plan is to amalgamate 16 faculties into six, cut 122 degree options to 20 and mess with degree structures in myriad ways to make students pay more. Fees will rise while management sacks and replaces hundreds of administrative staff.

The jobs of scientific research staff are also under attack. More than 100 researchers have been told that their positions will be made redundant. Reports from union meetings suggest that they are so furious that they would take unprotected industrial action immediately if the union called it.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has introduced trimesters to increase profits by churning students through more quickly. The University of New South Wales is following suit, but may back down in the face of a local campaign by students and staff. A Department of Education survey of 178,000 tertiary students released this month showed that UTS students are the most dissatisfied in the country.

Not one to lag behind the rest, Sydney University management is reducing the length of each semester from 13 to 12 weeks and granting HECS coverage to winter and summer schools. This suggests a move to introduce trimesters.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in January that $2.3 billion has been spent on building construction for business students and science research. Spence – the most highly-paid vice chancellor in the country – cries poor when it comes to paying workers and improving staff-student ratios. But he’s got billions to throw around for buildings to cram with students day and night.

The drive for such a drastic “restructuring” of the university comes from an unquenchable thirst for profit, which is made greater by a drought in government funding.

The National Tertiary Education Union at Sydney University is currently in negotiations for a new enterprise agreement. Student solidarity with staff, if and when they take industrial action, would help create a confident, successful strike.

Further, a national student movement that can pressure the government to increase support is the only thing that can save universities from a privatised future.