Sydney Uni students and staff start the fight against cuts and fee increases

Students and staff at Sydney Uni are leading the way in the fightback against cuts on campus. With the Liberals announcing new plans to increase student fees, we need to escalate the fight to defend our education.

Sixty arts units are currently on the chopping block at the university. Casual staff have been told they are unlikely to have jobs next semester, with further cuts expected until revenue returns to “normality” in 2024.

Despite not being on campus, students have spent the last few weeks of semester building opposition to the cuts, passing motions in over 80 Zoom classes.

At a 100-strong protest in the last week of semester, students stuck a photo collage of the classes that had passed motions, as well as an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor with 700 signatures, to the wall outside the administration building.

Students are organising within their departments against the cuts. Government and international relations units are being heavily targeted, with 20 courses threatened—so students held a speak-out at Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence’s subsidised mansion. Seven history units are in jeopardy including American Slavery and Fascism and Anti-Fascism. On 2 July history students will hold a teach-in outside the Great Hall to highlight the attack on critical thinking.

Units in Sociology, Anthropology, English and political economy will also be suspended.

Despite quietly gutting Indigenous Studies over the years, rendering it what staff call a “skeleton” major, more Indigenous focused units are set to go.

Already protest action has forced Sydney University to revise down their list of arts subjects being axed.

Whilst the majority of units being cut are elective, management is trying to reduce staff even in compulsory units for degrees. Permanent staff are being asked to teach courses run by expert and experienced casual and fixed term staff. The outcome will be an erosion of teaching quality and higher workloads for permanent staff.

Whilst the revenue shortfall due to reduced international student enrolments is real, staff and students should not have to foot the bill.

Sydney Uni has the funds to avoid cuts, including $600 million in borrowing capacity plus $482 million in cash reserves. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence’s $1.63 million salary would pay for around 10,000 hours of casual tutoring, according to NTEU policy and research director Paul Kniest.

No fee increases

The Liberals could fund the $5 billion hole across the university sector for a fraction of their $60 billion underspend on the JobKeeper program. Instead they have excluded university staff from JobKeeper and refused any extra support for the sector.

Now the Liberals want to make students pay more for their degrees, and push people into courses that serve the needs of business.

The government has announced a doubling of fees for humanities degrees. For these courses Commonwealth contributions will fall to 7 per cent and students will pay 93 per cent of the cost or $14,500 a year. Fees for law and commerce will also increase, while those for nursing, teaching, maths and science will be reduced. But overall students will pay a higher share of the cost of degrees, up from 42 to 48 per cent.

At a time where our Prime Minister claims slavery never existed in Australia, and defends statues of colonial figures including Captain Cook, fighting for a free, accessible education that critically engages with history and politics is of great importance.

Large student protests can help give staff the confidence to take the unprotected industrial action needed to win.

The rank and file staff networks that formed to fight the union’s now-defeated National Framework, which would have conceded across the board cuts to wages, need to be deepened and used to mobilise a fight against cuts and for federal funding.

We need to fight for a University education that is free and publicly funded, not one where big business and politicians dictate what students learn.

By Jordi Pardoel

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