At the end of 2011 the Sydney University administration announced 340 job cuts (150 academic and 190 general) to be finalised by February 2012. They claim that this is because of reduced income. But they have plenty of money to spend on buildings and technology to promote Sydney University. This is about increasing the profitability of the University by slashing the quality of teaching and learning.

Staff and students are being made to pay for the interests and priorities of the University administration. We must oppose the job cuts and fight against our university being run like a corporation.

Lack of money?

The Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence, says job cuts were necessary to meet the University’s financial targets for 2012. The administration is determined to go ahead with $385 million of planned investment in building and infrastructure but to pay for $53 million of this in 2012 they will cut back on staff expenditure. The building priorities include a new business school and another swimming pool. It is obvious the University is not struggling financially. In fact Spence’s announcement came less than a fortnight after the University of Sydney recorded an operating surplus of $113.7 million for 2010, the third highest of all Australian universities. The University has recently spent almost $750,000 on redesigning the University crest and a further $500,000 on marketing their new logo. A whopping $50 million was poured into an online application system called ‘Sydney Student’ to the dismay of many staff, and $20-30million will be spent taking over the Student Union’s Manning bar. It is clear that the problem is not lack of money, but spending priorities.

Students suffer

The University is already badly understaffed, with ever more students crammed into tutorials and lecture theatres. Meanwhile course options are being slashed back to a bare minimum. Enraged students held protests to save courses and staff in geosciences, political economy and biology in the 18 months, with substantial victories. But the attacks continue. The lack of staff is a well known problem across Australian universities. A recent research paper released by the Australian Council for Educational Research stated there are not enough academics to meet growing demand. The author of the paper, Dr Daniel Edwards, stated that “unless something radical changes you can’t keep dealing with natural attrition and expect students will still be satisfied and patronising our universities as much. Quality is another issue which is questionable at the moment.” The University should be hiring more staff, not removing the very people whose work makes education at Sydney University possible.

They mean business

The warped priorities of the University are being driven by the logic of profit and competition. With less than 50 per cent of tertiary funding coming from government investment, universities are forced to act like businesses where they compete for students and corporate research contracts. The Gillard government declared an “education revolution”, but has done nothing to reverse the enormous cuts in education spending of the Howard era. Between 1995 and 2007, Australian was the only OECD country to see its contribution to higher education (as a percentage of GDP) decline.

Under this market model of education, self-promotion chews up funds. The University pours funds into revamping its superficial image, with constant renovations and new building projects. But when it comes to research, academics will be sacked based on crude output measures. Those who have produced less than four publications between 1 January 2009 and 11 November 2011 are at risk. This has nothing to do with the quality of their research (or their teaching, which is 40 per cent of their job). But the Vice Chancellor is slandering their reputations, claiming that there is a “small minority of academics who do not contribute significantly either to our research or teaching.” The truth is the VC acts like a CEO, intent on cutting jobs to save profit margins. (He is also paid like a CEO with a salary worth $1 million a year – cutting this obscene pay packet would be one way to show some financial responsibility). The VC and upper management benefit from the business model of education – they do not have students or staff interests at heart.

Time to fight back

Students should not put up with yet another assault on our education. We can stop these cuts. The University is nervous – that’s why they announced these cuts only after students had left for the summer.  But they are also determined. Thankfully staff did not hesitate to fighting back – the union organised actions outside the Vice Chancellor’s Christmas party and Alumni dinner. One hundred staff and students gathered outside the University senate meeting and chanted “Staff cuts hurt students”.

But we have to ramp up this campaign, fast. If the administration has its way, the deal will be finalised by late February. We can stop it being implemented, but only with a broad-based campaign involving as many students as possible, which will make life difficult for the University with direct protest action. 2011 saw world-wide struggles for fighting for decent education: mass student protests rocked Chile; a wave of university occupations hit Greece; and in Seattle students walked out against public sector cuts as part of the “Occupy” movement. And here at Sydney Uni, 200 students sat outside the Dean of Art’s office to save the Political Economy department – and won! With these lessons under our belt, we can beat back this latest attack.

Solidarity students will be building the campaign at O-week (29th Feb – 2ndMarch) and organising forums, protests and going to lectures to spread the word. We need your help. Get involved. Phone Freya on 043194259 or email sydney@solidarity.net.au

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