Student protest stops cuts at Sydney Uni

Students at Sydney University have saved two geosciences subjects from the axe by taking protest action.

Staff were given 24-hours notice that four subjects in the school of Geosciences would be cut, and two merged into other subjects—meaning the loss of two jobs.

Geosciences students started a petition to save their subjects and organised a meeting with the head of geosciences, Peter Cowell, on October 25, just a week after finding out. Cowell met a frosty reception when he tried to justify the cuts by saying they were designed to bring staff workloads into line with the new union agreement. Many rightly pointed out that high workloads should mean more staff, not less.

Instead of properly funding the department, the university, whose financial surplus is $70.9 million, was preparing to proceed with cuts that would make it much harder to take geography majors. Earlier this year, the university spent $750,000 on the design of a new logo.

The next day over 80 students attended a rally, some with homemade placards. Many spoke to the crowd about how the cuts would affect them. They demanded the full reinstatement of the subjects, a demand supported by Michael Thompson, branch President of the Sydney University National Tertiary Education Union. Thompson, speaking at the rally, echoed the call for more funding for staff to decrease workloads.

After again trying to justify the cuts at the protest itself, the day after Peter Cowell announced that two subjects, including the very popular Cities and Citizenship, would go ahead next year. As Kimberley Low, one of the protest organisers, said in an email to supporters, “so much progress within a week and a half [is] thanks to each and every signature, email, meeting and rally attendance from us, the students.”

Cowell also announced that Geosciences will establish a representative body of students and staff to discuss workloads, but it is unclear whether this body will consider employing more staff. Cowell also revealed that the Geoscience cuts were part of 4 per cent cuts to subjects across the board this year. Many union members are also worried that the university’s Green Paper strategic plan will mean more streamlining of subjects and job cuts in administration.

There are still four subjects facing the axe, and two staff fighting for their jobs. The only guarantee of saving them is more protests and pressure from students and staff. The resistance has already sent a message to the university administration. And it shows that when we take a stand, we can win.

Amy Thomas


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