Actions around COVID-19 crisis
SUPRA is fighting for the return of international students
On 4 May 2021, SUPRA Co-Presidents met with Vice-Chancellor Steven Garton and Shane Griffin (Executive Director Sydney Future Students), regarding the University’s plan to bring our international students back to Australia.
The VC said that he and VCs of other NSW universities have met with the Premier of NSW twice recently, and the state government is ‘moderately receptive’ to NSW universities’ proposals.
However, the proposals have been blocked by the federal government for a number of reasons. In particular, while the vaccine rollout is slow, the federal government is not likely to relax travel restrictions before most people in Australia have been vaccinated
We have heard from many students that a Victorian university has successfully managed to bring back their international students. The VC said that this is untrue and that only Charles Darwin University was able to bring some students back, and that was before the Melbourne lockdown.
The Co-Presidents also asked whether the University is able to implement a system to help our international HDR students apply for travel exemptions. They answered that the University is reluctant to do this, because likely students will all be rejected if a large number of them apply. As travel exemptions are assessed on case-by-case basis, the University is not willing to open a up a formal process.
We’ll continue to communicate with the University on this issue and keep our fellow postgraduate students posted.
SUPRA and SRC staff call on the University to withdraw the proposal for staff redundancies
The Vice Chancellor (VC) has released a proposal to discard numerous jobs at the University of Sydney, asking staff to express their interest in taking a voluntary redundancy.
As student union employees, we see first-hand the positive outcomes that supportive, well-resourced academic and professional staff can provide students; and conversely the negative effects that students suffer when the quality of teaching and the provision of associated services are eroded when staff positions are removed. These job losses will see the University experience a reduction of teaching expertise, a loss in course specialisation and a further erosion of vital student support services.
With the recent release of enrolment figures for semester 2, 2020, we all now know that so far, enrolments have only dropped by 2.9% of pre-COVID budget estimates, and are still higher than 2019 enrolment numbers. We understand that, given the very impressive enrolment numbers for semester 2, the VC is now concerned about potential future enrolment decline.
We ask the VC to use alternative methods to fight the potential future decline in revenue, allowing students to receive a valuable education; staff to make a meaningful contribution to the University community; and the University to maintain its standards of excellence.
As affiliate staff, we stand in solidarity with the hard-working academics and support staff facing these proposed redundancies and call on the VC to withdraw his request for voluntary redundancies, and use an alternative method to fight any potential future enrolment decline, avoiding further job losses.
SUPRA signs CAPA statement for improving the quality of education
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) has released a statement that asks universities to place greater emphasis on the quality of education provided. With the shift to online learning this year, CAPA says that ‘a recurring theme from student feedback … is the lack of quality education provided by their respective schools through remote teaching, especially relative to the tuition fees that students pay’. SUPRA has signed the statement and supports the recommendations included in the full statement.
SUPRA’s 12-week semester survey results
SUPRA released a 12-week semester survey on 5 August 2020 through eGrad and our social media accounts. We aimed to provide an opportunity for postgraduate students to share their opinions and provide feedback regarding the University’s proposal to change the length of the teaching semester. We closed the survey on 31 August 2020 with 230 responses received. Of these responses: 69.6% were not in favour of the permanent change to a 12-week teaching semester; 19.6% were in favour; and 10.9% had no opinion or didn’t care.
The main concerns of respondents who were not in favour of a 12-week teaching semester were:
- Students noted that teaching and learning quality would be reduced overall, as well as knowledge depth.
- Students would have less time to learn the same amount of content.
- Less assessments would mean less opportunity for quality feedback and growth.
- Shorter semesters would mean early assessment, and more concurrent assessments in the semester.
- The semester would be likely to be more stressful, busy and harder for students overall.
- Students value the first week of semester. They noted that the first week provides them with an adequate transition period and allows them to have a clear introduction to each unit and decide which units best fit their interests.
- Campus life and experience is vital to students. The first week helps new students get familiar with Usyd life.
- A 12-week teaching semester would cause a reduction in education standards and would negatively impact the value of a Usyd qualification.
Students also felt that if the teaching weeks were reduced, tuition fee should also be reduced.
Following some lively discussion at Academic Board last week, student representatives, including those from SUPRA, alongside staff representatives, voted down the shift to a 12-week semester for Semester 1, 2021. Discussion on permanently changing Usyd’s semesters to 12 weeks as of Semester 2, 2021 will continue.
Report released: 17 September 2020
SUPRA’s anti-racism statement
As the representative association for postgraduate students at the University of Sydney, SUPRA affirms that we are an anti-racist organisation. Racism has no room here.
SUPRA recognises that race, ethnicity and cultural diversity brings vibrant and dynamic depth to our community. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which we work and study, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
In recent times SUPRA has seen racism and cultural discrimination in many forms, including systemic/institutional oppression, state violence, lack of accessibility to adequate food and shelter, exploitation of international students, and Coronavirus-related vilification against Southeast Asian people.
We condemn these actions.
SUPRA wholeheartedly supports the Black Lives Matter movement and stands against any forms of discrimination and unfair treatment based on an individual’s race, colour, nationality and ethnicity, or national origins.
SUPRA is committed to providing Usyd postgraduate students with a more inclusive, equitable and reconciled place to study, work and enjoy university life. We encourage everyone in this community and society to stand in solidarity to prevent and eradicate racial injustice together. We are all in this together.
A message to Usyd students from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU)
Last week the University Vice Chancellor announced a staff Voluntary Redundancy (VR) program, which, if implemented, will lead to cuts to staff jobs and the loss of many important positions across the University.
What would staff jobs cuts mean for you, and your studies? Watch or listen to this short video from the President of the Sydney Uni branch of the NTEU, Kurt Iveson, to learn more, and to see what actions you can take to support staff and your education: staff working conditions are student learning conditions!
For more information, see: http://www.nteu.org.au/sydney
SUPRA reports to the University on the quality of online learning in Semester 1, 2020
New research on the impact of Covid-19 on Phd students
The preprint The Quiet Crisis of PhDs and COVID-19: Reaching the financial tipping point is now available and it outlines the many negative impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on Phd students at Sydney University. SUPRA sponsored the survey and final report and continues to partner with the authors and the HDR Liaison Committee to campaign for improvements for University of Sydney HDR students.
The figure below, taken from the preprint, shows that 75% of respondents said they expected to experience financial hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The research has attracted media attention, including:
- From the Guardian: Almost half of Australian PhD students considering disengaging from studies due to pandemic
- From Nature: Bleak financial outlook for PhD students in Australia
- From Triple M and HIT: Sydney News 13 July 2020 (from minute 0:58)
Correspondence may be addressed to Rebecca Johnson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
NSW Government makes it easier for international students to apply for crisis accommodation support
Recently SUPRA and the SRC wrote to the NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Dr Geoff Lee, with recommendations that we think will assist the most international students impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, including easing eligibility for crisis accommodation support. The NSW Government has now announced changes that mean more students who are in genuine need can receive crisis accommodation. Read the reply we received from the minister that details the changes.
The key changes are:
- International students no longer have to prove loss of job and eviction – instead the applicant can simply confirm that they have lost (or are at risk of losing) their secure accommodation, while meeting other criteria.
- The scheme will also now allow applications from international students who have moved from a student visa to a bridging or visitor visa.
Read our letter to the minister.
SUPRA condemns the announcement by Education Minister Dan Tehan to increase the cost of future arts and humanities subjects at universities by 113%.
While SUPRA welcomes the proposed decreased fees for STEM subjects and an extra 39,000 university places by 2023, we call on the government to provide the additional funding rather than slugging arts and humanities students. If passed in the parliament this means subjects in communications, behavioural science, society and culture will rise to $14,500, over $3000 more than Medicine subjects and the top rate for any subject.
SUPRA President Minran Liu, an international PhD in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said, ‘We understand the government wanting more graduates in Health, Education and Engineering areas but we don’t believe charging humanities subjects important to developing our critical thinking, policy skills, or understanding of the history of humanity, is the best way of achieving this goal. We think this policy is unfair and will in fact turn students away from these important areas.’
According to several news outlets, including The Guardian, the announced proposal will actually reduce government contributions from 58% to 48% while increasing student contributions from 42% to 52%. At a time when young people are bearing the main cost for the pandemic through job loss and opportunities, and reduced hours, this latest attack on young people is not justified. Australia needs to maintain an internationally competitive economy and this proposal will deprive us of future generations of educated and critically minded people.
SUPRA will work with other student organisations and any politicians who oppose this unfair proposal, to ensure it is defeated.
Business School units of study are not eligible for Semester 1 tuition fee rebate
Many students experienced disruption to their learning when their units went online in March. In particular, international students who were prevented from returning to Sydney and could only enrol in a limited range of units of study were disadvantaged. In recognition of this disadvantage, the university offered those students a rebate of up to $1500 per 6 credit point unit, with a cap of $4000 for each student.
However many students who were not eligible for this rebate received notices from the university suggesting that they were eligible – as a result, many students believed that they were owed a rebate. SUPRA has raised this matter with the university and requested that they increase transparency around the rebate process. In response the university has accepted that their communication was unclear and agreed to publish the list of all eligible units of study with a clear explanation on the uni website. Unfortunately, the university has advised that no Business School units are eligible for the rebate, and they will be emailing students to inform them about this.
HDR students are asking for more support
The HDR Liaison Committee and SUPRA have reached out to the Vice-Chancellor regarding support for HDR students. We are grateful for the University’s ongoing support, however, we continue to hear from both students and staff of the need for further support. We urge the University to immediately open applications of a further research period (RP), making a total COVID related candidature extension of two RPs. We also request the University to provide associated financial support to students who further extend their candidature.
Read our letter to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence
Assistance for international students
‘Many thousands of students are managing to pay rent by skipping meals. This is not acceptable’
On 22 May 2020, SUPRA and SRC wrote to the NSW Premier seeking an urgent meeting to address hardships faced by international students during the current crisis. Read our joint letter to the Premier.
On 4 June 2020 the SUPRA and SRC Presidents met with senior advisors to the NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education. Afterwards, on 15 June 2020, we sent a follow up letter to the Minister regarding crisis support for international students.
Enquiry about SSAF fees
On 15 May 2020, our President wrote to the University to enquire about SSAF fees: ‘I am writing to you to represent complaints by postgraduate students who have been impacted by the shutdown of our campuses and reduction or cancellation of student recreational services. Students reasonably want to ask for a partial refund of their SSAF fee since they have not been able to access USU and SUSF services and activities for this current semester. I am also keen to understand the university’s intention for setting semester two SSAF fees if we are planning for another semester of online classes and limited activity on campus. I look forward to your response.’
We received a response on 27 May 2020: read the response from the University.
Housing Defence Coalition – Sydney
A coalition of Sydney organisers committed to defending vulnerable people in increasingly precarious housing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their commitment is for safe and secure housing for all.
SUPRA supports casual workers at Sydney University
We at SUPRA fully support the campaign from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to support all tertiary education staff, particularly with a focus on those with the most precarious employment in our sector.
No worker left behind
Unions and other groups are calling on the government to make sure everyone is supported during this crisis. Key demands are:
- An income guarantee for every worker currently in Australia
- Don’t bailout essential services, nationalise them
- Visa amnesty for all migrant workers, and Medicare extended to cover everyone currently in Australia.
You can sign a petition here
February 2020: SUPRA’s submission to the Vice Chancellor regarding students impacted by the travel ban and COVID-19
In late February of 2020, and again in April, SUPRA wrote to the Vice Chancellor to encourage the University to offer financial support for students affected by the travel ban and COVID-19, as other universities were doing.
24 February – Letter to VC as a Word document
24 February – Letter to VC as a PDF
28 February – Letter to VC as a Word document
28 February – Letter 2 VC as a PDF
15 April – Letter to VC as Word document
15 April – Letter to VC as PDF
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