Prove your humanity

Students at Curtin are facing a serious attack on our education. In addition to the governments cuts, Curtin is now planning on cutting hundreds of staff in addition to courses, units and student services.

On September 10, dozens of students, academics and support staff turned up to protest this attack. Curtin Student Fightback, the group behind the demonstration, wants this to be the first step in a campaign to push back against the university’s plan to sacrifice staff’s livelihoods and student’s education in the pursuit of preserving its finances.

What do we know?

Several changes have been floated by Curtin in this proposal. Ultimately, they are seeking to make $45 million in cuts across the campus and staff are expected to bear the brunt of this, with $41 million coming from the staffing budget.

Central to this proposal is the sacking of some hundreds of staff. The National Tertiary Education Union has stated that as many as 300 jobs will be cut (or almost 10% of staff) if the proposal is carried out. What we must keep in mind though is that these 300 jobs refer to full time equivalent jobs, meaning the number of staff impacted will be far greater due to the casualisation of work on the campus.

In addition to these job cuts, the university is looking to cut entire courses as well as individual units. It is also proposing to consolidate units, meaning students studying one degree will be forced to take units from another course as core units. Also flagged is the possibility of school mergers within faculties, which would be a step towards the degree structure at UWA or the University of Melbourne where students study generic undergraduate degrees and require further study for any real qualifications.

The proposal also includes “Seeking more efficient and effective ways to support teaching and research at our global campuses, including through better alignment of teaching calendars”. This same argument was wheeled out in 2018 when the university unveiled its plan to introduce trimesters to the Bentley campus. While it was shelved as a result of a serious student backlash, clearly the university has not given up on these plans.

These are only a few of the changes proposed by the university. The full list also includes discontinuing certain student services, automating others, as well as “streamlining” academic processes and more.

A question of priorities

Curtin claims it has no option but to pursue these changes, flagging a decrease in government contributions and a lack of international students as reasons for the cuts. In doing so the university admin hopes to portray itself as a victim of circumstance in the hopes that staff and students do not recognise that administration has made an independent choice to sack staff. But this is exactly what these cuts are—a choice by the university to slash staff in order to preserve its financial situation.

The university is not about to go broke. Indeed, in the proposal it states that it is making these changes to continue generating an operating surplus greater than 2% on revenue. These changes are also being made to keep Curtin’s unrestricted reserves of cash and financial assets, which in 2019 were nearly $500 million, as high as possible.

If the university is in such a dire financial situation, we are left asking several questions

  • Why is it that executive pay remains so high?
  • Where is the announcement in this plan that the Vice Chancellor will be taking a cut to their generous salary (previous Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry was on $815,000 a year before she left and earned as much as $975,000 a year previously)?
  • Why is it that hundreds of staff need to be sacked but an $80 million vanity project, in the form of the library upgrade, must go ahead?

We are left to conclude that the university administration cares more about Curtin’s image and viability as a business than it does the quality of our education, let alone the livelihoods of its staff.

What can we do?

The first thing we need to do is get angry. These changes are a serious attack on both staff and students. We should not feel any sympathy for the well-paid bureaucrats that run the campus and we certainly should not let them use the current chaos and uncertainty caused by the pandemic as an excuse to ram home these changes. At the end of the day they are going to continue to earn the big bucks while staff and students are hung out to dry.

Next, we need to get organised. These are still early days, but we need to jump on any opportunity to oppose these cuts. Our next chance to do this will be at a protest planned for October 7. Anyone who is pissed off about these changes should come along and meet up with other students who want to challenge them.

If you want to find out more about the changes or get in touch before the protest drop Curtin Student Fightback a like on Facebook and send us a message.