In 2020, the quality of education of students around the world declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and universities did their best to compensate with online classes and resources and should be commended for that. However, in 2021, Curtin University, unlike many institutions globally, has had the privilege of safely resuming on-campus activities, yet the quality of education has continued to decline. Many classes remained online and one tuition-free week was removed from each semester.
With only 7% of scheduled activities fully online next semester, it’s clear that the university has recognized the value of face-to-face education, so I won’t address that here. What I will address is the removal of a tuition-free week.
Tuition-free weeks have always been an opportunity for students to consolidate their understanding of course content, catch up on assignments, and most importantly, prioritize their mental health. Tuition-free weeks give students the opportunity to recuperate after weeks of hard work. Rest, recreation and socialization are recuperation strategies employed by many students. Without a second tuition-free week, these strategies are unattainable. Students are unable to rest because they know they won’t have another chance to catch up on coursework. Students are barred from recreation and socialization too because the committees of clubs and societies on campus are unable to offer the opportunities they would like to without sacrificing their own academic performance. In any other workplace, this degradation of student mental health would be condemned as a stark decline in working conditions.
The removal of a tuition-free week from the semester detracts from staff working conditions as well. They are forced to work harder to ensure that students are keeping up with their classes, which gives them less time to focus on research and family. There is no question that the mental well-being of staff is declining alongside their students.
It is well documented that improved working conditions improve productivity. With the decline of working conditions caused by the removal of a tuition-free week, the productivity of both staff and students will inevitably decline too. The quality of research produced by the university will suffer and so will the quality of graduates. This is not only detrimental to the prospects of students but also, in the long run, economically devastating for the university. With reduced working conditions, future students will turn away from Curtin University and in time, staff will depart alongside them. I am willing to believe that the university’s administrators are compassionate enough to care for the mental wellbeing of staff and students, but if not, then perhaps the potential economic fallout from reducing working conditions will be enough to convince them to reinstate the missing tuition-free weeks.
This is not the plight of students put out by a loss of luxury. This is the fight of academics of today and tomorrow to maintain high-quality working conditions so that we can improve the lives of those around us for years to come. I urge anyone reading this essay to stand up for your right to good working conditions because an investment in student well-being is an investment in the future.