The dismantling of science and jobs at the University of Melbourne threatens to turn Australia into the “Bogans of the Pacific”.
Other Victorian universities, including Monash, La Trobe, Swinburne and Deakin, have also cut staff and subjects as the pandemic disrupted international student enrollments, which averaged 32 percent of their sales. The sector was also excluded from the federal government’s wage subsidy system, JobKeeper.
Education Secretary Alan Tudge acknowledged that universities were facing difficult times. He said some had become “very dependent on international students” and called for new business models that were more focused on domestic education and partnerships with local businesses.
In Victorian locations, more than 660 individual subjects and at least 13 entire courses in various areas such as art, education, languages, science and landscape architecture were cut or reduced in the past year.
Science faculty at the University of Melbourne were informed that “low-enrollment subjects,” including quantum field theory, physical cosmology, and advanced environmental computing, were being eliminated.
Senior teaching positions in genetics, life sciences, and chemistry will be fired along with several lab technicians and office workers.
Six of the faculty’s seven schools are expected to have significant deficits in 2022, while the chemistry school is “no longer financially viable,” the staff was told.
A university spokesman confirmed the shortfalls were due to both the pandemic and changes in Commonwealth funding.
The cuts raise questions about changes in funding for Morrison government graduates, which cut tuition fees to encourage enrollment in academia and other disciplines considered “work relevant”.
John Rice, executive director of Australia’s Council of Deans of Science, said there were fears that the changes in working graduates would damage the sciences as fees for students have been reduced, but so has the state contribution per student at universities.
“We were very concerned that such changes would occur because of graduates ready to work,” said Professor Rice.
A Bachelor of Science degree from Melbourne University is the most popular degree in the state, data from the Victorian Tertiary and Admissions shows.
A Faculty of Science staff consultation paper warns of subject cuts associated with layoffs in various senior academic functions that could affect the university’s research productivity and affect student confidence and morale.
Monash University suffered a similar blow to its reputation when it announced a series of cuts to its arts courses in September, including a public campaign to lift the closure of the Center for Theater and Performance.
Monash, the largest university in the state, has not closed any courses, but has shortened 607 individual subjects, has confirmed Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner.
“It wasn’t a lucky circumstance. However, we offer access to 5,300 subjects each year, ”Professor Gardner told The Age.
National Union of Students President Zoe Ranganathan said universities are taking different approaches to narrowing down course content, with some secondary universities scrapping entire courses while wealthier universities are “cutting back on what they call surplus subjects.”
But either way, there was a loss of quality and scope in learning, Ms. Ranganathan said.
“No matter how you go about it, it still reduces a significant amount of learning, teaching materials, and valuable knowledge that is never passed on to anyone.”
La Trobe University has cut entire bachelor’s and master’s degrees in response to major losses, mainly from its schools for humanities, social sciences and education.
Swinburne University has completely discontinued its language program, discontinuing Japanese, Chinese and Italian language studies.
Swinburne has dumped Languages despite a 45 percent cut in tuition fees under the Work-Ready Graduate Plan, from $ 6,804 to $ 3,700 in student incentive.
However, as a result of the reforms, universities are worse off by $ 151 for every enrolled language student.
In internal correspondence late last year, Swinburne University told staff that the changes in working graduates were key to their decision to drop out on some courses.
Victoria University and Federation University state that they have not made any course cuts due to the pandemic.
The RMIT University has left open the option of cuts telling The Age that “courses and programs will be periodically reviewed to ensure that they are in line with the skills in demand and industry needs, and some may be discontinued, when there is only a limited demand for students ”.
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Adam Carey is an education editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and previously worked in the government, transportation, general news, arts, and food sectors.
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist and investigative reporter with an interest in politics, social justice and legal affairs. She was recently involved in coverage of the 2020 U.S. presidential election for The Age & Sydney Morning Herald.
Royce Millar is an investigative journalist at The Age with a particular interest in public order and government decisions.
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