Course Cuts and Campus Changes at La Trobe and Swinburne

31 August 2012

The Vice Chancellor at La Trobe University has been forced to flee student protests through the university’s underground tunnel network.

The protest was in response to a proposed restructure to the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at La Trobe University.

The proposal would see the number of subjects available in the faculty halved, as well as five majors closed. Students and staff in these majors—Gender, Sexuality and Diversity, Indonesian, Linguistics, Art History, and Religion and Spirituality—are also concerned that these subjects will not be ‘taught out’.

Students have been protesting almost weekly, with a main campus courtyard filled with gravestones dedicated to the five majors under threat. La Trobe has also been forced to defend the timing of the consultation period, which was offered over the exam period and mid-year break. President of La Trobe University Students’ Union Claire Keyes-Lilley says the timing of the consultation didn’t give students a genuine chance to voice their concerns.

“We wanted it extended to the end of August, but they only extended it until the end of July.”

La Trobe spokesperson Mark Pearce says there is no good time for such consultation, and the University had to take action on the faculty, emphasising “we do not want to do this.”

This year 913 subjects were made available to students, but under the new proposal approximately 400 subjects would be available.

“This is going to affect every student enrolled in the humanities and social sciences faculty,” says Claire Keyes-Lilley.

The proposal comes after the faculty suffered a budget shortfall of about $4 million this year. Pearce says the faculty’s low retention rate of 65 per cent means the faculty is not sustainable in its current form.

“We’re facing this situation where we have this budget gap and we have to find the resources where we can fill that gap,” he said.

The cuts would mean the loss of 45 full time equivalent jobs in the faculty. The University is still considering the submissions made and is yet to make a formal announcement on the future of the faculty.

Changes are also occurring at Swinburne, where the sale of parts of its Prahran campus being considered to fund developments at the Hawthorn campus. Last month, Swinburne also announced that it would close the Lilydale campus completely.

Cuts to state funding for TAFE and subsidies for university courses mean that the whole Prahran campus could also be at risk of closure. The government has cut $35 million from Swinburne’s budget, meaning about 240 staff will lose their jobs across the campuses. The University says it is attempting to keep the performing arts program at Prahran “viable” but they may be forced to move operations from Prahran to the Hawthorn campus.

Protests are ongoing in both the Lilydale and Prahran communities, but with combined budget losses of more than $40 million annually, it is unclear what hope there is for vocational education and performing arts at Swinburne. The University has yet to confirm the future of the Prahran campus.

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