“Stop lying to staff and students”: Students and staff rally against job and course cuts

31 March 2021

Students and staff gathered outside the Raymond Priestley Building on 25 March to demand an end to the University’s recent staff and course cuts, and call for an improved, more equitable and accessible education.

The rally was organised by University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Education Public Officers Hannah Krasovec and Tejas Gandhi, in collaboration with the National Union of Students (NUS). 

“We are demanding that Unimelb stop cutting the jobs of staff and stop cutting our subjects. We want an improved education, smaller classes and for our tutors to be given permanent work,” said Krasovec.

“At the end of the day, any attacks on staff at Unimelb impact students. Staff working conditions are student learning conditions.”

This protest comes after the University cut 450 permanent staff despite a $8m surplus, and was found to have underpaid tutors despite agreeing to reimburse said staff before Christmas 2020.

Speakers at the rally included members of the University community as well as National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) delegates.

NTEU delegate and Melbourne Branch Committee member Geraldine Fela staunchly shamed the University for cutting 22 per cent of the casual jobs in the previous year.

“We have to be very clear that this is not a catastrophe that is out of the control of our Vice Chancellor,” said Fela.

“The casual tutors last year stood outside Duncan’s $7 million mansion and demanded that the $15 million worth of stolen wages he had taken from us, he pay back to us. And we won that. So you’ve got all of this talk of the University crying poor, and ‘we’ve got no money, we can’t fund your courses, we can’t fund your jobs’.

“They’ve got the money, they just don’t want to spend it on us.”

The Melbourne Commencement Ceremony for first-years was also taking place at Wilson Hall just a few metres away from the rally. 

Workers at the ceremony notably turned up the music as the protest occurred whilst first-years walked out in customised faculty hoodies given for free.

The University has also cut dozens of subjects across courses and denied a full reopening campus, forcing students to remain online whilst other universities return to in-person study.

UMSU Students’ Council Indigenous Representative and First Nations Help Tutor Brittney Henderson spoke to this issue. 

The Australian Indigenous Studies discipline from the School of Culture and Communications had lost four subjects from an already small pool of units.

“Instead of ignoring the issues of having a nineteen year-old who’s enrolled in that subject and teaching the subject, they just cut the subject completely,” said Henderson.

“I want to know what happened … I was recently looking at my expenses, and my biggest indulgence is rent. I work all the time, I’m here everyday, so someone please explain to me why I’m struggling to finance my life. I’m over it. I’m tired. Fucking pay me.”

The Federal government last year also increased fees for arts, humanities, and communications degrees by 113% whilst also cutting the funding to most courses. They additionally deemed university staff ineligible for JobKeeper, resulting in over a loss of 17,000 university jobs across the country.

“Be very clear that the Federal government is behind all of this,” spoke UMSU Welfare Officer Allen Xiao.

“They’re saying, ‘shame on you if you want to study humanities, shame on you if you want to study commerce or psychology, you’re going to have to pay 113% extra, you’re going to carry 93% of the financial burden of your course’. They’re saying only the wealthiest students will get to choose what they want to study because everyone else just needs to get employable and stop being poor.”’

The UMSU Education Public Officers say that this rally is a part of a broader national week of action to defend their education.

“We can’t protect our education without the support of students – by supporting the campaign and coming to the rally, it shows UniMelb they can’t get away with cutting jobs and subjects,” said Krasovec.

Farrago reached out to the University for a comment, but was instead directed to previous statements made by the spokesperson.

“[The financial cuts are] an extremely difficult decision at a challenging time for our community,” said Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell in a statement last August.

“It affects many dedicated and hard-working staff members who have worked tirelessly for the University … However, these steps are necessary to ensure that the University not only survives this crisis but is well-positioned to thrive in the future.”

UMSU Education Public Officers disagree and say that this rally is only the beginning of a campaign to fight back against universities across Australia and the Federal Government.

“Either live up to prestige you love to claim, or stop lying to students and staff,” added Krasovec.

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