Our universities are reducing the number of courses available and increasing the cost of some degrees to save money. It’s counterintuitive during a pandemic, writes Eleanor Beidatsch.
IN THIS ERA of climate uncertainty and a global pandemic, education is an essential tool in finding solutions. Unfortunately, Australian universities are reducing their courses and teaching positions in an attempt to save money.
Over the past year, Australia’s top academic institutions have reduced the number of courses available and increased the costs of some degrees. But in July this year, Western Australia’s most esteemed university – the University of Western Australia (UWA) – announced plans to remove anthropology and social science majors from its curriculum. .
This decision to cut artistic majors has been touted as a solution to the financial difficulties faced by the university after the economic impact of COVID-19.
Planned arts cuts threaten Australian cultural life
Cuts to the arts will devastate the industry, writes Leya Reid.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has hit universities hard, with closings during closings and international student enrollments dropping significantly. But UWA honorary senior anthropology and sociology researcher Greg Acciaioli says COVID-19 has not had a strong influence on UWA’s financial situation.
Acciaoli told Independent Australia:
The decision to cut the arts out of UWA was presented by Vice Chancellor Amit Chakma and justified on the basis of statistical analysis which showed enrollment had fallen by 77%.
But Acciaioli says those statistics weren’t accurate and when questioned by staff, Chakma admitted there had been an error in the tests but declined to release the original data. (Chakma was contacted for comment on this article but did not respond.)
Acciaioli says the statistics did not appear to factor in this year’s registrations and that a rebuttal of the proposal posted on Save the Social Sciences UWA’s website instead showed an 8% drop in registrations.
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Not only are the arts two of UWA’s most respected majors, but they are also the only subjects where students learn holistically about other cultures, the impact of climate change on society, and the skills needed in international relations. Students who are currently studying social sciences at UWA are encouraged to change major midway through their degree. Those wishing to start a course will need to attend another institution to learn about the society and culture.
Madison Lee, a freshman anthropology student, told IA:
Lee is doing a double major at UWA and fears that if the course cuts continue there will not be enough lectures at the institution to teach the necessary subjects.
Social sciences are just the beginning for UWA, eight other disciplines are being considered for course cuts.
Lee says this has happened to another student studying anthropology and gender studies together at UWA, who are now in the university’s economic sights.
UWA may be targeting two of its oldest and most acclaimed degrees, but it’s not the first Australian institution to slash the curriculum for what is supposed to be “financial stability.” In 2020, Macquarie University in Sydney finally removed Earth and Planetary Sciences from the majors list and reduced the number of teaching positions from 22 to two.
Former associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University, Craig O’Neill, says the withdrawal of earth sciences from the curriculum has resulted in a slow process of losing staff triggered by changes in management.
O’Neill tells IA:
Earth sciences are important to Australia’s economy and environment, but there aren’t many universities that teach them.
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Large-scale changes for Australian universities, apparently an emergency measure for COVID-19, sound like politics and marketing – not a thoughtful plan for Australia’s future.
What followed at Macquarie were changes in travel insurance for research and what O’Neill describes as a “provocation,” which has led many staff to retire, relocate or relocate. quitting university altogether. When a new faculty dean was appointed and decided to merge earth and environmental sciences, it resulted in a further loss of jobs.
The final blow came with COVID-19, which hit along with a drop in enrollments and the appointment of another dean, which completely canceled geology and geophysics majors at Macquarie.
But the fight is not over – at least for UWA. Lee and his classmates protested relentlessly against the class cuts. They created a Facebook page, two petitions, flyers, signs and letters written to the media and university administrators.
Lee says the petitions have received more than 5,000 signatures. During the first protest, they had received exceptional support from teaching staff and other students of UWA and other institutions, as well as members of the political party of the Greens.
Despite the unified approach, Lee believes university administrators have already made up their minds:
Eleanor Beidatsch is a student at UWA but does not study any of the subjects considered for withdrawals.
Eleanor Beidatsch is a disability and environmental rights activist and science journalist.