SRC President’s Report: Participation

By Manu Risoldi

Hey UNSW!

Welcome back to Term 2! It’s been so wonderful to see so many students getting involved with Arc’s online initiatives, and continuing to check in with the SRC Collectives! I wanted to take this time to first reflect on the various kinds of major activism happening around the world at the moment. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has been a fixture of every news bulletin for the last month. We have seen protests take place across the world, including in Sydney. The Indigenous Lives Matter movement in Australia has continued to receive major support from university students across the country. Since 1991 there have been 432 Indigenous deaths in custody, which should be considered a national shame. Instead, our government tries to downplay racism in Australia. It was so encouraging to see so many familiar faces from campus being present at the Indigenous Lives Matter march in Sydney. The SRC will continue to attend the rallies, with hand sanitiser and masks available for those students who cannot bring their own. 

There have been many discussions raised over the past few weeks about what being a good ally looks like. After comments made by a student running for University Council were made public, I think these discussions could not be more important than at this point in time. Racism, homophobia, and transphobia have no place at our university, and opinions such as these need to be called out and responded to quickly. 

Now is the time for our community to reflect on these past actions and move forward with deliberate steps to overcome and educate away from these harmful and destructive opinions on race and sexuality. Doing nothing will lead to another instance like this occurring again, and we owe it to our students of colour and those who identify as being part of the LGBTQIA+ community to do better. 

We cannot describe ourselves as being good allies and then deliberately choose to ignore a scenario where our voice and our support for those students most affected by these comments could make a world of difference. If you are keen to continue these discussions and be part of this activism I cannot encourage you enough to join the People of Colour Collective, our Queer Collective, or the Indigenous Students Association. 

Return to Campus 

The SRC continues to play a role in shaping how our return to campus in T3 will look. As of right now, certain spaces in the library have been reopened to allow groups of students to utilise library resources. Gradually, as New South Wales opens up more broadly, UNSW will continue to welcome back students to different areas of the campus. We are excited for T3 and the potential for a return to campus. 

We know that students are jumping at the opportunity to move back to a face-to-face university experience. We do need to also be committed to ensuring student safety and wellbeing as we return to campus. The struggles we face due to public transport to and from the university are a real concern. We know that students are most concerned about getting to campus, and this concern almost surpasses students’ desire to return to campus. 

The SRC is committed to a safe and well-planned return to campus and have been advocating for a flexible return. This means students can return when they want to but also means those students who cannot return for health reasons (or other reasons) can continue to work effectively online! This flexibility needs to remain because we still have close to 9000 students overseas who are enrolled and studying with UNSW. 

The university will provide more information about our return to campus in Week 6. 

Survey Results 

Since the end of T1, the SRC has conducted a student satisfaction survey. The survey touched on several hot topics like exams, grading, communication of the university, overall class experience, and ability to access campus resources online. Thank you so much to the students who reached out and who freely gave such great feedback! 

So what next? At the moment, we are compiling our recommendations to present to UNSW’s Academic Board. Our recommendations focus on the flexibility of courses, the changing nature of exams, and students’ obvious positive experiences with hand-in assessments and 24-hour exams. These recommendations are being made in an effort to continue to enhance students’ academic experience on campus. 

Another area that the survey data highlighted was the university’s communication with students. It is a key area of improvement: students want clear and concise communications that highlight quickly what is currently changing about their university experience. 

Fee Hikes Campaign 

The recent announcements made by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan have created a lot of angst in the higher education space. The proposed changes to how the federal government funds higher education will mean less federal money is given to a plethora of degrees, so students will need to pay the increased difference. These changes fundamentally erode any notion that higher education should be accessible for as many young Australians as possible. More expensive degrees and less funding to the tertiary education sector as a whole is something that should concern current students even if these proposed changes do not directly impact us. 

The proposed changes will be grandfathered, which means only future students will be paying the increased fees to degrees like Arts, Communication, and Law. However, I don’t think this should deter current students from protesting (whether that be through in-person actions or online forums) against the proposed changes. We need to ensure higher education is well supported by the federal government and remains accessible to all young Australians. 

UNSW has already come out and (somewhat) hinted at disagreeing with the proposed changes. In a lengthy email, our Vice-Chancellor reiterated his support for the Arts and highlighted how integral they are to our university. Other universities have been doing the same, notably ANU, which is known for its Arts and Law Faculties. 

This is not to say that universities who are more well known for their Science and Engineering faculties, like UNSW, are necessarily warming to the proposed changes. These changes will not better fund STEM courses or create an environment where more places for STEM courses will be created. As I have highlighted in my previous comments about these course cost changes, it is not Arts and Social Sciences students against STEM Students. We all must come together. 

If students want to get involved with the campaign they can sign the petition: https://www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/stop-the-fee-hikes-dan 

But also follow the NUS and UNSW SRC on Facebook as we will be sharing and organising all the UNSW contingents and actions surrounding the protests. The first protest was last week, with a few hundred students from across NSW converging at Sydney Town Hall to call on Dan Tehan to scrap his fee hikes. The protests will always be live-streamed to our Facebook page. I understand many students are not yet comfortable to attend protests in person due to very sound concerns about their health.

Our Collectives 

At the moment all collectives have moved their meetings online. Secure software has been purchased by the SRC to ensure all groups of diverse students can meet in a safe environment even with our shift to online meetings. 

If you’re wanting to be a part of the collective meetings you can reach out to any of the Facebook pages. From there the Office Bearers will be able to add you into meetings, Discord groups, and Zoom calls! Moreover, you can directly email our Office Bearers if you’re needing further assistance. Emails can be kept confidential and all contact details can be found on our Arc page. 

To read the full edition of Participation, check it out here: https://www.arc.unsw.edu.au/uploads/2020-Tharanka-Issue3-Participation-web_1.pdf

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