By Alex Neale
From overworked academics to under-resourced PhD students, UNSW staff raised an array of concerns in a 3,000-attendee forum.
Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs hosted a university-wide staff forum where staff listened to a detailed overview of the new ‘Campus 2.0’ strategy on May 20th.
Hundreds of questions were asked in the forum’s rolling Microsoft Teams chat while he spoke. The system of ‘upvoting’ used in the chat allowed staff to indicate which questions they were most interested in hearing the the answers to. The most popular staff questions were nearly always about staff resourcing and wellbeing.
Senior Lecturer Dr. Craig Roberts asked a question that received 132 upvotes:
“The culture of UNSW needs to change such that service divisions push obstacles out of the way of academics, not the other way around. There are too many obstacles that academics should not need to navigate. We need to be free to fly and feel well supported. It’s cultural. How do we encourage this?”.
Mr. Stephen Gray asked a question about PhD stipends and their position being dangerously close to or below the poverty line. It received 81 upvotes.
“Current PhD stipend rates mean that students are surviving at, or below, the poverty line. What can UNSW do to ensure we protect the material and mental wellbeing of PhD students? Furthermore, what can bodies…do to lobby for a better living income for PhD students?”.
Other staff members noted how the University capitalised on academics’ dedication to their work to increase workloads. Professor Prue Vines asked a question that was upvoted 20 times:
“The 3-term year creates a lot more work for administrative staff and we have lost many administrative staff. This means academics have to do a lot of administrative tasks which means we are paying academic salaries for administrative work. This is based on the knowledge that academics often continue to do all this because of their dedication to their work”.
Associate Professor Mark Humphery-Jenner asked a similar question that received 124 upvotes:
“I love the industry engagement push. It’s hugely important … But it looks like more work in addition to existing workloads… I’m happy to work more hours and weekends and nights IF there is more $ in my bank account”.
There were also complaints of an outright lack of professionalism, claimed by Associate Professor Robert Niven, with 259 upvotes:
“For some years there seems to have been a lack of professionalism of some parts of the university, especially from some service functions both at UNSW Canberra and at main campus. This includes not replying to emails (sometimes for months!), and lack of action on important tasks, creating a need for endless rounds of follow-up, and escalation of matters far higher than necessary. What is being done to address this problem, which seems widespread at UNSW?”.
UNSW staff are currently in negotiations over enterprise bargaining agreements, which will determine pay and employment conditions for the next four years.