Educate to liberate not to profit: A manifesto for student rights. 20 February 2018.

A Manifesto for Student Rights

1. Travel concessions for international students!

In New South Wales, only international students on approved Australian Government scholarships or exchange places are eligible for concessions on public transport, while full fee paying international students are not. This amounts to racist discrimination from the New South Wales Government enshrined in NSW law, and points to the fact that international students are considered in purely economic terms from government and University managements alike (international education is Australia’s third largest export, behind coal and iron ore, and New South Wales’ largest service export, contributing $6.9 billion to the NSW economy in 2016).

Aside from facing subtle and sometimes pronounced incidents of racism in the community, international students also face incredibly precarious living and working conditions; they face exorbitant university fees (up to three times their domestic counterparts), they face exploitation by opportunistic employers, they face difficulty finding affordable housing and health care, and they face difficulties dealing with immigration authorities. Historically the University of Sydney has supported the international student right to affordable transport, but the situation in NSW has not changed. Postgraduate students, international and domestic alike, demand that the University stands behind its international students. We demand the NSW Government grant across the board travel concessions to international students.

2. End sexual assault on campus!

For decades, Women’s Officers have been calling on the University to radically reform their reporting procedures for incidents of rape and sexual assault. Survivors experiences have shown that the University has systematically failed them. When making a formal complaint or in seeking things like a simple extension, survivors have faced a drawn out complaints procedure, inaccessible policies on student conduct, inappropriate disciplinary measures, a special considerations procedure with an overly high evidentiary threshold, and a lack of counsellors with specialist training in trauma. Sexual assault is preventing women, queer and international students, in particular, from accessing education.

We demand that the University takes concerted action in supporting these groups. We demand the University implements mandatory, evidence-based consent education for all students, and comprehensive, face-to-face consent education for college students. We demand that the University provides training for staff and student leaders on responding to disclosures of sexual assault and harassment. We demand the University increase the number of counsellors and provide them ongoing training in responding to trauma. We demand that the University create and implement centralised, easy-to-read and survivor-centric sexual assault policies; that they maintain effective records on incidents; and that they improve oversight of student residences. Finally, we demand the University set up a specialist sexual assault support centre to provide assistance to survivors receiving timely counselling, referrals to medical, legal, financial and housing services and advocating for survivors through the reporting process. The University must listen to survivors of sexual assault, and act now to support them.

NSW Rape Crisis Centre (1800 424 017) is a free 24/7 hotline offering emotional support, counselling and referrals to survivors and supporters of survivors of sexual assault. RPA Hospital Sexual Assault Clinic (9515 9040) offers face-to-face and telephone counselling, medical services (forensic kits and STI testing) to outpatients (i.e. you do not need to be admitted to hospital for this service). SUPRA (02) 9351 3715 offers free academic and legal support for postgraduates and can provide advice and referrals to other legal, housing and financial support services (see SRC (9660 5222) for undergraduates).

3. Wentworth Must Fall!

The Wentworth Building on City Road at the main campus, which houses the University of Sydney Union, is named after wealthy English landowner William Charles Wentworth, a man who became an icon of Australian history when in 1813 he “discovered” a crossing over the Blue Mountains, a crossing that had been used by Wiradjuri, Gundungura and Dharug people for tens of thousands of years. The route over the Blue Mountains facilitated an explosion of pastoral settlement into central and north-western NSW which underpinned a series of brutal frontier conflicts that would last more than 50 years. Wentworth himself actively opposed the prospect of Aboriginal people giving testimony in court – in 1838 four settler men were identified by an Aboriginal witness as being involved in the murder of a large number of Gamilaraay people at Myall Creek in north-western NSW, and Wentworth successfully blocked the convictions by giving a speech that described Aboriginal people as “wild men” and comparing their testimony to “the chatterings of the orangutans.” Wentworth later used his wealth and influence to help establish the University of Sydney as the first tertiary institution in the country, providing a large financial endowment and serving on its first senate. Among the many places that bear his name across the country is the Wentworth Building at our university.

Postgraduates at the University of Sydney demand that management denounce the genocide of Australia’s First Nations peoples, denounce William Wentworth by removing his name and statues from its buildings, and that they seek counsel from the local indigenous community to find a replacement name for the building on City Road.

4. Democratise the University!

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence received a $200,000 pay rise in 2016. He is the most highly paid Vice-Chancellor in Australia, on an extraordinary $1,385,000 a year. Upper echelons of management join Spence on exorbitant wages, while a casual staff can take home as low as $30,000 a year. With so much unpaid overtime performed by casual staff universities are factoring in exploiting this layer of workers within their burgeoning budgets. Sydney University management’s hypocrisy is palpable – crying poor to justify closing faculties and sacking staff, but lining their pockets and spending $2.3 billion on three buildings in 2017 to attract more full fee paying international students.

This corporate university model exists within a cut throat Federal funding environment. Successive federal governments – both Liberal and Labor governments – have slashed university budgets. $3.9 billion has been stripped out of the system over the past six years. Instead of fighting for more of a slice of the tax-payers pie, Vice-Chancellors court international students to make up the shortfall and pocketed hundreds of thousands for themselves in wages. Properly funded, free higher education is achievable. After massive student protests, Germany recently won free university education. Cuba and Venezuela have free education from the cradle to the grave. Chilean students have won massive expansion of higher education to poorer families.

Sydney University management operates with impunity, sacrificing educational quality to increase a ‘surplus.’ This disenfranchises staff and decreases the collegial sentiment needed to promote research, learning and inquiry desperately needed in university settings. Sydney University postgraduate students demand: Restructure the university. Reduce management’s pay. Institute a maximum wage differentials for all staff to become 1:4. Democratise the University by electing all Deans and management staff to their positions, in open student and staff meetings and institute a right of recall for all positions.

5. Let SCA stay at Kirkbride, Callan Park!

The very fabric of the internationally renowned Sydney College of the Arts is rooted in Callan Park. Its distinctive Bachelor of Visual Arts, alongside its world class jewellery, ceramics and glass studios have attracted the talents of myriad artists, among them Jane Campion, Ben Quilty and Tracey Moffatt. In direct opposition to the fact that a vibrant SCA has contributed greatly to Sydney’s creative community in particular and to Australia’s political and aesthetic cultures in general, Vice Chancellor Michael Spence is closing the Kirkbride, Callan Park campus. Students have fought the closure of SCA since the beginning. In 2016 we occupied SCA’s administration building for 65 days, the longest occupation against management in the University’s history.

Management are proposing to re-establish the SCA on main campus, a proposal that will see the sacking of 40% of staff and a radical reduction of student enrolments. Because we recognise that this will mark the death of this institution, because we recognise that no replica can stand up to the original, Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association demands that the SCA must remain at Kirkbride, Callan Park.

6. Stop sacking staff!

University management is waging war on its staff. Management is sacking high numbers of staff – evidenced by spending $22 million on redundancies in the last four years. In 2016, the jobs of 55 staff from SCA were on the line, 60 more casual administration were sacked, 110 science administration staff were threatened with termination, and the trend continues. For many with jobs at the University, working conditions are precarious. Of its 7000 employees, one third of all staff are casual, which means they have very little job security and are unable to take sick leave, among a raft of inequalities. Many of these too, are students employed as tutors in the midst of research degrees, which means they must find the time to produce work in situations of economic duress. The economic imperative to cut staff and force casualisation must be exposed as a farce, a lie which obscures the fact that the University has a corporate business model. It is concerned with securing vast managerial salaries and is itself in surplus (its 2009-2011 surplus was $250 million).

The University of Sydney postgraduate students reject this business model on the grounds that it is unfair for the workers of the University and unfair for the students. We say that staff working conditions are student learning conditions, and demand an increase in staff numbers to reduce staff-student ratios, we demand more face-to-face teaching time, and we demand permanency options for all casual staff.

7. We demand a sustainable campus!

As the largest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere is planned to be built on Wangan and Jagalingou land in central Queensland (near the Great Barrier Reef), the University of Sydney is moving away from its historical position as a leader in renewable energy research. The fossil fuel industry is the primary contributor to runaway climate change. With the mining boom in recession, fossil fuels are propped up by government and university money. We already have the technology and the insight to transition to a renewable energy economy, but we are still waiting on politicians and universities to bring the political will and leadership required to address climate change.

Postgraduate students demand that the University of Sydney divest from fossil fuels and commit to 100% renewable energy on its campuses. We demand that our university takes the lead in showing the broader community and our politicians that we must walk away from fossil fuels and work towards ensuring a safer climate for all.

8. No to Vice Chancellor Spence’s Strategic Plan!

Through the 2016-20 Strategic Plan, Vice Chancellor Michael Spence is overseeing an attack on the quality of our education. The proposed amalgamation of faculties (potentially 144 undergraduate degrees will be reduced to just 24), massive staff cuts, and the closures of satellite campuses (Sydney College of the Arts and Cumberland Campus) will see our studies streamlined into broad non-specialist degrees. It will result in burgeoning class sizes and overworked teachers. We demand the reversal of the current Strategic Plan. We demand the University relinquish its economic model that sees education as a commodity, a service paid for by consumers, and we demand the University adopts a genuine model of education which safeguards its quality by guaranteeing more face-to-face teaching and student services, more study spaces and measures like free printing to ensure that education is universally accessible. University of Sydney postgraduate students say no to the Strategic Plan. We demand quality and accessible education, now.

This pamphlet was produced on and refers to struggles that primarily take place on Gadigal land, which has been occupied by the British since 1788. Sovereignty was never ceded. Prepared by the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association. Contact: Cover photo: Zebedee Parkes