Students are waiting up to three weeks to have simple queries about their degree courses answered after hundreds of staff were cut by the university, protesters have claimed.

The e-requests system, that already took up to a fortnight for University of Technology Sydney (UTS) administration staff to deal with during the pandemic lockdown, is now taking at least a week longer. While protesters said exclusions can take up to a month to be processed.

University management admitted, in a response to Central News, that response times had increased in some periods, but denied students’ learning experience had been compromised.

protesting, job cuts, fee hikes, course cuts

Students protesters at the No Job Cuts, No Course Cuts rally at UTS. Image: Elena Garcia Araujo (@sydneypixels)

Protesters blamed the university’s recent job, course and staff cuts throughout last year, and claimed they have had a negative impact on the quality of education at the university.

Around 50 protesters banded together on Wednesday to rally against the changes, marching from the University of Sydney to UTS.

Aidan O’Rourke, President of the Students Association, said the cuts were affecting minority groups in particular.

“Who this affects the most are survivors of domestic violence, people who may be leaving violent situations, people who are transgender and transitioning and Indigenous people, it’s an incredibly huge issue,” he told Central News.

Addressing the rally outside Building 1, UTS ethnocultural officer Melodie Grafton criticised course cuts she said had reduced inclusivity.

“Tell me UTS Chancellery how you plan on taking a stand, how you plan on delivering quality education when in the same breath you cut out anti-racism subjects?” she asked.

UTS ethnocultural officer Melodie Grafton at the protest. Image: Elena Garcia Araujo (@sydneypixels)

“This hacksaw education in the form of cuts to anti-racism education, implementing anti-colonial status, it’s instead gone backwards and I can’t stand idle. I can’t stay silent and I have a lot to say,” Miss Grafton said. 

Government changes last year made some tertiary fees higher, but with universities still regulating fees, student protesters said they expected UTS to better consider their needs.

“For new students, if you compare the current students, the fee discrepancy can be as high as double,” Mr O’Rourke said. “For law, economics or communications [and] some design courses, the fees have increased from anywhere between 40 per cent to 100 per cent.”

Mr O’Rourke added the long wait times affect UTS students who are juggling work and study. 

“You get a student submitting an e-request, that says, ‘hey, I can’t make this class anymore because I have a work commitment, can I please change my class?’ And that e-request process can take up to three weeks on average [and] can have incredibly detrimental affects,” he added.

Around 375 contracted staff at UTS have taken voluntary redundancy or haven’t had their contracts renewed during the recent job and course cuts according to the UTS Education Action Group. 

UTS management told Central News significant increases in calls and enquiries from students returning to campus after COVID had pushed out waiting times, but a spokeswoman claimed “the university was able to prioritise responses to minimise the impact on students where possible, and further mitigations to improve response times are in progress.”

“Students can rest assured that their learning experiences have not been compromised,” she said.

On fee hikes she added: “The Federal government is responsible for changes in fee structures (known as the JobReady Graduates program), and while some course fees increased others decreased. UTS has not cut courses due to COVID-19.

“UTS accepted around 350 applications for voluntary separation from staff. This was in response to a deteriorating revenue outlook due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were not ‘staff cuts’, but rather staff voluntarily choosing to leave the university and receiving a generous financial package, which enabled UTS to make sustainable cost savings without the need for forced redundancies in 2020.”

But National Tertiary Education Union organiser Paddy Gibson, claimed the number of staff cuts was actually much higher when factoring in casual UTS staff.  

National Tertiary Education Union organiser Paddy Gibson speaking at the protest. Image: Caitlin Micallef

“Untold numbers of casual and insecure staff lost their jobs as well. [UTS] don’t even count… they can’t even tell us. It’d be more than 1000 [staff] I think, that have lost their jobs as a result of the cuts,” he said.

Additionally, protestors claim the recent staff cuts have overloaded current staff members with overtime work and short marking turnarounds which then affects education quality.

“It absolutely devastates the quality of education,” said Mr Gibson.

Story and pictures by Caitlin Micallef @cait_micallef and Elena Garcia Araujo @sydneypixels

Video by Elena Garcia Araujo.

Main image Protesters at the No Job Cuts, No Course Cuts rally at UTS on Wednesday. (Photo: Caitlin Micallef)