Grapeshot has been informed by reliable sources that students will face a drastic decrease in the number of courses and units available in 2021, as the University Executive attempts to cut $125 million from Macquarie’s budget. All courses with less than 50 students enrolled are being targeted. Further changes to majors will see offerings slimmed down with elective units cut. These changes are being made with no student or staff consultation, with the university electing to inform students only after the cuts have been made.
The course cuts are being implemented by Macquarie’s Managing Executive who in a September email explained that all undergraduate courses, majors, and specialisations with fewer than 50 students enrolled will be marked for cuts. For postgraduate courses, majors, and specialisations, the figure is 25 students. The Vice-Chancellor Professor Bruce Dowton projected a $170 million budget shortfall in an email to staff and students in August and is rushing through up to $125 million in cuts to the university’s offerings and staff.
Students who are enrolled in courses that are cut will be forced into new degree programs, while students planning to take electives in those courses will also lose out. In the Faculty of Arts alone, 30 out of 56 majors are under threat. This means majors from Law, Anthropology, Languages, Media and Communications, or Geography could be eliminated. After the cuts, majors will consist of no more than eight core units.
The cuts will impact students who have been given offers to study at Macquarie in 2021. Some students will find that their first-preference courses have disappeared, while all new Macquarie students will be left with fewer options.
According to 2020 Times Higher Education data, Macquarie University’s student ratio is the worst in the country and the 9th worst in the world. Macquarie has 1 teaching staff member for every 68.6 students. This will be exacerbated by firing permanent teaching staff and reducing the budget for casual tutors. TEQSA found that poor staffing ratios represent a substantial risk to the quality of students’ educational experience.
A planned restructure of professional staff also means that students will have less access to individual advising and will be directed to centralised administrators instead of frontline assistance in each department. Tutorials will also be cut, resulting in students being packed into ‘lectorial’ style classes.
Cuts are being pushed through with no consultations with students or staff. The decision to cut courses and units will be decided by executive action on Tuesday, 29th September, yet the Vice Chancellor does not intend to inform students until October, when the decisions have already been made.
The Executive is saying that units will be “rested”, instead of “cut”, however this just means that units will not run in 2021 and may be scrapped permanently. If these cuts are implemented, students will return to a transformed university with less diverse courses, fewer options, larger classes, and without many of their favourite teachers.
Macquarie University celebrates a history a politically radical alternative to the stodgy universities on offer in the 1960s. The “Macquarie Story” “core values” website boasts: “Macquarie University was founded in 1964 to be a radical and unconventional addition to the New South Wales tertiary education market. Fifty years on, Macquarie University is still different.” However, the programs slated to be cut reflect the heart of the university’s “core values,” and the meaning it has to the community.
These decisions are being made rapidly and without transparency, on the basis of numbers that have not been shared with teaching staff, and without consultation. An academic case has not been made for cutting them, and there is no academic oversight. Staff anticipate that this will pave the way for forced redundancies later this year.
The real problem with the cuts to units and staff is that overstaffing is not the true source of Macquarie’s ‘budget crisis’. Rather that too many course offerings, or overstaffing, it is external ventures such as the university hospital which are the main drain on resources. Very few students or staff truly benefit from these external ventures, however they are the ones feeling the stress placed on Macquarie’s finances and the impact of the subsequent budgeting decisions.
Macquarie is willing to put student’s educational experiences at risk, despite already having the worst student to staff ratio in the country, and is making these cuts with no consultation or transparency. There is no academic basis for these cuts and they are choosing to downgrade educational offerings over external ventures that benefit only a small portion of students. It’s time for students to take on the radical history of our university and protest the decisions that are being made behind our backs and for the benefit of Macquarie’s corporate structure.
So, what should you do?
Let’s take back our university and demand the education we deserve.