(This is an independent opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Law Society)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that UNSW is planning to introduce a trimester academic calendar in less than two years. On the UNSW website, the changes are described as being “a result of extensive consultation” that will “position UNSW as Australia’s global university, among the world’s best.”
When the move was announced in September 2016, Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs commented that the implementation of the UNSW3+ model “will result in new opportunities, improved education and research performance, and operational excellence.”
However, student and staff opposition has been rife. Many feel that the model raises serious issues, particularly for students already disadvantaged (for example, students on Centrelink, those with disabilities and those suffering from mental health issues). Students are concerned that the trimester agenda is simply a prioritisation of business and monetary interests over quality education. Despite requests for survey data submitted by Tharunka, widespread criticism and general discontent with the UNSW3+ model, the University plans to go ahead with implementation in 2019.
Today, there was an anti-trimester rally held on the UNSW Library Lawn. The organisers told us that roughly 800 people came to the stall they set up at 9am, with hundreds of people attending the event and marching to the Chancellery. At the event alone, 400 people signed the petition and there have been over 2000 signatures since O-Week began.
We went to the rally and spoke to some of the participants to see why they came to protest, and what their main concerns were about the trimester system. We also tried to stay impartial. But the shortcomings of a tripartite academic year were quick to shine through, and after the rally, we feared more than ever the wrath of the trimonster.
Aislinn Stein-Magee, President of SRC, told us “We are here today to show UNSW that staff and students stand united against the trimesters and the negative effect this will have on the University community.”
Aislinn Stein-Magee and Dylan Lloyd speaking at the rally.
As the rally grew in numbers, we spoke to some of the protesting students. Simon Nguyen, who studies education told us, “I’m out here today objecting to trimesters … trimesters mean a bigger workload for us, uni fees will go up, we’ll have less breaks. Simply: more money for the uni, less benefits for the students.”
Gabriella Brackenbury-Soldenhoff, a UTS Student and a member of the National Union of Students warned of the impacts of trimesters. Gabrielle conducted a survey as part of her role as Education VP on the UTS student union, “we found that heaps of students felt like they couldn’t juggle everything between uni, work and social life. But the most worrying thing we found out was that many students said they wouldn’t have come to UTS if they had known about the proposed implementation” she said.
Dylan Lloyd, law student and Education Officer of the SRC, said trimesters could have a huge impact for students on Centrelink, “I received a start-up scholarship which was used to fund my textbooks. I am not going to get that for the second trimester, so I have no idea how I’m going to afford it, especially because the University is making it mandatory to be considered a full-time student, which you have to be to get Centrelink”
Dylan went on to say that the trimester model could cause problems for students with mental health: “I suffer from anxiety and sometimes depression and that’s going to spike quite a bit when I don’t have any reading week, or mid-sem break and I only get two weeks in between trimesters to actually relax after all my exams” Dylan said.
Turning to staff perspectives, we spoke to Michael Grewcock, a law lecturer at UNSW who had a lot to say about the trimester model:
“I am against trimesters because they’re not about improving education, they’re about improving the income for the University. The new system is going to squash existing courses of 12 weeks into 10. It’s going to have very significant impacts on how the courses can be taught, it’s going to cause significant restructures in assessment and quite frankly in a lot of areas it will just lead to a dumbing down of courses so that staff can get results in on time. It’s going to have a significant impact on the capacity of staff to plan…the capacities of staff with young children because school holidays will be knocked completely out of cycle… our ability to attend academic conferences. This is coinciding with a process that is seeing the University trying to carve off 20-25% of the existing academic workforce into teaching only careers. Their current teaching lives will double. They’re expected to do 80% teaching 20% administration, there will be a be a two-tiered academic stream within the University; it’ll lead to an unfair hierarchy amongst academics and it’ll reduce what’s being able to be taught because the strength of the teaching at this University is dependent largely on people being able to talk with expertise about areas in which they’ve researched” Michael said.
Michael continued outlining that the trimester model is one driven entirely by process; “It’s driven by the need to increase enrolments. It’s driven by accountants and people who regard UNSW and other universities simply as corporations providing educational services rather than educational institutions based on the interaction between academic researchers, student and the wider community. It’ll be a huge set back for students. A huge set back for staff, and ultimately it will lead to a reduction in the standard of tertiary education in this country.”
We then spoke to Dr. Sarah Gregson, who is a Senior Lecturer in the UNSW Business School and branch director of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), “Trimesters are all about making money for the university and not about quality education” she said.
The NTEU perspective is further explained in a flyer which was distributed amongst protestors and bystanders. “Where a trimester model has been introduced in other Australian universities, union members report significant impacts such as workload and administration increases for academic and professional staff, less time to compile and release unit results, units having to be re-designed, and shorter timeframes for delivering content, responding to and counselling students, and assignment and exam marking” the flyer reads.
We reached out to the administrators of the “Terrifying Trimester Memes for Unconsulted UNSW Teens” Facebook page which currently has 684 likes. Their response was to send back this picture with the subject “EVERYTHING IS MEMES”
What you can do
If you want to get involved in the anti-Trimonster campaign, the SRC is holding a Student and Staff forum on Thursday March 16 from 1-3pm. You can also like the “Stop the UNSW Trimonster” Facebook page to keep up to date on other events they’re planning: