Volume 9, Issue 1
By now we all know the rhetoric. The Business Improvement Plan, implemented by the University of Melbourne’s senior management between 2013 and 2014, was designed to help ‘support academic performance’ and ‘improve the student experience’. Two years later, after repeated attempts by both students and staff to engage with senior management and express their discontent, the mendacity of this promise could not be clearer.
We were told that the University would seek to invest more in systems and processes, with the aim of ‘freeing up’ student support staff to provide more ‘personal face-to-face assistance’. An emphasis was placed on providing more support for students experiencing disability; however, at no point were any formal mechanisms put in place for distributing relevant information to those students who would be most affected by the proposed changes. Nor were those students consulted on the changes, or given a chance to contribute to or comment on the proposal prior to its implementation. Furthermore, the tenure of our Wellbeing Officer, Kate van Hooft, the single accessible staff member who appears to genuinely care about our health and happiness, was only secured after repeated attempts to dissolve her job title were shouted down by students.*
Similarly, staff at the University were merely informed at the end of 2013 by Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis of the ‘innovative program to revamp service’. The official University press release reporting the Vice Chancellor’s announcement contained no indications that there would be job losses, or sustained insecurity of tenure for professional staff. Instead, the emphasis was on the improvement of systems and processes with the resulting savings of $70m per annum reinvested in teaching, research and engagement. Ultimately, however, the Business Management Plan abolished 540 jobs, with all remaining professional staff positions declared vacant and all staff required to re-apply for a diminished pool of jobs. These changes essentially destroyed the collegiality necessary to facilitate a healthy, productive and worthwhile learning environment for students. The hostility, stress and exhaustion caused by the BIP strategy is not only felt by staff, but by students who receive substandard support throughout a degree that turned out to offer much less than it initially promised.
It is worth noting at this point that the senior management responsible for the implementation of the Business Management Plan belong to the lucky generation who benefited from years of free public schooling, fully subsidised tertiary education, and living allowances and scholarships which were actually sufficient to support out-of-home study. Accordingly, these are the same individuals who belong to the lucky generation who were able to retire in a secure financial position, with no accumulated debt from their education, and a strong employer-supported superannuation scheme. Marion Campbell, part of The People’s Tribunal who inquired into the BIP at Melbourne University, observed that the kind of career she was able to enjoy – in a field with strong institutional and public respect and support – is already obsolete.
And as of 2016, with the removal of the student centre, increasingly stressed and exhausted lecturers, the refusal to supply an adequate number of classes for elective subjects to meet student demand, the consistent mismanagement of reading materials, the offset of costs for that mismanagement onto students, increasing fees, diminishing job prospects, substandard exam papers littered with ambiguities and mistakes with little to no avenues of rectification for students, no recording of lectures, the curtailing of the Disability Liaison Unit, and the one million dollar monstrosity on main campus compelling us to ‘BELIEVE’, it would appear as though the kind of quality education Ms Campbell was also able to enjoy has almost completed its journey down the well-travelled path of obsolescence, enabling the Vice Chancellor to mainline our cash rather than waiting patiently for his jollies like a good little boy. Someone should have told that guy to check himself before he wrecked himself.
Alana Zepackic is a third-year JD student
Cartoon by Harley Ng
*In the original version of this article, it was asserted that Kate Van Hooft's position at MLS 'remains insecure'. This was corrected by Kate in an email shortly after publication. De Minimis apologises unreservedly for anyone that may have been misled.