coombs-building

Note: This article was originally published in Woroni’s print edition with the understanding that Hands Off Asia-Pacific Studies filed an FOI for the CMD appendices only. A source recently clarified that the student organisation had indeed filed two other FOIs for additional materials. The relevant paragraphs have thus been amended to reflect this new information. We apologise for this error.

Over the past two months College of Asia and the Pacific Administration has obstructed the access to the appendices of its Change Management Document (CMD) that were to justify the restructuring of the School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL). However, upon viewing these documents earlier in the week, Woroni discovered that limited financial details were given to illustrate precisely how the proposed restructuring of CHL would benefit its financial position.

Under changes outlined by the CMD, the CHL is expected to lose 15 full-time academic staff by May 20 to remedy the purported financial inviability of the CHL, as previously reported by Woroni. This comes as the final stage of a process that began in 2014 to reform the CHL, leaving staff and students disgruntled and misinformed throughout the process.

The appendices to the CMD included a 2015 self-review by the CHL, the external review previously seen by Woroni, and a Business Case for the CHL’s future, among other documents.
The Business Case for “sector leadership” in Asia-Pacific languages made by CAP Administration outlined how traditional, classroom-based language teaching was not cost-effective, and proposed transitioning this language teaching to alternate platforms such as online teaching, and tutoring from native-speaker PhD candidates.

The document also predicted a sudden drop of the university strategic allocation for less-commonly taught languages from $2.3 million to $1.3 million between 2016 and 2017. No rationalisation was given for this.

Inadequate marketing of CHL language programs was pinned as a major strategy for increasing enrolments, and by proxy, revenue. This was supported by marketing research conducted by an external firm for CAP, which revealed that interest in CHL language study outside of Canberra was lacking.

Demand analyses also featured heavily, blaming a widespread lack of incentives and interest, as well as the unwinding of high-school language programs. Classical languages were also marked to receive less funding to reflect the lack of contemporary demand for them. Additionally, the business case proposed teaching less-commonly taught languages on an intensive basis outside of regular semesters and offering evening classes to public servants.

The business case expects the CHL to spend around $203,000 on marketing in 2016, including expenses for Asian language outreach to schools in NSW and Victoria.

Additionally, digitising and pushing languages to online platforms was marked as a major initiative to increase revenue. The projections (listed until 2018) estimated a total of $448,360 to be spent on digital-related programs for language teaching in 2016. This amount does not change drastically for 2017 and 2018.

The Self-Study report produced by CHL’s former director Ken George in 2015 was the only appendix that offered substantial insight into the CHL’s financials in the lead-up to the current changes. A document that was circulated internally, the Self-Study report drew attention to recurrent salaries consuming 85% of recurrent revenue in 2014. It also noted that an absence of sound data and planning led to a growth in academic staff between 2008 and 2012, and that salaries were expected to rise each year.

A failure to increase full-time load enrolments and barriers against enrolling in CHL courses from within CASS were also cited as issues affecting CHL’s revenue streams.

Nevertheless, data within the appendices failed to thoroughly illustrate how the removal of fifteen CHL academics would contribute to the School’s future viability. Using the information from the Self-Study report, it can only be inferred that cutting a large number of staff would reduce salary expenses in the coming years. This money, no longer spent on salaries, can thus be allocated to CAP’s proposed marketing and digitisation strategies to revitalise revenue streams.

However, the effect this would have on course offerings and quality, and subsequent enrolment impacts, was not explored. It was simply assumed that these new strategies outlined in the business case would increase revenue over the next three years with no critical analysis.

Access to Appendices Obstructed and Costly

Woroni was only able to access these documents after scheduling an appointment to view them on-site at the Coombs Building. A room was set aside for the viewing, and a hard copy of the collected appendices was presented. Making copies was prohibited, although those in attendance were permitted to take notes.

A spokesperson from Hands Off Asia Pacific Studies told Woroni that the initial attempt to access these appendices was made on March 10. Concerned PhD students sent an open email to CAP Dean Veronica Taylor asking for access to the appendices. Taylor replied that the information would be released the following week following consultations with the Vice Chancellor and the Executive on the best procedure to release the information. No response was given the following week.

However, students discovered from an administrator that they were already available on a site hosted on ANU’s Alliance service, resulting in student group Language Diversity at ANU publicising their existence.

Yet, just as a large amount of students and staff began downloading the appendices off Alliance, access to the site was cut off on March 20 when the site dedicated to the CHL Review disappeared from the Alliance directory. As a result, no new students were able to access the Alliance site.

At a Higher-Degree Research student consultation, Taylor did not provide a conclusive answer as to when these appendices were to be made available, although she blamed their disappearance from Alliance on an “error” by her administrative assistant.

Undergraduates then began emailing Taylor, requesting access to the documents. They were told to email a separate, dedicated email address for the appendices, but they never received substantial replies.

After further inquiry, it was revealed by CAP administration that students had to email them and schedule a time to view the appendices in person, as the documents were suddenly labelled as “commercial-in-confidence.” This prevents easy access to information that will have significant ramifications on students’ degrees.

Moreover, Hands Off Asia Pacific Studies submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to CAP to view these appendices, given their sudden removal from an easy point of access. The group was initially charged $510 by ANU Administration, but was able to reduce the cost to $382.50 citing financial difficulties as PhD students.

Alongside the appendices, Hands Off also requested access to the cost of the review process and correspondences between ANU’s Executive Director (Administration & Planning) Chris Grange and CAP Dean Veronica Taylor.

On their Facebook page, Hands Off stated that the documents they received on May 20 indicated a total of $61,943.91 spent on the review process. However, they noted that the costs of a consultant present at meetings in 2015, the Assure Counselling Service provided to staff, and additional review-related staff hours have not been provided.

Moreover, they were given the text of an email exchange between Grange, Taylor, CHL Director Simon Haberle, and an unknown fourth party. They claimed that the exchange was heavily redacted, being “almost entirely blacked out”.

ANU Administration and CAP have not explained why the appendices have been so difficult to access, with many students decrying the lack of transparency surrounding information critical to understanding the future of their degrees.