Earlier this year, there was a wave of protests from the ANU student populace in response to proposed budget cuts on higher education as well as fee deregulation. Following this, it was felt that a legitimate forum for students to discuss these changes directly with academic staff was necessary. In response, the undergraduate and postgraduate student associations (ANUSA and PARSA, respectively) worked with the ANU to facilitate a series of “Ed Talks” – small discussion groups that gave an opportunity for students to engage directly with teaching staff and the Vice-Chancellor Ian Young on ANU’s future as a university.
While these sessions (ten in total over the first two weeks of October), were predicated on the aforementioned budget changes, the conversation also spurred more general dialogue relating the student experience to concerns moving forward. Although some talks catered to specific academic colleges, a consistent set of themes still emerged from these discussions.
On the issue of fee deregulation, uncertainty was expressed primarily on affordability in a fee deregulated environment. Not only would these compounding interests pose an immediate challenge to university students upon finishing their degree, it could further dissuade potential college and undergraduate students from proceeding to the next step of higher education. Criticism was also levelled at the planned introduction of fees for graduate research, which could make it out of reach for some aspiring PhD candidates. More pragmatically, some students enquired whether the rising costs of education would translate to a better university experience, either through improving the quality of education, or the bundling of associated post-degree costs, such as the CPA for accountants or the Bar Entrance Exam for law students.
The residential experience was another point of debate. Many students felt that there was a disparity in the support programs between the residential colleges. Several suggestions were given as to how this might be changed, either by retaining third year students or through changing the residential culture more generally. Likewise, there was also an emphasis on retaining this positive support mechanism past first year and holding more activities to accommodate later year students. Mental health was discussed in this capacity, as well as the need for a better equipped and more immediate counselling space.
A major talking point throughout all academic colleges was methods for more effective teaching. Students were able to make their voice heard on a number of key issues relevant to each department, including their stance on tutorials, lecturing, and examinations. There was an overwhelming amount of support for both small-scale and interactive approaches to teaching, as well as making lectures a more central part of the learning experience. The aim of these initiatives, of course, was to make education as revered at the ANU as research currently is. While the university has shown commitment to valuing student feedback through this forum, the extent to which they will be able to do so is yet to be seen.
Photography by Ben Niles