On the 22nd of August, a memo was sent to the Vice Chancellor by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Marnie Hughes-Warrington, asking for approval for significant changes to residential housing from Acting Vice Chancellor, Margaret Harding. The changes in Harding’s memo will fundamentally impact residential culture at the ANU. This has culminated in an open letter by Samuel Guthrie on behalf of the Interhall Council (IHC) announcing a boycott of ANU Open Day on 30th August, 2014. In a unanimous show of solidarity all residential halls and colleges have refused to participate in Open Day events, ‘unless these unjust changes are brought before the relevant parties for consultation’.[1]

The process leading to these changes has been marked by lack of consultation, rushed decision-making and absence of input from staff and students who should have held key decision-making positions. Fee increases have always occurred in consultation with students in the past, including through residential tariffs fee-setting meetings with student representatives invited into the discussion. The result has now been the approval of changes that are at odds with the accepted recommendations of the Division of Residential and Campus Communities (DRCC) Review 2013 and the views of the student community.

Essentially, the ANU is asking for a 7% increase in student fees (5% in catered accommodation) and a 5% cut in overall budget of the Halls and Residences. That 5% cut is discretionary and can be taken from staff pay, the Residents Committees and pastoral support. There has been no transparency as to what that money will be re-allocated towards.

MANAGING CHANGE DOCUMENT 2014

In February 2014 the university released the ‘Managing Change Document’, its response to the DRCC review undertaken in 2013 by a panel including Dr. Paula Newitt and two members from other universities. The review was commissioned by the Pro-Vice Chancellor in 2013 to independently examine the provision of residential services to students at the ANU.

The universities response to the recommendations indicated that funding would be consolidated through reductions to Student Services expenditure. The university accepted several key recommendations including a merge of DRCC with Student Services involving the disestablishment of 10 positions and creation of 8 new positions in the Division of Student life, restructuring of business functions and reporting lines and a consolidated management structure. Importantly the response to the recommendations reflected a desire to preserve funding to residential halls, by focusing cuts exclusively on Student Services.

The Managing Change Document also responded to several other notable recommendations, which will significantly affect residential culture on campus such as the centralisation of residential selection and extension of the admissions deadline. The universities uptake of many of the review’s recommendations demonstrates their aspiration to have the highest proportion nationally of student engagement with the “student experience beyond the classroom.” However, this aspiration is likely to come at a cost.

INTERHALL COUNCIL MEETING

The IHC met with Richard Baker on Monday, the 25th of August to discuss a confidential email by Dr. Stephen Milnes that was leaked by the Student House Party on the 14th of August.[2] It included: a 7% increase in residential fees (5% in catered accommodation), changes to the application and allocation process, and a “criteria” by which “returners” can re-apply to stay in college. These changes are set to take effect by ANU Open Day on the 30th of August 2014.

In the meeting, it was ascertained that there had been a 2-3 month process during which these changes were approved. The proposed changes were put forward to the Pro-Vice Chancellors and the Heads of Colleges for approval, however the Presidents of the Residents Committees of the Halls and Colleges were not consulted.

Professor Richard Baker stated that the changes to the residential college application and allocation system are for the purposes of “equity” and “transparency.” However, the impact on college culture appears to have been overlooked. Under the new system, colleges and Halls will be subject to a 50% return rate. This is a dramatic change for colleges to adapt to as 2014 return rates are significantly higher than 50%. UniLodge has the highest return rate at 82%, while Bruce Hall’s return rate is 73%.

The IHC have publicly stated a number of serious concerns regarding the proposed changes. The IHC are especially concerned about the impacts of increased intake of first year students in combination with the imposition of a 50% return rate for later year students. They believe the absence of later year students who play a fundamental pastoral care role at colleges is likely to impact student safety and wellbeing.

In addition, the IHC voiced concern over new criteria against which returning residents will be assessed. The criteria will create additional pressure on students and may overlook values and contributions, which cannot be quantified on paper or which extend beyond strictly college commitments.

The IHC were equally concerned by the centralised computer balloting system to be introduced for residential admissions. The central allocation process will be done by computer ballot, which will be programmed to account for the following two factors: gender balance and the international versus domestic student balance. It is unlikely that the computer balloting system will account for the balance of students with different degree structures, the balance of regional versus rural domestic students and the balance of students with interests in artistic and or sporting extracurricular activities. The IHC believe this system lacks the capacity to discriminate between the quality of applications, which will inevitably affect college culture.

BUDGET SOLUTIONS FORUM 2013

The changes to residential halls and colleges have occurred in the context of broader moves to consolidate ANU’s budget. The Budget Solutions Forum on 1 July 2013 was a special meeting of the University Council to approve a comprehensive package of measures that will move ANU to a secure financial footing.[3] The four main objectives were: to increase revenue; find savings in non-salaries areas; find savings in salaries and employee expenses; reform and improve administration and administrative processes.

The Vice Chancellor, in his speech, announced, “We had already planned to increase our international fees by 5 per cent in 2014 and again in 2015, but will increase those fees by a further 5% in 2015, generating an additional $6 million dollars a year.”[4]

BUDGET SOLUTIONS UPDATE 2014

In 2014, there was another Budget Solutions Forum to update staff on progress of the implementation of budget measures. Chris Grange, Executive Director of Administration and Planning, reported a $19 million surplus. This is a significant improvement from projections in June 2013 that expected the university to make a loss of $6 million. This brings ANU’s deficit to $4.5 million for 2014, a dramatic improvement from the $30 million deficit that was projected in June 2013.

The increase in revenue was mainly generated by an increase in student numbers. In 2014, there was a net increase of 1.5% in the domestic undergraduate student load and a 3.9% increase in the international undergraduate student load. The domestic fee-paying student load grew by 10%.

The issues leading to the IHC boycott are a lack of transparency and accountability due to the mismanagement of process by the university administration. The administration has two questions to answer: Where is the money going? And why haven’t students been consulted?

[1] Samuel Guthrie, ‘The ANU Interhall Council Boycotts ANU Open Day’, http://woroni-legacy.dev/?p=7128/ ‎

[2] http://woroni-legacy.dev/campus-news/email-from-stephen-milnes-impending-fee-increase-for-residential-housing/

[3] http://renew.anu.edu.au/budget-package/

[4] http://renew.anu.edu.au/budget-package/vcs-budget-package-speech/

Editor’s Note (27th August): The original version of this Article was accompanied by a photo by Leo Bild, due to miscommunication surrounding licensing that photo was incorrectly credited and has since been removed.