In March of 2022, the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) discussed a program reform strategy at a faculty meeting. The reforms had three key features:
- A projected increase in postgraduate enrollment and a projected decrease in undergraduate enrollment.
- A projected increase in postgraduate international student intake.
- “Consolidating” undergraduate degrees.
Based off statistics from ANU’s central planning, CASS predicts its composition will change from:
- UG 71% : PG 20% : HDR 9% (2019)
- UG 59% : PG 33% : HDR 8% (2025)
That is a 66.3 percent increase in the number of postgraduate enrolments and a 14.9 percent contraction in the number of undergraduate enrolments.The College also expects to double international postgraduate students. This comes in the context of what some staff and students see as part of a transition to a University of Melbourne Model of teaching.
A University spokesperson explained that these numbers are not fixed, and that undergraduate enrolment could just as easily increase. They did not explain why CASS is basing its current program cuts on predictions that it argues may change substantially.
Woroni requested to interview Professor Hinchcliffe, the Associate Dean of CASS, but received no response.
The Melbourne Model
The Melbourne Curriculum is a model for undergraduate education adopted by the University of Melbourne in 2008. It is an American-inspired program which typically offers one degree per faculty (e.g. Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Commerce).
The Melbourne Curriculum focuses on postgraduate study. The inflexible and purposefully broad nature of the undergraduate degree means students require a postgraduate degree to get the expertise they may believe they need to enter the workforce.
While the ANU stated categorically that “ANU is not moving to the Melbourne model – and there is absolutely no evidence of this”, some students and staff feel that there are similarities. The discussion paper, for example, explicitly calls for the consolidation of a large number of CASS undergraduate programs under the Bachelor of Arts.
Associate Dean of Education (CASS), Professor Geoff Hinchecliffe also alluded to this at the CASS Program Disestablishments Town Hall which took place earlier in the semester. Hinchcliffe confirmed: “We are committing to the BA.”
The proposed consolidation includes nearly halving the number of programs available for incoming undergraduate students. Many program cuts have already taken place, such as the Bachelor of Development Studies, the Bachelor of Archaeological Practice, and the Bachelor of European Studies.
When the College discussed these program reforms, they also proposed simplifying the postgraduate system. However, this did not include a list of postgraduate programs to disestablish, rather it focused on the course requirements and on tailoring it to professionals. An ANU spokesperson has since confirmed that “CASS is not cutting postgraduate programs.”
When Woroni asked the University about the documents, a spokesperson said that “The main purpose of the presentation was to flag the proposed growth in PG…the presentation was the basis for discussion. Exactly if / how the college responds to those proposed figures is to be determined.”
However, it appears the discussion has settled in favour of the proposals in the document. The discussion paper, when listing which degrees could be cut, includes every CASS degree cut this year. “Teach Less, Better” which the paper refers to, has become the ANU’s trademarked slogan when discussing course consolidation.
More Cuts Ahead?
The College has already cut several Bachelors programs, including Development Studies, Archaeological Practice, Classical Studies, European Studies, and Middle East and Central Asian Studies.
The college also considered disestablishing the Bachelor of Public Policy and combining the Art and Design programs. However, the outcomes of these discussions have not been made public.
Conversations with CASS academic staff have revealed that the College also attempted to cut the Bachelor of Political Sciences, but changed course after significant backlash from staff in the School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR).
Just recently, CASS announced an external review of the entire SPIR school. The review will evaluate the Bachelor of Political Sciences, Bachelor of Public Policy, and the Bachelor of International Relations in particular. The review will also look at named degrees that include SPIR units, such as the Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE).
Several of those conducting the review come from Australian universities which do not offer specialised degrees. Of three experts, one comes from the University of Queensland, which only offers the Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of PPE (Honors), and another from Griffith University, which has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Politics and International Relations.
The ANU did not provide comment on the makeup of the panel.
What the ANU did say is that “There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding among some staff and students about how the University’s policies on curriculum development actually work.” The document listed the following as reasons for program cuts;
- “There is no logic to our current suite of UG programs.”
- “Navigating our suite of programs is confusing for students.”
- “Accreditation and admin [sic] demands will continue to increase.”
- “Our unusual array of programs is difficult to market…”
- “Low program load is a worrying signal.”
Additionally, Woroni has obtained documents detailing the ANU’s 2025 undergraduate curriculum review. Throughout a number of separate documents is the idea of an “ANU Core” – four units offered across all undergraduate degrees regardless of discipline. This is similar to many liberal arts universities in the US, and represents another attempt at streamlining and uniforming the ANU undergraduate degree.
These core courses will replace four other courses in an undergraduate degree that students would normally use to take electives, or to study specialised courses. While it does not indicate a course cut, and the documents did not include cutting courses, “core courses” could reduce the number of students enrolled in the more specialised courses of a degree. This would leave some courses open to low enrollment and hence, the College may cut them.
An ANU spokesperson framed the recent disestablishment as part of “…a constant process of revision and renewal, and has been ongoing for the life of ANU.”
Students and Staff Speak Up
There have been several protests against both course cuts and broader program changes. Many students see these as being intertwined and voiced this concern at the CASS Town Hall which took place earlier in the semester.
“The degrees being cut mean the courses required for those degrees are no longer available,” said one student.
However, one SPIR academic has a different interpretation of these events.
“I suppose they come from two different places. Course cuts are a result of budget concerns. My impression is that program cuts, named degree cuts, are more of an ideological belief in streamlining.”
Another SPIR academic alleged that under the current system, a course is cut if no one teaches it for three years. The ANU confirmed that this is the case. However, the academic went on to explain that lecturers in their school often must teach larger, general and introductory courses around once every two to three years. Individual schools themselves determine staffing levels and rotations, not University management.
The ANU did not provide a comment on this alleged policy.
The academic went on to explain that a close colleague of theirs stopped teaching one introductory course in order to preserve their “pet” research-driven course because they feared the ANU would cut it.
One School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics (SLLL) academic describes being hired to replace a permanent lecturer.
“Instead of paying a salary for a full or permanent lecturer, they would get someone like me, who is a casual, and they pay me by the hour, which is peanuts compared to what the lecturer was being paid.”
Beyond being paid less for the same work, casual staff are also more vulnerable to exploitation like the SLLL academic has experienced.
“We are only paid for the time that you teach in class… I didn’t get anything for marking.” The academic has since confirmed that the ANU paid them by the end of the semester.
At a rally outside the Chancellery, one student spoke to the connection between fewer options for students and worse conditions for staff.
“These course cuts are happening in the shadow of devastating job cuts where around 400 staff were cut… and a 234 million dollar surplus that the university posted this year with having returned to pre-covid staffing levels and pre-covid course offerings.”
A number of students and staff feel the program changes are driven by financial motives.
Woroni spoke to one lecturer who described the main objection to the course they now teach was finding the budget for it.
The University claims that “Course and program changes are unrelated to the University’s budget.” It could be the case that the financial barrier was specific to the school, but it is unclear.
Yet, at the CASS Town Hall, Associate Dean Dr Lucy Neave admitted “…there is a corporate logic in universities. It’s a problem for all of us… But can I just tell you that from our perspective, we’re not trying to be University of Melbourne in the short term.”
The key words for many students in attendance were, “in the short term.” Program consolidation can leave research-driven courses dependent on strong enrollment and staff availability each year. Students studying niche degrees worry that in periods of low enrolment, schools will cut specific courses.
The effects of this have already been seen. At a College Representatives Council meeting in 2022, then General-Secretary Ben Yates brought up the issue of courses listed on the ANU’s Programs and Courses page that the ANU no longer actually offers. He pointed out that this can mislead current and prospective students as to what they will eventually study.
An ANU spokesperson did explain that, under an ANU policy from 2020, courses not taught for three years will not be shown on Programs and Courses.
CASS is not the only college to undergo these changes. Many students protesting the CASS reforms noted the similarities between these events and the events at the College of Engineering, Computing & Cybernetics (CECC).
“Clearly, these degree cuts pave the way for course cuts as well. We’ve seen it before with the disestablishment of courses and majors in the Engineering department,” said one protester.
Course and program cuts mean that undergraduate students have a less specialised education. For example, cuts in Engineering and Computer Science resulted not only in offering less majors, but also the removal of minors and specialisations, units students take to gain specific skills and qualifications. In 2020, the College merged seven schools into three and then cut some of its niche degrees, such as Honours in Software Engineering.
“I’m less in favour of the program cuts because students like them and employers like them… I really don’t like the American style BA with a major. I think there’s something really valuable in having specific programs,” says one CASS academic.
These cuts also detract from one of the ANU’s most famous attributes: the flexible-double degree. Students travel across the country and overseas for this program. Fewer available degrees means that the flexible-double will be less versatile.
As one SPIR staff member put it, there is no public, informed discussion about the changes to CASS. And, they argued, without this, there can be no changes that benefit students, staff and University management.
Earlier this semester, CASS held a town hall for students to help explain the program cuts. It was filled with frustrated students who insisted that course cuts will come. The Education Officer for 2023, Beatrice Tucker (they/them) campaigned on protesting and fighting course cuts. Many students are convinced that the ANU will cut courses in the future. The ANU, however, insists there are no planned cuts.
There is a real divide between staff, students and University management. What exactly happens inside the RSSS has many on the outside confused. However, the staff Woroni spoke to detailed a complex bureaucratic system which students know little about. As the 2023 academic year begins it is unclear what changes CASS will undergo, and to what extent University management will include and consult students on any changes.
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