Interview with ANUSA Education Officer, James Connolly

Sonder

Sonder is defined as the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness. In a series of interviews, Arts student, Georgia Leak, aims to explore the lives of the colourful characters that call the ANU home.

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With 72 chairs scattered throughout Union Court last Wednesday, ANUSA Education Officer, James Connolly, poignantly drew our attention to the proposed cuts to the Additional Support for Students with Disability (ASSD), which would see the number of students receiving funding at the ANU drop from 72 to just three. I caught up with James following his presentation to discuss what the proposed cuts would mean for the ANU, and how students can help prevent them.

According to James, the ASSD is “the component of the Higher Education Disability Support Program that provides funding to eligible higher education providers, to assist with the costs incurred in providing educational support/equipment to students with disability.” In the Federal Government’s final report of the ‘Evaluation of Disability Program’, an increase of the eligibility threshold from the current $500 per student to $3000 was highly recommended – accordingly, an increase of this scale would render 75% of previously supported students unsupported.

As James pointed out, “This issue goes to the heart of education accessibility. If the government denies students with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy a quality education as a cost-saving measure, then what does that say about the priorities of our nation?” Although the ANU acknowledges the importance of growing the program, it relies on adequate funding from the Federal Government to continue giving all students, from all walks of life, the education they deserve. In 2015 alone, the ANU had 353 students who had costs associated with their educational support – including exam invigilation, participation assistants, note takers, and assistive technology training – only 72 of whom, were able to claim such costs. The proposed increase in the claimable threshold would decrease this number to just three.

Currently, ANUSA’s campaign to preserve the ASSD is being run in addition to a campaign to preserve The Higher Education Participation Program, which supports and enables students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend university. “The Federal Government cut funding by $152 million this year, which will amount to a 40% cut by 2019-2020. ANUSA also calls on the Federal Government to see those cuts reversed.” James, along with ANUSA, have been working to garner support for their campaign through a series of petitions that will be compiled and submitted to the Secretariat of the House of Representatives Petitions Committee, necessitating a formal response from the Minister for Education. James has also sought assistance from those the changes would affect most, to spread awareness of the detrimental effects of the proposed cuts. “Throughout this campaign I’ve been privileged to have students go on camera to discuss why these support services matter. I will continue to share those stories so long as students are willing to share them, keeping the issue in the public’s consciousness as long as cutting the program is a live option.”

In a world where high quality education should be a right, rather than a privilege, it is imperative for all students to take a stance against government cuts and show their support for this worthy cause. There are two petitions currently in circulation that you can sign; a physical petition that must be signed in person at the ANUSA office, as well as a Change.org petition that can be signed at the following link: https://www.change.org/p/senator-simon-birmingham-protect-higher-education-equity-funding-by-restoring-heppp-funding-and-protecting-assd.

If students are directly affected by these recommended cuts they can contact James at sa.education@anu.edu.au with any questions they have, and he will endeavour to assist them in getting involved.