Federal budget consultation

During the second half of 2014 the University’s leadership carried out a multi-channel consultative process with our students and their parents, our staff, and our alumni to inform how our response to the federal government proposals.

Led by a working party of the University’s Senior Executive Group (SEG), the University canvassed the views of staff, students and alumni on initial modelling for the funding of scholarships and bursaries, equity, and student experience


Specific budget consultation events

Past events

Date (2014) Event
22 July Alumni Council meeting (Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor addressed meeting)
23 July Student Consultative Committee meeting – representatives from all student bodies discuss process for student consultation (Vice-Chancellor and Provost)
23 July First meeting of SEG working party – meets fortnightly
25 July Meeting with Chair of Alumni Council – advice on consultation process (Vice-Chancellor and Provost)
25 August

Town Hall (Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and 26 public speakers; watch videos of public speakers)

26 August Web feedback form launched
2 October Focus groups for staff, students and alumni

 


Other forums where budget issues canvassed

Past events

Date (2014) Event
22 July Staff Forum with Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education)
24 July Division of Health Sciences Staff Forum (Vice-Chancellor and Provost)
28 July Welcome to Postgraduate Students (Vice-Chancellor)
11 August Division of Engineering and IT Staff Forum (Vice-Chancellor and Provost)
13 August Division of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor and Provost)
14 August Meeting with heads of University professional service units (Vice-Chancellor and Provost)
29/30 August Senate Retreat (Provost, Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor)
30 August Student Open Day
10 September Student consultative committee
16 September Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor and Provost)
25 September Division of Natural Sciences Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor and Provost)
30 September Sydney Conservatorium of Music Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor and Provost)
2 October Division of Humanities and Social Sciences Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor)
20 October Sydney College of the Arts Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor and Provost)
23 October Division of Business Staff Forum (Vice‑Chancellor and Provost)
20 November Vice-Chancellor forum with professional staff (open to all staff)

Feedback from 2 October focus groups

On 2 October, the University held a series of focus groups in the Great Hall to give members of the University community an opportunity to discuss and provide input into how the University should respond if the Australian Government’s proposed reforms to higher education funding are passed into law.

  • 86 people attended focus groups on the day; 146 people had registered in advance.
  • Invitations to the event were issued by email to all of the University’s staff (circa 10,000 people) and students (approximately 50,000 people).
  • The University’s alumni were also invited via a story in the September alumni newsletter.

Focus group participants were asked to join moderated table discussions where groups of up to eight people were asked five questions regarding the University’s internal response to the proposed reforms. The following section summarises responses received on the day.

(1) We are committed to assisting students where financial circumstances might prevent them from coming to University. With this in mind:

  • what criteria should we apply to determine which students merit support?
  • what principles should we adopt to ensure improved access and equity outcomes for our students?
  • if we were to offer substantial assistance to students in need, in what ways should we direct that support?

Participants agreed that academic merit was important when considering how to distribute financial assistance, but were concerned about how this should be measured, with many suggestions that traditional measures such as ATARs were inadequate and tended to reward already privileged students. There was support for using a range of other criteria, including socioeconomic background, diversity, and personal qualities (the need to identify ‘well-rounded individuals’ was mentioned by numerous participants).

Also suggested were: support for students who need to relocate, concern for students from middle-income backgrounds, and a wish to support those headed for low-salaried or ‘public-good’ professions who may be less able to pay off debt. Some participants thought that providing assistance during a degree was important, while others would rather see assistance provided on completion (based on achievement).

Several groups underlined the importance of communication about available scholarships and other support services. Concern about maintaining funding for pastoral care and other on-campus support services was expressed. Participants valued diversity both in the community and in the courses offered at the University of Sydney, and emphasised this in response to a number of questions.

With regard to what sort of support should be offered, the majority of responses emphasised the importance of during-degree support such as accommodation, stipends to cover day-to-day living expenses, subsidised campus food, textbooks, welfare and student support services. There was agreement that lump sum payments should be avoided, and a few suggestions supporting fee discounts on successful completion of either units or degrees. Several participants requested the University find other ways to cut costs rather than raise fees.


(2) The cuts to government funding for higher education will have implications for the University, what is important to you that we prioritise and maintain?

Participants were split between focusing on disciplinary areas where the University excels or that do not lose money, and the need to retain programs even if they run at a loss in order to maintain the diversity of scholarship.

There was repeated support for maintaining or achieving small class sizes, academic staff levels and quality, particularly full-time academics who can be reached outside of class time. Participants also felt that the quality of facilities were important, as was the on-campus experience. Access to expertise was commonly cited as important to maintain.


(3) What do you value as part of your educational experience, in-classroom and outside?

Points about class size (cf responses to question 2) were often repeated when participants were asked what they valued as part of their educational experience, as were points about access to expertise and relationships with academics. Diversity was also a key point here. Campus facilities and social life, as well as practical experiences (eg internships) were also mentioned.


(4) What should students expect from a Sydney education?

Participants identified prestige and quality as key features. Diversity and access to expertise were also important, as were networking opportunities.


(5) General comments

There was broad concern over the possible impact of funding changes and the complexity of scholarship/support arrangements. A number expressed disappointment at the University’s stance on fee deregulation.


Survey

Focus group participants on 2 October were also asked to complete a survey. Of the 86 participants, only 37 people chose to complete the survey (made up of 24 percent undergraduate students, 5 percent postgraduate students, 11 percent higher degree by research students, 27 percent academic staff, 22 percent professional staff and 11 percent alumni).

Survey results were as follows.

  1. Public funding to Australian universities should be cut by an average of 20 percent per Commonwealth Supported Place: 97 percent disagree or strongly disagree.
  2. Access to public funding should be expanded to include non-university providers (eg TAFEs) and international universities: 33 percent agree or strongly agree; 35 percent disagree or strongly disagree.
  3. Universities should be given full flexibility to set the tuition fees they charge Commonwealth Supported Students: 79 percent disagree or strongly disagree; 16 percent agree or strongly agree.
  4. Universities should be required to use 20 percent of any additional revenues raised by higher fees to provide financial assistance for students from disadvantaged backgrounds: 73 percent strongly agree or agree; 11 percent disagree or strongly disagree.
  5. A commercial interest rate should be applied to student loans (up to 6 per cent) through HECS rather than the current Consumer Price Index: 87 percent disagree or strongly disagree.
  6. Public funding to support research degrees should be cut with universities permitted to charge domestic students tuition fees, where payment can be deferred through HECS: 81 percent disagree or strongly disagree.