Strategy Four (August 2012 update)

Enrich the experience of University life for all our students

We aspire to build upon our reputation for the high-quality student experience enjoyed at the University. Our aim is to increase student participation in University life by enriching the services and support that we offer, and enhancing the ways in which they integrate with one another and with our academic programs to meet the needs of all the students that they serve.

Initiatives to enrich the student experience fall into two main categories: enhancing students' welfare, and improving the infrastructure supporting that experience. Work on the former category (initiatives 4(a), 4(b), 4(d), 4(g), 4(h)) has been informed by two major reports commissioned in 2010: a Review of Student Co-Curricular Experience by the consultants Phillips KPA, and the Review of Support Services for International Students by Professor Deryck Schreuder.

4(a) Review and develop the University’s provision of services for student health, wellbeing and welfare.

In December 2011, a Student Wellbeing and Development (SWD) project team, established to prioritise relevant recommendations of the Phillips KPA and Schreuder reports, proposed to the SEG Education Committee an operating model that would centralise support services to prevent duplication and provide quality assurance, while still allowing smaller communities to thrive. Following a request for additional information around governance and implementation, the SWD will convene again in August 2012 to bring back a full proposal to the SEG Education Committee. See also initiative 4(d).

The University’s first-ever mental health census was conducted in April 2012 to provide accurate data on student wellbeing. More than 4000 students from all campuses and all levels of study participated, and the results will help develop and refine program provision and risk management for the University, and act as a cornerstone of the full Wellbeing Report.

4(b) Support universal access by investing in implementation of the Disability Action Plan 2011–2015, including the allocation of disability officers and ongoing training for staff.]

We started work in November 2011 to develop the University’s new disability action plan (DAP) for 2011–15, to comply with the federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005. Our earlier DAP expired in 2010, but we have been given approval by the Australian Human Rights Commission for it to remain in use, pending a new plan. Staff and student consultative groups are in place and a disability access consultant has been engaged. A final draft plan is intended to be ready to submit to SEG for endorsement in November 2012.

4(c) Provide more affordable and appropriate student accommodation on and near the University’s campuses, consistent with the Work Slate project on student accommodation.

There are currently 14 purpose-built student accommodation facilities affiliated with the University, providing a total of 2590 beds. In September 2011, a study was undertaken to quantify existing and future demand for student accommodation. This analysis indicated there is a current undersupply of just over 4500 beds, but that by 2016, there would be demand for an additional 6000 beds.

In November 2011, SEG approved a strategy to deliver affordable student accommodation on or close to campus and including some pastoral care and academic support. A tender evaluation process is underway to select a fund manager to establish and administer an Affordable Student Housing Fund which will support, in the first phase, delivery of 3000 beds by 2015/16. Locations under consideration include Abercrombie Street, as part of the project that will also deliver a new Business School building (initiative 6(f)); the Regiment site on City Road; and the Queen Mary building in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Campus Infrastructure and Services (CIS) meet regularly with International House and St Paul’s, St Andrew’s and Wesley colleges about their development plans. Sancta Sophia College has already obtained development approval for an additional 128 beds and is currently reviewing tenders for construction. Progress is contingent upon funding approval.

4(d) Undertake a feasibility study of the virtual colleges.

The Student Wellbeing and Development (SWD) report submitted to the SEG Education Committee in December 2011 (initiative 4(a)) incorporated a feasibility study of virtual colleges. The SWD project team interpreted the term 'virtual college' to mean a physical, but non-residential, space that is open to a particular cohort of students. The team concluded that it was not feasible to provide this to all students, but the SEG Research Training Committee approved a recommendation for a pilot for higher degree research (HDR) students, who report greater feelings of isolation than other cohorts.

At this stage, we have decided not to pursue the HDR pilot until our renewal of the University’s PhD program (initiative 9(c)) has progressed further. We anticipate that the development of targeted skills seminars as part of that process will enable HDR students to have wider access to researchers and colleagues, possibly reducing the need for the virtual colleges concept within that cohort. We plan to address any residual needs for postgraduate students within the Wellbeing project.

4(e) Build upon the current Teaching and Learning Capital Fund project regarding networks of informal learning spaces around campus.

See under strategy 7 for information about developments in this area.

4(f) Complete the Sydney Student Lifecycle Management project to create a seamless student experience of the University’s administration, from first enquiry to alumni engagement.

Over the first half of 2012, a working party reviewed potential structures for bringing together the more-than 18 organisational units currently delivering student administration services (see also initiative 17(a)). A new model, based on the establishment of a single, integrated group accountable for delivering services through appropriately located hubs, was agreed in July 2012.

In 2011, the first three elements of the Sydney Student online administrative system went live, and prospective students can now go online to find accurate course information, lodge an enquiry for more information, and make an application. Since the system went live, 1.6 million visitors have viewed almost 8 million pages, and the University has logged over 44,000 enquiries and received almost 38,000 direct applications, 21,000 of them from international applicants.

An online enrolment pilot for commencing international and domestic students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was conducted in July 2012. A total of 638 students enrolled successfully with minimal need for help from staff. Student satisfaction surveys were positive – 74 percent of students reported that the online enrolment steps were easy to follow, 75 percent believed they completed their enrolment in a reasonable amount of time and 79 percent had been able to select their units of study easily. Online enrolment will be implemented for all faculties by the beginning of 2013.

Future Sydney Student releases will introduce new functionality, including timetabling, fees, scholarships, assessment, progression and graduation. Sydney Student will result in the elimination of several hundred reports and satellite systems, to be decommissioned before the end of 2012. Further savings, estimated to be worth millions of dollars, will arise from the decommissioning of FlexSIS.

4(g) Prioritise and implement the recommendations of the University Review of Co-curricular Experience to increase the effectiveness and relevance of our co-curricular programs.

Following an audit of the Phillips KPA Report recommendations, action has been planned in line with the implementation of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF).

Under the SSAF legislation, passed by the federal government in October 2011, the University is able to charge a compulsory annual fee of up to $263 per full-time student to pay for student services and amenities. The University surveyed students in late 2011 about their priorities for use of these funds; after consultation with the student organisations, fees for 2012 have been collected and distributed according to those priorities. An all-student survey relating to 2013 fees was completed in June 2012, attracting more than 3000 responses. The survey results are providing the basis for further consultation with the student representative organisations.

4(h) Prioritise and implement the recommendations of the University Review of Support for International Students.

The Schreuder Review of Support Services for International Students recommended the establishment of an International Student Program (ISP) Committee to manage, coordinate and monitor the University’s activity in this area. The committee began meeting in October 2011 and has developed priorities based on both the Schreuder Review and analysis of the International Student Barometer (ISB) data for 2011. A working group has been established to look at English-language support and the ISP Committee monitors the ongoing improvement of support services for international students informed by the annual ISB data. That data has already informed improvements in our orientation and transition programs for international students, and our support for their career development.

4(i) Complete the Work Slate projects on social and catering facilities.

Two surveys conducted during the development of the strategic plan revealed student dissatisfaction with on-campus food and access to social and recreational facilities.

Towards the end of 2011, the University therefore proposed to the University of Sydney Union (USU) that an incorporated joint venture company be established to take overall responsibility for the commercial operations currently managed by the USU, including food and beverage outlets, non-food retail outlets, bars and venues1. The USU Board rejected this proposal, and the existing Venues Agreement and Agreement for Services expired at the end of 2011.

USU's Occupancy Licence remains in place until 2017, and, in line with that licence, the University will invest $5 million by that date in Holme, Manning and Wentworth infrastructure. CIS has commenced work on a development application to cover improvements to social and catering facilities in the Holme Building. The work will involve renovating the kitchen spaces and the courtyard and constructing a new bar/restaurant, and the first phase of work is due for completion during the 2012 Christmas break.

1. The USU is not the sole on-campus provider of food and retail services; Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness and the University itself also provide these services.