The Guardian October 3, 2001


Aboriginal students protest against uni "restructure"

Students at the University of Western Sydney's Bankstown campus are in 
the second week of their sit-in protest over the stripping of the 
Goolanguillia Aboriginal education unit. Students complain that, with no 
consultation with them, the unit has been stripped of resources. Two thirds 
of the teaching staff have been relocated, and classes have been cancelled. 
Classes have been cancelled and marks not returned to students. 

The graduate degree component of the course deals with welfare and 
education, and normally takes four years to complete. Those who joined the 
course at the beginning of the year now face three more years of study at 
an impoverished campus, with few facilities and few staff.

The changes were originally announced as a forerunner to establishment of a 
bigger and better campus at Blacktown.

However, the University authorities have recently indicated that they 
intend to suspend the intake of students for the course at the beginning of 
next year. It appears that not only are the conditions of the course being 
seriously undermined, but also the course itself is under threat and may be 
cut altogether.

A suspicion is growing in student circles that the events within the 
Goolangullia Unit may foreshadow closure and even sale of the Bankstown 
campus in its entirety. The Howard Government recently imposed a funding 
cut of $10 million on the University.

Sale of the Bankstown campus, a potentially most valuable piece of real 
estate, would be consistent with the approach of the NSW Government, which 
is embroiled in a major struggle with education and community organisations 
over the planned closure and possible sale of primary and secondary 
schools.

So far, the University Vice-Chancellor, Janice Reid, has refused to meet 
with the students to discuss their grievances. Student leaders are being 
demonised by the administration, which has frequently described them as 
"troublemakers".

The President of the Bankstown Students' Association, John McGuire, 
commented that there are already enough major obstacles to Aboriginal 
people getting into tertiary courses, without the sort of difficulty which 
the Bankstown campus represents.

"We went through all the proper channels to have this issue dealt with  
meetings with deputy management, e-mails, faxes, phone calls. None of these 
has truly addressed the issues the students have. We were forced into this 
sit-in action as a last resort to try to get the University to listen to 
what we have to say!", he said.

Aboriginal student representative Nicole Alexander commented: 
"...University management does not understand our needs and our culture, 
and does not even want to try! What makes matters worse is that the Vice 
Chancellor is not even prepared to sit down with us and discuss the issues. 
When will we, as Aboriginal people, and as students, be treated with 
respect by UWS?"

Students report that their spirits are high and that they are determined to 
see their struggle through to a successful conclusion. The sit-in is 
getting support from other Uni campuses and from Aboriginal organisations.

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