By Charles Fedor

 

Despite the best efforts of students at Tuesday’s Consultation session, comprehensive information on the Molecular Sciences restructure was not provided to affected students by the University. In this article, I will summarise a document that Pelican received that reveals the current state of the Molecular Science Restructure; this document, titled ‘Decision on Proposal for Change Paper’ was not provided to students. This piece will first provide a summary of responses by the University community and the University’s private responses. We will then step through the entire restructure as it currently stands. Please be aware that this piece is brief as it aims to inform all Molecular Science Students about what is actually going on. Stay tuned in coming days for further analysis of the student consultation.

 

Summary of Response: Validity of Rationale

According to the document provided to Pelican, student and staff submissions in response to the original Proposal for Change “included feedback surrounding insufficient information that had informed the Proposal for Change”. The University’s response to this feedback was to assert that the “Vice-Chancellor has provided information through all-staff emails and ‘Town Hall’ meetings”. UWA’s attempts at “Town Hall meetings” have gained a level of infamy in which basic questions have not been answered and which some sources have described as a “disaster”. It seems that the adequacy of these consultations has not improved. This is emphasised by reports coming out of the student consultation session, and the very next piece of feedback.

 

Summary of Response: Adequacy of the Consultation Process

To quote the document: “Responses included feedback about what was regarded to be an inadequate amount of time for consultation and lack of engagement with staff prior to releasing the Proposal for Change”. This again fits the general behaviour of university management throughout this restructure process – students and staff have been given little more than twenty-four hours’ notice to attend crucial meetings. The University responds to this by stating “The University’s consultation obligation to affected staff under The University of Western Australia Academic Employees Agreement 2017 was followed throughout the process and requests to extend the consultation timeframe by five working days were agreed by the University’s Change Management Board”.

 

 

 

Summary of Response: Impact on Research

In this case, the document acknowledges concerns over compromising the quality of research out of the school of Molecular Science. In this case the proposal imagines that “increases in teaching efficiencies” will somehow “mitigate potential increases in teaching contact hours”. It is very unclear what teaching efficiency actually means; sources are rightly concerned this means increased expectations on academics that will lead to poorer feedback on assessments, limited contact hours, and reduced teaching quality overall. The document has refined the flagship areas to:

  • Nanotechnology and Chemical Biology
  • Synthetic Cells: Biological and Chemical
  • Materials Science for Chemistry and Molecular Life Sciences
  • Systems: Biology and Chemistry

This is a minor variation; the original proposal noted the following as flagship research areas:

  • Systems Biology
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Nanotechnology
  • Materials Science

It is unclear if this variation will have involve any tangible change  other than a rebranding of the current restructure.

Summary of Response: Proposed Workforce Profile

The document also states that “broadly, responses included feedback about the proposed workforce profile including academic levels, impact on workload and diminishment of future promotional opportunities”. In this case, the University asserts the Proposal’s is a sustainable model and that it will “improve both teaching efficiency and quality using modern methods and pedagogy”. It is extremely unclear what that actually means. Cutting staff does diminish opportunities and also compromises teaching quality as there are only so many hours in the day to complete work.

 

Summary of Response: Reputational Impact

Furthermore, “responses included feedback about the potential reputational and community impact of the Proposal for Change”. In this case the University simply states that it has a “firm continued commitment to STEM”. Given the widespread dissatisfaction amongst staff, students, and alumni over the restructure process, it is likely that reputational damage has already been done, despite this “commitment”. In addition, critical news coverage and mentions in State and Federal Parliaments continues to put UWA in the spotlight.

 

 

Summary of Response: Impact on Students

Another part of the document explains that “broadly, responses included feedback about the potential impact on the student experience due to increasing SSR [student-to-staff ratio], proposed changes to courses, research flagships and reducing academic positions in the School”. The University’s responses on this front simply asserts that it will use “modern methods and pedagogy” to mitigate the impact on students, as well as emphasising more core concepts and hands on skills. It also emphasises one of the the Vice-Chancellor’s oft-repeated phrases that “the University and School remain committed to enabling current under- and postgraduate coursework, honours, and higher degree by research students to complete their course of study. This guarantee has been the consistent message to students from the School and the Vice-Chancellor”. Students remain sceptical of this, particularly when significant course and staff changes will undeniably affect the quality and structure of courses relative to the courses students thought they would be undertaking when they first enrolled. Pelican will be analysing this particular issue further.

 

The Final Proposal

Only two variations have been actioned based on the significant amount of feedback provided to the university. These are directly quoted below:

  • Variation 1: “All continuing teaching and research academic staff across the School will have the ability to submit an expression of interest for voluntary redundancy for the University to consider. The University will retain the right to reject an application for voluntary redundancy where the staff member holds skills or expertise that have been demonstrated and/or are required in the new structure.”
  • Variation 2: “Titles of the flagship research area have been refined to convey current and future inclusivity and cross-discipline activities:
    • Nanotechnology and Chemical Biology
    • Synthetic Cells: Biological and Chemical
    • Materials Science for Chemistry and Molecular Life Sciences
    • Systems: Biology and Chemistry”

The document also includes the following: “In addition to the above variations, as part of transition planning, the University commits to the following:

  • Consideration of where the activities of teaching-focused academic appointments are best allocated in the School.
  • Review of unit and major content and delivery, taking into account student demand, enrolment, and workforce capacity.
  • Consideration of enablers for high-quality research activities”

Everything else from the original proposal will remain the same. This will include the following:

  • Six Level C/D Teaching and Research Positions in Chemistry will be axed
  • Two Level C/D Teaching and Research Positions in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Genetics will also be axed.
  • The abolishment of teaching in Computational Chemistry
  • Re-examination of the sustainability of the Chemistry Extended Major

A summary of the “Future State” of the School of Molecular Sciences compared to its “Current State” is provided below:

It is worth noting that no student was provided this information by the University in consultation sessions despite multiple requests for disclosure. It is clear that feedback to UWA is falling on deaf ears. Students have planned a protest at the Senate Meeting on the 18th of October at 5:00 pm in an attempt to force the University to listen to the results of the referendum. Stay tuned for more updates by Pelican on this developing story.

By Pelican Magazine

Pelican is one of the oldest student publications in Australia and the only independent paper at UWA. If you like having opinions, writing, drawing, and/or free tickets to local events, then Pelican is the place for you! We print six themed issues a year, and run a stream of online content.

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