Australian universities to cut hundreds of courses as funding crisis deepens

Naaman Zhou
·5-min read

Hundreds of courses and majors, some more than 50 years old, will be cut from multiple universities across Australia as lost revenue and funding cuts devastate higher education.

At Macquarie University in Sydney, entire degrees in maths and science are slated to be cut, as well as more than half the current majors offered in arts.

The bachelor of mathematical sciences will no longer be taught in 2021, as well as the bachelor of advanced science, bachelor of advanced information technology, and masters in mechanical engineering, according to a document sent to staff and obtained by Guardian Australia.

In total, 31 degrees or combined degrees in the faculty of science and engineering will potentially be cut, while in the faculty of arts, 30 out of the current 56 offered majors could also be removed.

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The university’s gender studies major, which was first established in 1984, is now set to be abolished.

At Monash University in Melbourne, 103 subjects will be cut, including its musicology subject, which was first taught in 1965.

The university will also close its theatre degree, known as the Centre for Theatre and Performance, which was first offered in 1995 (as a bachelor of performing arts).

At Macquarie University, proposed course cuts are still waiting for the vice-chancellor’s approval and some degrees have applied for exemptions to continue.

But one academic in the science faculty, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, said it was ridiculous that an important mathematics degrees would even be on the chopping block.

“Why would the VC even decide on this?” they said. “It should be in the constitution of the university. No one should cut this.

“Why should I even have to justify why we should have maths or statistics? It’s like why should we have freedom of speech? It’s a stupid question.”

The president of the Monash branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, Ben Eltham, said that business, economics, religious studies, some engineering subjects and some management subjects were also slated for cuts and redundancies.

A spokeswoman for Monash University said the theatre degree and the musicology subjects were being closed “due to consistently low unit enrolments”.

But Eltham said musicology and other subjects had healthy enrolments that were above the cut-off that management had imposed.

“Some of them were healthy, above the threshold and they are still killing them off,” he said. “Musicology was above the threshold.”

At Macquarie University, Dr Rebecca Sheehan, a lecturer in gender studies, said it was a shame a major with such a long history, rooted in the Australian feminist movement, was now being abolished due to the university funding crisis.

She said the major was first officially established in 1984, but women’s studies units were taught from the 1970s, and from the 1950s, the university enrolled a large number of mature-age women who studied while raising children and formed student organisations.

“The original point of Macquarie University was it was a breakaway uni,” she told Guardian Australia.

Course cuts at Macquarie are being targeted towards courses or degrees with fewer than 50 students being enrolled, but Sheehan said hundreds of students took gender studies subjects without majoring in the course, and had high enrolment throughout its history.

“The first-year gender studies unit, when I started in 2017, there were over 400 people in it,” she said.

The academic in the science faculty agreed, saying: “As far as I now, not many students choose to start with statistics. The only transfer after they are exposed to it in their first year unit. We will never have 50 starting students ever.”

Guardian Australia has also been told by academics that other degrees have been marked for cuts that have more than 100 students enrolled.

The president of the Macquarie branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, Nikola Balnave, said removing the 46-year-old gender studies major, as well as other arts majors was “worryingly short-sighted”.

“What exactly is Macquarie management’s vision for the future of the university, and indeed society?” she said.

A spokeswoman for Macquarie University said that gender studies subjects would be preserved within other “broader domains” and degrees.

She said the degree changes would result in “a suite of courses for students that is easier to navigate with a keener focus on employability outcomes”.

A spokeswoman for Monash University said the federal government’s funding fell short of the revenue that universities were losing.

Public universities are not eligible for jobkeeper and in June the education minister, Dan Tehan, announced sweeping changes that would cut the overall government funding for degrees.

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“The Australian government has not provided financial support to universities to redress this downturn and so Monash, along with other Australian universities, has had to reduce its overall expenditure and make difficult decisions,” the Monash spokeswoman said.

“Other Australian universities have announced in recent months, similar or greater required workforce reductions.”

She said Monash offered 5,344 subjects a year, meaning the 103 to be cut represented less than 2% of its subjects.

“The majority of the units proposed to be no longer be offered had an enrolment of less than 5 EFTSL [equivalent full time student load] in 2019.

“Musicology and ethnomusicology subjects concerned are currently only offered as elective subjects at second- and third-year levels and are not required by any students for the completion of degrees, majors or specialisations. These units have had consistently very low enrolments. Contrary to assertions made, these are the only music units being proposed to cease.”

Earlier this year, more than 20 government and international relations subjects were slated to be cut at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales merged its art and design faculty with its arts and social sciences faculty.