Thousands of students returning to study second semester at the Australian National University have found themselves without tutorials, or are triple-booked into tutorial rooms as a result of a freeze on administration staff and new technology bugs.
Meanwhile students within the College of Arts and Social Sciences are having their tutorials phased out altogether in favour of large forums.
The National Tertiary Education Union held an urgent branch meeting at the ANU on Thursday where delegates discussed upcoming industrial action arising from a breakdown in negotiations over wage rises. ACT branch secretary Stephen Darwin said this week had seen an unfolding ''tutorial timetabling crisis'' which illustrated the sorts of budget pressures which were affecting staff workloads and student experiences.
Mr Darwin said the administrative staff freeze announced in May had left the timetabling office with one staff member instead of four. He believed the introduction of new timetabling software had also failed.
''We have had widespread reports of enormous disruption right across the university. Meanwhile, we have one person suffering enormous distress and trying desperately to do the job of four under extraordinary circumstances,'' Mr Darwin said.
Students within CASS were informed on Wednesday that an executive decision had been made to phase out tutorials in favour of large interactive workshops and forums.
CASS Associate Dean Royston Gustavson wrote to students saying, ''Such a model reconfigures current contact hours in a way that is intended to have a positive educational impact. Such forums/workshops are typically run by the course lecturer, rather than tutors, thereby giving students a significantly increased opportunity to interact with their lecturer. Nevertheless, it is recognised that any change can be difficult for those going through it.''
He also warned that for courses that continued to use tutorials, ''funding constraints may see tutorial sizes increase from 15 to 20 students, but such a tutorial size has been standard in some other parts of the university for many years.''
''It's evident that this is a result of their [CASS] budget being slashed by [vice-chancellor] Ian Young,'' Mr Darwin said.
''We have thousands of students returning to campus this week and experiencing widespread timetabling failures as a direct result of budget cuts that target administrative staff and the failure of new technology which management claimed would make the process more efficient.''
The union's branch committee agreed on Thursday to initiate a protected action which they will put to a ballot of members at a campus meeting on August 20.
A spokeswoman for the ANU said the changes in humanities were to ''flip the classroom and engage students in a new way'' and that the college ''was at the forefront of this pedagogical move, as it began to increase flexibility in teaching options some years ago.''
She said the move to new models of delivery was not being undertaken as a budget measure, but rather in response to the changing pedagogical needs of the students.
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