Tuesday, 13 November 2012

University of Western Sydney proposes to axe Economics as a result of funding cuts


Steve Keen, Zed Author of 'Debunking Economics,' is a Professor of Economics at UWS whose position is under threat due to these cutbacks.

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) received $14 million less than anticipated this year as a result of the government’s uncapping of university enrolments. Uncapped enrolments at inner city universities have risen whilst enrolments to UWS are expected to decrease.

Of the cuts suggested in an effort to balance the budget, Clive Smallman – Dean of the School of Business – proposed that the Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Economics (Honours) no longer be offered at the institution, effective 2013.

In 2010, UWS received 455 total applicants for the Bachelor of Economics. In 2011, this figure fell to an alarming 215 applicants. This year, the university recorded just 19 first preferences for this degree, compared to 70 first preferences in the previous year. A member of staff stated that these figures are unrealistic, as these figures are based on first round offers. He noted that course preferences change constantly, with most preference updates made in January. Moreover, even with uncapped enrolments, competing universities have limited placements on offer and students who aren’t offered their first preference would have to seek entrance to other institutions.

A senior economics lecturer at UWS raised the concerns of several students who had intended to complete their Honours degree in Economics at UWS. Among them, one student had received a cadetship from the Reserve Bank dependent on his enrolment into Economics Honours.

Another student had taken six months to further strengthen her foundations in econometrics and perfect her research proposal. She stated, “To be honest, it’s been incredibly stressful and I’m finding it quite hard to apply myself to my current studies when I’m not sure if it’s even going to happen.”

A third student reiterated, “Recently there have been seemingly unfettered spending on cosmetic projects, and that should not be at the expense of [the] economics program. After all, how many interested students will prefer a landscaped and manicured campus over a proper economics program?”

In a 2012 publication of ‘The Economic Society of Australia’, Tim Thornton stated that the School of Economics and Finance at the University of Western Sydney appeared to be laying the best foundations for the future. Thornton explained, “Its explicit stress on economic controversy (rather than consensus) and its embrace of both theoretical and methodological pluralism are consistent with such a vision.” What happened to the prestige of an Economics degree at UWS? Unbeknownst to many, the majority of graduates recruited by the Reserve Bank in 2012 were from UWS. One lecturer highlighted that the university had never let them market the Economics degree to prospective high school leavers before. The lack of marketing as well as the government’s new policy allowing uncapped enrolments, have since declined first preferences for the institution.

It is not just students who will be negatively affected by the scrapping of Economics. One lecturer expressed his contempt for how staff are treated by this proposal. With 28 staff in the Economics and Finance discipline, UWS hopes to make 10 (just over 35%) of them redundant. Staff had previously called for a change to upper management whom now face the accusation of only being concerned about saving their own job security rather than ensuring the wellbeing of staff and students.

In a recent forum organised by Cathy Xiao Chen (member of the UWS Student Representative Council), Deputy Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Hawkins indicated that current students wanting to complete their degree and begin Honours in Economics next year would not be affected. However, many foresee that the future of the Bachelor of Economics beyond that looks much less promising. At this same forum, Christopher Wilson, Parramatta Chair, established that “If the reality on the ground [at UWS] matched the [corporate] rhetoric, this forum wouldn’t have been needed.”

This last minute proposal indicating the closure of Economics was released to staff on Monday at 5pm. It may have drastic implications for Honours students at UWS, particularly as the move has not allowed ample time for students unable to continue their studies at UWS to apply to transfer to other universities as applications have now closed. For currently enrolled Bachelor of Economics students, adverse effects would be less drastic as the university has a duty to these students and so would continue to offer core subjects to students until the degree was phased out. However for future students, a reliable source confirmed that only a first year subject, Principles of Economics would be offered alongside Property Economics to students wishing to study economics.

Interestingly, it was also noted that students were not advised of this intended proposal by the management of the university. One also cannot help but notice the timing of this proposal. With the semester finished and exams looming ahead, even if students were to gather wind of this, they would not be able to, nor have the time to protest against it at all.

This is just one of many schools within UWS that will be affected as a result of these funding cuts.

The proposal will be officially decided upon later today, where the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Rhonda Hawkins, among others, will be present.

It is advised that all concerned students contact:
Clive Smallman (Dean of School of Business)

Janice Reid (Vice-Chancellor)

Rhonda Hawkins (Deputy Vice-Chancellor)
 

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