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On the 4th of March 2010 – David Hayward, dean of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning - announced that Professor Judith Bessant was being removed as discipline head and that the youth work staff would fall under the line management of alternative faculty staff. This effectively placed control of the course and its future direction in the hands of those who have no direct interest in the current program. This decision was taken without prior notice to staff or students and was immediate. The announcement of Professor Bessant’s removal as discipline head came with a rather concerning decision to merge the Youth Work program into a social science cluster model.

A cluster model is designed to group programs perceived as similar, allowing the universities to create a single pool of staff who, in turn, teach into multiple programs. This “clustering” of courses allows the university to cut costs across an entire faculty. This may seem a reasonable and practical idea on the surface. The implications however, as one digs deeper, can be devastating for specific disciplines such as Youth Work. Clustering programs often results in the generalising of subjects by eliminating the need to keep on or hire specialist staff. Subjects that were previously discipline specific take on a generic form covering only aspects of the previous content, resulting in a sterile and unimaginative youth work degree. These changes usually come with larger class sizes, more sessional staff (again to reduce overall expenditure) and a diminished learning experience for students. Subjects deemed as ‘costly’ such as field placements, which require sector engagement and dedicated staff, are shunned in favour of project based work within the university. The net result is that courses produce graduates with diminished capabilities through lack of sector exposure and ultimately put the burden back on the community sector agencies to then up-skill new graduates. The justification for these decisions was, as stated by the dean, a result of a large budget deficit. This would seem quite a reasonable argument in isolation, however - nothing is ever isolated and no context was provided around past decisions to invest in youth work which explains the current fiscal situation. 

Judith Bessant and other key staff have taken leave, classes for the first 2 weeks were in absolute chaos, the new curriculum they have developed, which came over a 5 year process, has been scrapped in an instance and assignments have been pushed back to the end of the semester. According to yet-to-be confirmed reports there have been a large number of students withdrawing from subjects as a result of the chaos they have experienced. Students in the program are quite rightly upset and confused given this all took place in the first week of classes. At this point in time the university administration has yet to communicate any course changes to students. No information on changes to staff, grouping of youth work with other disciplines has been made. When questioned by some students, the Dean has stated that issues to do with staff and course structures are operational matters and have nothing do to with students.

RMIT GSSSP administration refuse to answer any questions students ask about these or other matters despite repeated attempts to seek an explanation prior to the census date on March 30th.

As you can imagine it’s these kinds of responses which have students rightly outraged and extremely distressed as clearly these decisions impact significantly on the Youth Work program at RMIT and the future of the Youth Sector more broadly.




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