Academic condemns Charles Sturt University initiative as 'toxic'

CSU deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) professor Toni Downes.

CSU deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) professor Toni Downes.

A possible restructure at Charles Sturt University could result in a mass exodus of staff and students, according to an academic.

The CSU staff member – who spoke anonymously for fear of losing their job – said the proposed Transform Online Learning initiative could be “toxic”, if adopted. 

Online changes could include an increase in enrolment dates across the year, fewer semester weeks, faster assignment results, a standardised curriculum taught by teachers (not academics) and generic study options, with an emphasis on isolated learning. 

According to the university, it is facing a combination of federal funding cuts in a very competitive higher education sector.

To combat these challenges, it developed TOL as a “solid, successful, innovative and market-leading online offering”.

The proposal appears to have flown under the radar, with few students aware of the potential changes to online learning and the current teaching model.

But the confidential source said academics were “up in arms” at the prospective transition, expressing deep concern about the possible negative effects on working conditions, academic retention, the quality of teaching and student experience. 

They feared the collapsed teaching model would result in academics being unwillingly pushed into teaching-only positions, making it impossible for some to complete important research.    

“Changes proposed by CSU management would see academics required to work until late at night and also on weekends,” the source said. “No penalty rates or special workload allowances would apply.”

They described the move as sacrificing quality to produce graduates faster.

They said: “The lack of authentic and inclusive consultation with staff and students over this dodgy proposal has been truly appalling.”

The National Tertiary Education Union confirmed a dispute had been lodged with management.

In a statement, CSU’s deputy vice-chancellor Toni Downes said staff were being challenged to find ways to do things differently, in an effort to improve learning pathways for more students. She said it required different work practices and management of academic’s time.

“The University understands that some of the ideas that we have put out for staff consultation are really challenging,” Professor Downes said. “The project is designed to … grow our business, not shrink it.”

Professor Downes said it was testing the idea through staff consultation and student research.