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UWA to scrap sociology, elite professors after win at Fair Work Commission

The university welcomed the decision in an email to students and reaffirmed its plan to continue with its restructures.

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The restructure will dissolve 16 full-time academic positions, mostly in anthropology and sociology, and scale back Asian, media and communications studies to teaching-only positions with no research funding, while eradicating the sociology major.

“It is my expectation that students and staff engage in a respectful and cooperative manner as we move forward with implementing these changes,” the email said.

“As part of the changes, the school will discontinue the major in anthropology and sociology and, in response to feedback, introduce (subject to relevant approvals) a new major in anthropology.

“The new major in anthropology will be consistent with the focus on applied social sciences and employability and will incorporate a focus on Australian Aboriginal social and cultural anthropology.”

The school will also discontinue its postgraduate coursework programs in urban and regional planning, with students undertaking the anthropology and sociology major or postgraduate coursework in urban and regional planning “to be provided with individualized assistance and study plans to ensure they can complete their current course” .

“The changes will also see the school develop flagship research areas in: Australian archaeology, and regional development, population and land-use planning and transport,” the email said.

“Emerging research strengths will continue to be supported within these areas, including forensic anthropology, linguistics, and policy and politics particularly related to health, social care and the environment.”

UWA’s top researchers face the ax

Professor Fozdar was promoted from associate professor by the university only in the past week and is one of Australia’s leading experts in multiculturalism and social inclusion.

Her project on engaged citizenship, which brings together scholars for ‘A More Just and Equitable World Post-COVID-19’, was selected in this year’s UWA Grand Challenges supporting real-world benefits for industry.

According to her profile, she co-founded the Migration, Mobilities and Belonging research group that also hosts an annual Migration Update conference, which “brings together policymakers, academics, communities, and non-government organisations, and translates research outcomes on topics of migrant employment, human trafficking, and racism”.

“In 2020, I organized a mini Migration Update on the topic of migrants and COVID-19 to raise awareness of how COVID has affected these groups,” she said on the UWA website.

“It’s not enough just to study the social world. The point is to be part of the process of improving it.”

Professor Fozdar is facing redundancy alongside Dr Forsey, who was also recently awarded by UWA for his teaching in sociology, and anthropology and sociology professor Loretta Baldassar, who was recently named as UWA’s top 10 national researchers in a sponsored article circulated on Facebook.

Professor Baldassar, who has worked at UWA for 30 years, was recognized by The Australian Research Magazine for her work in the field of ethics and cultural studies in the humanities, arts and literature category, as well as human migration in the social sciences category.

“I am the first woman to be promoted to professor in the discipline group of anthropology and sociology, in its 60-year history – of course, there should have been more,” she said in the article.

No federal cuts at UWA

UWA, whose budget recorded a $55 million surplus, has come under much scrutiny over its bid to cut $40 million in jobs and student courses due to structural deficits brought on by COVID-19.

Yet the university did not suffer international student cuts as badly as predicted and recently announced fully vaccinated foreign students, who pay significantly more in courses and fees, were expected to return to campus in February 2022 after talks with the state government over its border reopening.

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During the most recent federal parliamentary sitting, Education and Youth Minister Alan Tudge denied federal funding cuts were behind the slashes to UWA’s School of Social Sciences.

In answers to questions put by federal Perth Labor MP Patrick Gorman, Mr Tudge said overall government funding to UWA, including Higher Education Loan Program advances and funding from the Australian Research Council, had increased from $426.2 million in 2020 to $470.8 million in 2021.

Mr Tudge said Commonwealth-supported student placements at UWA were projected to grow from about 14,000 in 2021, to 15,000 in 2022 and 2023, based on UWA’s April 2021 estimates.

He said indicative Commonwealth funding amounts for 2021 to 2023, which do not include HELP payments, showed support for UWA in 2021 was $311,704,496, with 2022 and 2023 yet to be finalized.

“I have received representations regarding UWA’s course closures,” he said.

“The government recognizes the national, social and economic importance of social sciences and encourages universities to offer a broad range of programs to meet student demand and the needs of the communities they serve.

“However, Australian universities, including UWA, are autonomous, self-governing institutions and the government does not intervene in their academic or corporate policies and procedures, including which courses they choose to offer.”

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