The Bureaucratic Nightmare at the University of Sydney

25 February 2017
Don't be fooled. This is a portal to hell.

Call centres, waits to get through, queues, byzantine rules, very little appeals process and no hope of actually speaking to a real person, certainly not a person who can solve your issue. Centrelink? No, it's Australia's oldest and most venerable institute of higher learning, the University of Sydney. 

The University of Sydney has gleefully embraced the centralised customer service and efficiency plague which has swept across public agencies worldwide. The university no longer sees us as students, but as clients. In the media, students with queries and appeals actually get to go speak to someone in charge of their faculty. No such luxuries at the University of Sydney. All student enquiries are now directed through a central student enquiries centre, where you take a number relating to your enquiry and wait for it to flash on the overhead screens - they use the same exact numbering system as Service NSW (RTA), right down to the weird noises, which left me with a knot of recognition in the pit of my stomach as if I was going to have to sit my driving test again.

Anyway, once you finally get to talk someone - when I was last there, three weeks before semester started, the wait time to see a customer service officer was forty minutes - you're speaking with a very nice and well meaning (well, the person I spoke to was) but seriously overworked and more critically, generalist member of staff. who can help out with things like Opal card applications but for academic matters like credit applications and special consideration, simply can't have the specialised knowledge of courses needed to provide specific information. 

So isn't that the kind of thing you're supposed to be talking to your faculty about? Well, no - you're not allowed to talk to your faculty any more. (I asked, and was told they're not allowed to refer students to their faculties). The university last year reduced the number of faculties from 16 to six and have gone even further with the cost cutting by removing the administration departments, funnelling all the students through the centralised service centre. (In fact, the cost cutting has extended so far that the University's web site hasn't been updated to reflect the change, still listing the original 16 faculties). 

With the loss of specialised staff and services of course comes an end to rational processes and decision making. Staff and faculties are no longer allowed to use logic, nuance or best judgement when making decisions on matters from credit transfers through to students experiencing illness or bereavement; every decision must be funnelled through central bureaucracy, with university rules strictly applied (you had to fly overseas to attend your brother's funeral? You'd better have that essay in the day you return! You were away for five days so five days' extension is all you're going to get). 

But whilst all this is going on, the university has been embarking on a massive building program. Far from being short of cash, the uni is splashing out on fancy new facilities but not actually employing staff to put in them. The focus is on attracting investment and new overseas students; the uni's existing students are like flies at a picnic - an annoying side effect of running a university, not the core business of university itself. (And the administration woes are only the start. Arrive at either of the main campus libraries after 9am and you'll end up sitting on the floor; there are so few desks to meet the needs of the student body). 

The university paid $1.4 million last year to its Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence, so he could read about Centrelink's service woes and think to himself "that's nothing, have a look at what we can do here.". One imagines they're working on getting things so centralised they can do away with having to provide for undergraduate students altogether. It's all very Weberian - if only I was allowed to talk to someone who knows what that means.

If you've had a similar experience you'd like to share, please leave a comment on the form below. 

1 comment:

  1. A great parralel to Centrelink. Always people who arent in a position to fight who get trampled on. Similar beurocratic slashing in areas related to home ownership or corporate tax, and you'll get tens of thousands of people who can afford lawyers hiring them, and have to actually defend this stuff rather than just collect your cashbag and leave.


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