Backchat Explains: Why are students scared of the “trimonster”?

April 5th 2017

Image credit: NTEU 

PSA: Universities have announced that they’re switching it up and enforcing threesomes – apologies, that read wrong – they’re now enforcing three semesters. Dun dun dun.

The so-called “trimonster” snuck up on its first unsuspecting victims at the University of Technology, Sydney, and is now on a hunt to claim its next at the University of New South Wales.

UNSW has announced its transition to a trimester model, the “UNSW3+”, in 2019. A lot of staff and students are pretty unhappy.


Changes to a university’s academic calendar alter how fees are structured, the length of degrees and the duration of breaks. It’s a major change for the university, students and staff.

In 2016, UTS reduced its traditional 14-week semesters to 11 weeks with an additional optional Summer semester. The general idea was that it would allow students to fast track their degrees. But the majority of subjects have not been rolled out for the Summer semester, meaning that degrees are the same length, students are paying the same fees for less class time, and the summer break is disproportionately long.

UNSW3+ is different to the UTS trimester structure. Students will attend three 10-week terms, with an optional 5-week being available over the Summer term. Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education, Merlin Crossy, says that students shouldn’t be concerned about fees, as the normal course load will remain as eight subjects per year. Students will have to put up with shortened holiday periods and no mid-semester breaks. Like UTS, semesters are shorter but the fees stay the same.


The “lack of consultation and transparency”  are key reasons staff and students are pissed off at UNSW. Many say the institution moved ahead with changes without proper communication with stakeholders. Dr Sarah Gregson, Branch president of the National Tertiary Education Union, claims a serious lack of transparency.

“There’s a difference between consultation where you take suggestions on board and where you’ve already got your plans made up and you just want to go around talking to people and pretend you’re listening.”

A third year Arts & Education student, Jordan, has called the consultation process “a total sham”. He went to one of the Q&A sessions where students were only allowed to ask questions that had been pre-approved by the university.

“All they care about is restructuring their university to best suit their kind of business interests.”

UNSW did conduct a series of staff and student feedback surveys. In the online feedback, over 90% of these responses were critical of the move to the new model. The most common criticism concerned UNSW’s lack of transparency and its failure to meaningfully consult students.

But UNSW has not released the results of all its surveys. A 4th year UNSW law student, William Berthelot, submitted a Freedom of Information request to have more data given to the student body.

“I think if students knew that their survey was actually being used to formulate policy and was being released and transparent, then people would be more likely to fill out surveys, not less.”

The Vice Chancellor defended keeping the results of surveys from the public, saying it’s important for some of the results to remain confidential.

“Everyone believes confidentiality is vital in certain interactions. We want to be able to maintain a dialogue with students in confidence, and not have the university run by just a constant referendum process.”

There are also concerns about how changes will be implemented. Staff and students say they haven’t been given information about the transition. Third year Commerce & Information Systems student, Michael Fung, will be finishing his degree in 2019, just as the new calendar is being introduced. He’s uncertain about how it will affect his final year.

“That’s when most people look for internships and grad opportunities – and if I don’t know when my courses are going to be done, and how they’re going to be taught, and the pressures, just the structure of it, it leaves a lot to be questioned… which isn’t particularly good for me because it is my final year. It isn’t a good thing to have, and not a good thing to think about.”


Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education, Merlin Crossy, says changes will align the academic calendar with the Northern Hemisphere to attract more international students, and local students will be given more flexibility the Vice Chancellor says this will increase the university’s revenue. As a not for profit institution, revenue will be redirected back to UNSW.

“Unless we’re an internationally competitive university, the degrees of our students aren’t going be worth very much.”

The University allegedly spent $25 million seeking consultation from Price Waterhouse Coopers about its overhaul of the academic calendar. But Professor Crossley insists that this is a misunderstanding. He says UNSW engaged the consultants to help plan more than 50 projects related to the new 2025 Strategy, one of which is the move to the trimester model.

It’s no secret universities want to raise revenue. President of the National Union of Students, Sophie Johnston, says this stems from the government’s lack of commitment to funding. The NUS initiated a Make Education Free Again Campaign last month. In this political climate, it is a polarising idea, considering the recent push for a deregulation of fees and adoption of the US system.

Ms Johnston believes the way to overcome the funding crisis is to redirect the conversation about what a tertiary education means to us as a nation. She believes it should be viewed as an achievement which will result in social and economic prosperity. Providing appropriate resources would be an investment.

“We have a government that is refusing to talk about their plans for the Budget and the 20% funding cut… I don’t believe education is going to be made free in one year, but we need to go in a completely different direction from where we’re going at the moment.”




This story starts at 2:50. Audio story by Natalie Sekulovska.


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