It has been twelve months since the release of the Change the Course report on campus sexual violence. Out of the 30,000 students who participated in the survey, it was found that overall, 51% of Australian students had experienced sexual harassment and 6.9% were sexually assaulted during 2015/16. These statistics were shocking, but not surprising to students. This shock was meant to be met with action.

Despite recommendations made in the report, university responses have widely differed with some failing to take any substantial action over this time. Actions taken by some campuses and their student unions to communicate this issue and introduce changes to policy and services should be commended. However, when we compare the actions of some universities in Australia, we can see our University lacking in progress.

UMSU and University management have a common goal of preventing sexual violence, as well as fostering a safe environment for students in and out of the classroom. UMSU, as the student organisation on campus, has changed its internal policies and practices to reflect this goal. While approaches to tackling this issue may differ, the University and student representative organisations must be working in collaboration. The entire campus community benefits when there is real collaboration between students and management, and when student voices are heard and acted upon.

We do not mean to minimise the steps the University of Melbourne has already taken to tackle this issue, however, we believe that our University could have done more over the last year. We would like to see the University introducing significant systemic and cultural changes – from offering better student support services, to changing campus and classroom culture. These changes need to be introduced on every level, from students to teachers and staff, and up to administrative management. This needs to be done now.

UMSU calls upon the University to take further leadership on this issue and enact the following steps in sexual violence prevention at the University of Melbourne:

  • Further education on consent, healthy relationships, and bystander awareness beyond digital modules, with education on the issue being bought into the curriculum
  • An accessible, anonymous reporting portal that deals with cases in a transparent fashion
  • That the collection of all data pertaining to sexual violence be in a centralised location, with such data being released every 2 years.
  • Further oversight into the colleges and their dealings with cases of sexual violence
  • An investigation into college culture and hazing at all colleges, whether university owned or not.
  • A specialised unit within student services to deal with cases of sexual assault and harassment
  • A standalone sexual assault and harassment policy, with its drafting and implementation being undertaken in consultation with student and staff representatives.
  • Further funding to counselling and psychological services.
  • Adequate information for international students regarding Australian law, rights, and university culture.

The survey results have provided Australian universities with the knowledge to tackle the issue of sexual violence on campus. While recognising that sexual harassment and assault are not issues specific to the university setting, universities have the power to lead the change. The University of Melbourne prides itself on shaping the great leaders of tomorrow. Those future leaders are calling for change. We want to be heard. We want to be believed. We want a safer community – not only on campus, but in the wider community.  Universities need to be taking this opportunity to connect with their communities to create a safe, inclusive campus for all. We believe our university can do it.

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

Please join us at the Rally Against Sexual Violence, August 1 at 2pm on South Lawn. Click here for more information.

UMSU stands with survivors – if you need help, find support at the following organisations and services:

  • UMSU Advocacy Service: 8344 6546
  • UMSU Legal Service: 0468 720 668
  • CASA (Centre Against Sexual Assault): 1800 806 292
  • Beyond Blue (anxiety and depression support): 1300 224 636
  • LifeLine (crisis support and suicide prevention): 131 114


What’s going on with University staff?

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), the union for all staff at the University, is currently holding a ballot asking its members on our campus whether to go on strike.

At the moment, all staff are covered by an “enterprise bargaining agreement”, or EBA – a big document that details pay, breaks and other conditions. It has to be re-negotiated every few years and the University has been in enterprise bargaining for the past 13 months.

What are the issues?

The NTEU is calling for industrial action as negotiations have now stalled on a few pivotal points of difference. University staff are fighting to:

  • Keep a single Enterprise Agreement, so that the Uni will continue to treat the staff who teach you and the staff who manage your degree in the same way.
  • Keep protections to academic freedom of staff in the Enterprise Agreement
  • Oppose proposed changes to limit incremental progression for Uni staff at the level of HEW 6 and above.
  • Maintain the existing commitment to staff/student ratios, so workloads do not increase. Currently across Australia, university staff work sometimes up to 50 hours per week.
  • Keep a commitment to reach targets of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in the agreement

However, a vote of NTEU members, known as a Protected Action Ballot, must be taken before staff can strike. In this ballot, staff must vote on the types of industrial action they may take. This may range from staff refusing to work overtime, not transmitting results to the University, to simply refusing to work at all. Staff of the University of Melbourne who are members of the NTEU will be able to vote on this online ballot, which is open until 12 noon on Friday, April 27.

Why UMSU’s role is important

It is important that all unions, including student unions, support one another. UMSU stands in solidarity with trade unions and we support the right of unions to take action in order to improve the conditions of people at work.

Just as there exists a wide network of student unions that exist at different universities to advocate for students, trade unions are organisations that exist at workplaces so workers can come together to achieve common goals at work. Many of the work rights we take for granted including the 8 hour day, weekends and penalty rates for overtime and weekend work were all won by workers standing together in the union movement.

When negotiations reach a standstill, often employees and employers will look for other ways to move forward. A tool that many unions have used to put pressure on employers to gain better working conditions and settle workplace disputes is industrial action: where workers strike, ban or limit the amount of work they do.

We support the NTEU in their fight to maintain the working conditions of staff at this university. Staff working conditions are student learning conditions, and UMSU stands in solidarity with the staff of this university as they seek to improve their workplace rights.

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

How to cast your vote before April 27:

Join your trade union: