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UTAS - Proposed Move

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Tags: UTAS

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I rise tonight to talk about the proposed UTAS move into the city and about democracy, also, to thank architects, Ian Johnson and Peter Bicevskis.

Peter Bicevskis has more than 40 years' experience in large-scale urban architecture and planning. We went for a walk about a month ago, an architect-led tour of the proposed UTAS city move sites. We went to the Melville Street, the former Forestry Tasmania building which is a fantastic site. We talked through some of the challenges there and I learnt then, which I had not known, that overwhelmingly lecturers and staff were concerned about the move into that building and what that may mean for their learning experience.

We then went to the K&D site which is one of the great sites in Hobart and talked about the plans for that site and some of the issues with that. Then we did an interesting tour of the UTAS accommodation. There are two major accommodation buildings in the city for UTAS and one of them was as a result of the Labor-Greens government securing National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) funding when I was Housing minister, to build the first one in Elizabeth Street and then there is the Melville Street accommodation. There are some issues there with that accommodation. It just looks a bit cheap. There was supposed to be a community garden out the back and there are some very sad, depressed-looking scrappy trees out the back and some flowers in planter boxes. It was not particularly impressive.

The reason I am on my feet today is because there has been quiet from UTAS about the proposed move for a while now, in fact ever since the Hobart elector poll which found that 75 per cent of the residents of Hobart did not support the move. There might be a whole range of reasons for that. It might be a bit like the stadium where basically the population was told, 'here, you will have this. This is the way it will be'. Whatever the reason for so much local community angst about it, it is a fact that almost 23 000 voters voted 'no' in the UTAS elector poll. That is a real challenge for the university's management because this city belongs to the people of greater Hobart, the people of Tasmania. When you have such resistance in the population to a move, surely it is a moment for self-reflection.

Then there was the survey by the National Tertiary Education Union where it found 75 per cent of UTAS staff and the Tasmanian University Student Association opposed the move. About six weeks ago on 3 April, I released a statement which said:

The TUSA state council is of the position that there should be no changes to the physical locations of university campuses in the south of Australia unless the following occurs:

That UTAS shows a genuine and concerted effort to improve communication, engagement and transparency with students.

UTAS can show that a change in location would not adversely impact educational quality or the student experience, and the university commits to making university facilities and learning environments accessible and affordable to all students.

I want to preface all my comments today by saying that I love the University of Tasmania. It is our only university. It has been there for our aspirational people of all ages, our best and brightest. It has educated my children so they can go on to greater things.

There has been an issue lately where there seems to have been more of a focus on being a property developer than delivering the highly academic educational standards that UTAS has long had a reputation for. I have spoken to students who have made a choice to further their studies on the mainland because, for example, they do not want to be watching four -year-old videos of law professors.

Some of the fabric of that campus life has been profoundly altered. I am sure it is not just at the University of Tasmania, the world is changing, and people should be able to access tertiary education online, but there has been a perception at least, among people who would seek to do their degrees, postgraduate at UTAS, that the focus on development in the city has come at the expense of an emphasis on academic education quality, rightly or wrongly.

We asked some questions of the Premier last year about the UTAS move and he pretended that UTAS is a private entity despite the fact it is administered under the University of Tasmania Act of 1992, it receives around $30 million in state funds annually, and it is our only University.

UTAS has some issues here with the democratic expression of the people of Hobart, of staff and of students, where there is deep resistance to the move. There is a concern about diminishing quality of learning at UTAS. It would be wonderful if they just press pause and had a deeper conversation with those affected communities, to see if there is another path forward, a third way. I think what is going to happen here is that, as is so often the way in Tasmania, a developer will try to carry on regardless. Given this is a public institution, much loved by Tasmanians, needed by Tasmanians, that they have a responsibility to apply a deft and responsive touch here to this issue, because it has caused concern in the community. People are not happy with the way it has been handled by university management. I say those things in good faith.