ACU’s ‘crisis cohort’

Coronavirus has created a ‘crisis cohort’ across Australia which will scar our students’ lives if not addressed. Many students worldwide, as well as here at ACU, will not finish their studies outside of ‘special measures’, and already unemployment and economic disruption are impacting on national economies. This current crisis seems to portend something even worse than the 2008/9 GFC with huge falls of GDP and accompanying mass unemployment predicted.

Young workers, student-workers (gone are the days when the majority of students could get by without a job), and graduates are likely to be hardest hit; they work fewer hours and are more likely to be unemployed in times of crisis. The ‘finance economy’ and the maxing out of credit systems are unsustainable for the long-term future of our young people. Furthermore, young people it seems are increasingly subject to mental health problems and depression. 

There is a debt due to those who follow us. This involves our capacity to ensure that there is no disadvantage conferred on our next generation simply because they were young when the pandemic hit. We cannot allow a young graduate precariat to emerge, nor tolerate the youth unemployment which has scarred many nations across the globe in recent times. This situation accelerates us in the universities towards a new view of how we might change and adapt to meet this crisis, and how this may inform our readiness and response for, inevitably, the next.

For ACU Queensland, I am pleased to report that our McAuley at Banyo campus has remained open throughout the current crisis with a workforce of ‘essential services’ staff on site each day. During this time, our entire academic and professional staffing body have worked tirelessly to transfer and support their courses online. 

In recent months, the campus has seen a steady flow of staff and students visiting each day (at times up to 120), with access to the university Library proving to be particularly important to students seeking to complete their course requirements without having access to their own personal computer, laptop or iPad. A very special thank you must go to our Library staff who have ensured these students have been able to continue to access these services throughout this period.

Our Properties Team continue to ensure the highest standards of social distancing and cleanliness are adhered to. And our Medical Centre continues to offer bulk-billed annual flu vaccinations, which reduce the severity and risk of contracting influenza (which could make us more susceptible to COVID-19). Importantly, they also offer a bulk-billed health and wellbeing online program that supports the mental health of staff and students at this stressful time.

The return of some practical classes have commenced on the McAuley at Banyo campus this week including the following:

Midwifery                         18-May  30-May

Nursing                             25-May  25-Jul   

Paramedicine                    25-May  10-Jun  

Exercise Science               15-Jun    30-Jun  

Exercise Physiology           6-Jul      16-Jul    Brisbane

Finally, our fabulous McAuley Student Association are working hard to combat the effects of the pandemic on our student lives. Here is the most recent link to their Mongrel’s Kennel podcast. Mary Tower, Filipe Afu and their team are doing a wonderful job in keeping students connected through these unprecedented times.

We are very lucky because we work with what seem to be endless and recurring generations of young people who have flooded through our classroom and laboratory doors in recent decades. An ever-expanding and secure economy was, for many, the unspoken and unacknowledged condition for this, which was safe and secure down the generations. The coronavirus has shown us this is not the case. We have been shown how precarious and insecure our lives can be. We must be thankful for the eternal optimism of youth which will not be fazed by the size and difficulty of the task, but if we underestimate the challenge, we shall betray their trust in us.

Our next generation of ACU students need a better legacy than the one presently on offer. It falls to us to accept the challenge and make the change, does it not?

Stay safe, stay well and, perhaps most importantly in these times of restricted social connectedness, stay in touch!

Professor Jim Nyland
AVC Queensland

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