Sydney students were shocked when they opened their email on a Friday night to find some “bloody awful” news waiting in their inbox.
A handful of Sydney students were shocked when they opened up their email on a Friday night to find some “bloody awful” news waiting in their inbox.
On Friday night, at 5.15pm, journalism students from Macleay College, a private university based in Sydney which also has a virtual Melbourne campus, found a “life-changing” email waiting for them in their inbox.
Two weeks into their first trimester, they were informed that the Diploma and Bachelor of Journalism courses had been cancelled due to “low enrolments”.
Earlier that day, the first-year students had gone to class and had been assigned homework for the following week.
In fact, their tutors and lecturers were only warned 25 minutes before them about the course terminations.
It has left staff facing unemployment and students with their life turned upside down; pupils in the middle of their degree may only be able to leave with a statement of attainment, not even a diploma or a degree to show for their hard work.
Meanwhile, first year students have quit full-time jobs, moved interstate and turned down other university offers for a now defunct degree and it is too late to apply to another university for this term.
“To be told on a Friday afternoon after hours is really heartless,” new journalism student Chelsea Caffery told news.com.au.
Students are wondering why Macleay College allowed their classes to continue for two weeks with the knowledge that enrolment numbers were too low to keep the course going.
The college has offered up an alternative degree, Digital Media, which is not a pure journalism course like the one they signed up for.
Now students have just one week before the census cut off date to decide whether to drop out of the course or enrol into the alternate degree.
For students where this is not their first year in the course, they have a “teach out” option which involves them studying as much as they can until their trimester ends on May 20, by which time they will either have finished their degree or will only receive a statement of attainment.
Contractors revealed to news.com.au that their contracts were never renewed for this year, and instead they were being paid through weekly invoices, in what could be a sign that the future of the course had been uncertain for some time.
Ms Caffery, 20, who was two weeks into the $54,000 Bachelor of Journalism course, gave up a full-time job and another university offer to land her dream degree at Macleay.
“It’s really really tough, we’re angry and we’re upset and we’re really confused,” she said.
“We’re literally four business days [until the census date] away from making a life-changing decision.
“This was the next two years of my life, I had it all planned out. This degree I was so excited for. I’ve been sitting here for the next 24 hours wondering what do I do with my life now.”
In a move that students have labelled as even more insulting, their queries to Macleay College have gone unanswered, some claim.
The bombshell email was sent 15 minutes after close of business on a Friday and students have been unable to get in touch with university executives since.
Students have taken to social media to express their outrage, with one person calling the situation “unconscionable”.
“Minutes after we got the email I tried to ring them straight away, the number rung out. We’ve also put through emails with no answer,” Ms Caffery recalled.
“They left us all weekend to be in the dark about it. We can’t even contact the uni for clarification.”
Ezra Bell, a 23-year-old mature age student who had just signed up for the bachelor’s course, said the timing of the email was “very calculated”.
“I was halfway through doing college work, checked my emails, saw it,” he said to news.com.au.
“I was like ‘what the f*ck’.”
One of the main reasons Mr Bell wanted to study at Macleay College was because it didn’t require him to do a bridging course which would take an extra year, unlike more traditional universities. “Now it looks I’ll have to,” he lamented.
He said the university also offered students counselling support — but there was a major catch.
“The mental health comment in the email basically said ‘we understand this is tough, contact the counselling service’,” Mr Bell explained.
“But the counsellors for the college closed 45 minutes after the email was sent.
“They’re closed throughout the weekend obviously, if someone did need it, you can’t get to it.”
News.com.au understands one student is very distressed and staff are concerned for their welfare.
When contacted by news.com.au, Sue Stephenson, the head of journalism at Macleay College, confirmed that she only found out about the College’s plans to scrap her courses 25 minutes before students were emailed.
The decision was read to her in a meeting in which she was not allowed to ask questions, and she was then informed her position would be redundant in an email from the college accountant.
“Because the news was delivered late on a Friday, I was the one left to deal with distressed students and confused lecturers,” Ms Stephenson said. “But I wasn’t armed to deal with their questions.”
Only hours earlier, Ms Stephenson had emailed students with the news she’d struck an ongoing internship deal with The Australian and its prestige brands in the belief that the course was not in jeopardy.
Macleay College was purchased last year by fashion entrepreneur Sarah Stavrow last year.
Ms Stavrow had previously assured staff that the program would be retained as it was what Macleay was “known for”.
But at the meeting outlining the course closure, Ms Stavrow was not present and refused to take calls afterwards.
A lecturer at the college, Michelle Stephenson, said the whole situation was “pretty bloody awful”.
“My primary concern is the students — the welfare of the students,” she told news.com.au.
“They’ve just come off the back of a pandemic, that was very isolating for them, I worked really hard to ensure their mental wellbeing was good.
“To be handed this email is a real kick in the guts.”
She said everyone had been left “blindsided”.
“It was crazy because we were promised the world, it feels like they were testing the waters to see how popular the course was going to be.”
She added: “A lot of incredible journalists have come from there.”
Kelsey Richmond is another student who had pinned her hopes on starting the journalism course at Macleay this year.
Ms Richmond, 26, spent two years recovering from a serious car accident and had only just felt well enough to enrol into a Bachelor’s degree for journalism.
“Absolutely devastated the course had been cancelled,” she said to news.com.au.
“I’ve lost two weeks of work due to this and I now have to tell my employer I will possibly be enrolling to a different university and my days of availability to work will change.
“As an adult who pays rent, bills and has no one else to lean on for financial support, this is highly stressful.”
Ms Richmond said the hype around the course was now an “empty promise”.
“We were told by Sarah [Ms Stavrow] that the new campus we were moving to next trimester had a whole floor dedicated to the journalism degree and students.
“What an empty promise and claim. We want answers and our course back.”
Ms Stavrow said she would not be commenting on the matter. The College did not respond to queries.