Monumental changes are occurring within the Faculty of Education and Social Work as the university has instructed the faculty to prepare for the end of its century-long tenure at its historic Epsom campus.
For the first time since its establishment in 1881, the faculty will be packing their bags and moving to the university’s central Symonds Street hub, with the transition scheduled to take place late 2020. It is yet unclear exactly why the university wants to move the faculty closer to its home base; what we do know is that the move factors into a larger-scale plan by the university to upgrade and integrate its facilities, and Māori tribes have expressed interest in purchasing back the Epsom land.
The move also comes at a time when the Education and Social Work Faculty have axed a large number of academic staff due to sharp and consistent declines in teacher trainees, making the smaller number easier to accommodate on Symonds Street, especially once the completion of the new Engineering building frees up lots of space on campus. Valued at $80m, the Epsom campus, once vacated, will have its fate left for the university to decide, but one thing is for certain – its loss will be monumental to the faculty it will cease to house.
To understand the cultural importance of the Epsom campus towards the faculty’s own identity, I had to do some digging into the origins of the faculty itself. It was established on its current Epsom grounds in 1881 as the Auckland College of Education, and operated as a separate entity from the University of Auckland for over 100 years. In fact, it was only a 2004 merger that formed the current Faculty of Education and Social Work, and they have remained on their Epsom grounds ever since. But now, marching orders have come from the university to uproot and shift base to its main city hub, calling time on a near 150-year stay.
Students were instructed only as late as earlier this year that a move for the faculty was in the university’s plans, and the reaction since has been divisive. Many are upset with losing the campus’ unique culture and heritage so integral to the faculty’s identity as a whole, as well as losing many important specialist facilities that Epsom contains. However, it is clear that many positives will come out of the transition: the technological capabilities of the city campus’ lecturing facilities are far beyond what Epsom campus holds currently, and also it eliminates the physical distance between the faculty and the predominant student hub for the university.
To gain full cognizance of the implications surrounding the eventual move, it was clear I had to talk to someone who had first-hand experience of the student life around Epsom. Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with ESSA (Education and Social Work Student Association) Vice President Lexie Qiao on the upcoming move and how it will affect her faculty’s students.
“There’s a community-based feeling [here],” Lexie says of the Epsom campus. “We’re not part of the city [campus]; we’re our own college.” It’s a campus where she has studied for two years towards a Bachelor in Early Childhood Education, and it’s an environment she’s come to love and appreciate as a key part of her student journey. “We’re like a big family. We all know each other, we get along with each other quite well and we never feel like we’re sitting alone at a lecture. I think that’s quite different from the experience at city [campus] where, if you’re a new student, you can feel easily left out due to the large crowd.”
Lexie is concerned for the faculty’s unique student culture being at risk of being lost with a move away from the intimate Epsom campus. “I think there’s the downside that students have to get used to everything around the city campus – it’s a new orientation for everything. It will take time and energy too. Some students will naturally feel overwhelmed with the large number of students.” Epsom is also home to specialist facilities integral to the nature of the programmes which the Faculty of Education and Social Work offers. “We’ve got an early childhood centre that’s quite special to our campus,” she points out, “as well as a gymnasium for sports education and our own marae.”
However, despite what the faculty is set to lose, Lexie also admits there are long overdue positives to arise from this move. “From a student’s point of view, it’s easier to [take] transport to the city rather than Epsom. To the city, there are many trains, buses. To Epsom, there are less options.” She also draws attention to a key flaw with Epsom’s facilities; “for me this semester, our lectures were not recorded. As a class rep, I talked to my lecturers about that, but our campus has only one lecture room capable of recording, while other rooms are only capable of handling smaller tutorials and are what we use. Personally, I don’t think this is fair for us, as we have had to do our own recordings.”
In fact, the list of potential benefits continues – from our high-end gym facility to hosting all the club events, it’s a readily reminder that with a campus as isolated as Epsom is, it’s easy to take for granted the facilities we have so readily available on Symonds Street. “Generally speaking, it’s a really good sign that we’re being included in the larger student community,” Lexie believes.
What we can say without a doubt is that the Education and Social Work faculty is facing the largest change of its extensive history, and come next year, disregarding the ups and downs associated with such a move, our new neighbours will get to experience the best of what Symonds Street has to offer. And it’s our job to be supportive when they find out that best doesn’t include much more than Lime juicers, paintball scammers, and the constant annoyance of construction trucks rolling through Symonds Street. But we’ll save that one for another listicle.