“It has drastic impacts on our ability to learn and work while we’re at university, the workload’s increased, there’s now no mid-semester break to recuperate or catch up and no study time before exams,” Ms Keogh said.
A staff member from the law faculty at UNSW, who did not want to be named, said “courses will have to be dumbed down over time” under the trimester model.
“If there was a proper ballot of staff, you’d find almost universal opposition among staff to trimesters, it has consequences not only for students but for the quality of education,” he said.
“It’s mostly seen as a money-making exercise. I’d be surprised if other universities didn’t follow suit.”
Multiple staff members from UNSW’s mechanical engineering faculty said students no longer have time to properly complete a mandatory thesis subject under the new model.
Students from Sydney University, the University of Wollongong and the Australian National University also joined Wednesday’s protest in Kensington, saying they are worried their universities will also make similar changes to increase revenue.
Layla Mkh, 20, who is studying arts at Sydney University, said: “There are similar incentives at the University of Sydney to cost-cut.”
Chloe Rafferty, 28, who is studying art history at the University of Wollongong, said UNSW, the first group of eight university to move to trimesters, is “ground zero”.
“If we don’t stop this we know a whole bunch of money-hungry vice-chancellors will look at it as a good idea,” Ms Rafferty said.
A spokeswoman for Sydney University said: “There are no plans to introduce a trimester system at this stage. This year, our semester dates were slightly revised to allow students greater access to our summer and winter programs…as well as global mobility and exchange opportunities.”
Under the changes, semester one started a week early and semester two a week later, increasing the break in between to six weeks.
A spokesman for the University of Wollongong said there are “no plans to introduce trimesters into its undergraduate programs”.
The University of Technology Sydney implemented trimesters in 2016 and the University of Wollongong moved to trimesters for its Sydney Business School students in 2012, citing “pressure on universities to make use of their teaching facilities for more of the year than is currently the case”.
It is understood that the University of Adelaide is now also considering the change.
Under UNSW’s new model, the normal study load of eight courses is spread over three 10-week terms, with an optional five-week summer school.
Students get two-week breaks at the end of each term and a nine-week summer holiday, and fewer study days before exams.
UNSW did not respond to a request for comment, but states on its website that the trimester model gives students more flexibility to spread out their study load, have the option of taking more time off for work and internship opportunities and aligns the UNSW calendar to that of universities in the northern hemisphere.
Education reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald