In June 2012, the Vice-Chancellor established a Panel to undertake a review of orientation and associated events at The University of Western Australia.
The aim of this review was to consider and report on the planning, conduct and overall quality of events conducted as part of orientation at the University of Western Australia. The review was conducted by inviting confidential submissions from stakeholders including all University staff and students, the Guild Executive, residential colleges, and the Sports and Recreation Association.
The Panel received 65 written submissions from stakeholder groups and individuals and 589 student responses to a survey on their orientation experience. The Panel also interviewed 45 staff and 40 students.
The Panel found much to commend with regard to current approaches to the administrative and academic aspects of orientation at UWA. The majority of events were well planned and conducted and the overall quality was very high. These events have appropriate aims that meet the needs of the diverse commencing student population.
The majority of students considered that their orientation to the university had been helpful. A number of problems were identified, however, in particular with regard to the overall responsibility, coordination and vision for orientation. The Panel concluded that orientation would be considerably improved if a high ranking academic took responsibility for orientation and that this should involve the development of a UWA Orientation Statement of Intent, coordination and approval of all orientation events and implementation of other strategies such as continuous quality improvement to address the changing needs of commencing students.
The panel noted great variability in the socially focussed orientation events and associated approaches to organisation, identification and management of risk and compliance with relevant University policies and the law. The Panel found excellent models in the University residential colleges. It was evident that college staff empower student leaders through training and support, and establish clear boundaries for social orientation events. This approach has resulted in fun, student-focussed, safe orientation events organised by the college student leaders that are compliant with University and college policies and the law.
The Panel was deeply concerned about off-campus orientation camps conducted by the Guild and affiliated faculty societies and clubs. The Panel was presented with evidence that these events are typically poorly planned and conducted, resulting in severe risk to the physical health, mental health and legal liability of all participants. Many of the camps examined were not compliant with a number of University policies including The Charter of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the University Policy on Alcohol and Other Drugs, the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct, and the Work Health and Safety Policy. The Panel found that most, if not all, of these camps breached the Liquor Control Act 1988, because alcohol was served to students under 18 years of age and to intoxicated people. Some camps, for example O-Camp 2012, may also have breached the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, because the conduct of some activities may have constituted sexual harassment and / or sexual assault.
The Panel endorses the current ban on high risk camps put in place by the Vice-Chancellor in March 2012 and strongly recommends this ban be continued.
Submissions to the Panel clearly indicated that staff and most students agree that alcohol-based advertising and sponsorship of any orientation event is not appropriate.
The Panel strongly encourages the Guild to transform their view of what an orientation event might look like. The Guild must put in place procedures to ensure that future orientation events are well organised and planned, meet the needs of the diverse student population and, most importantly, are safe and compliant with University policies and the law. The Panel is of the view that the University must play a greater role in supporting the Guild in its endeavours, including the provision of orientation events.