LOCAL students respond to the Federal budget’s stance on higher education amid fears that deregulation of university fees will result in higher costs to students. Protestors took to the streets of Melbourne last Wednesday. Kai Yi Wong reports.
Cries of “No Cuts, No Fees, No Corporate Universities!” filled the air on Wednesday as student protestors took to the streets to make their voices heard.
The rally was part of a National Day of Action across the country, which saw students in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Canberra demand the scrapping of the controversial Federal scheme to deregulate the higher education sector.
Protestors were already converging on the State Library half an hour before the march was to begin. By 2pm, the crowd numbered more than a thousand.
A truck with speakers and microphones mounted on its bed served as a platform for speakers.
Melbourne Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Greens Adam Bandt told students that the current Government “does not share modern Australian values like compassion and equality”, and that “education should never be the province only of the rich”.
“The divide between the haves and the have-nots is growing, and that is why there are thousands of people here today, and people from all walks of life are going to keep taking to the streets until these reforms are dead and buried,” he said.
Students fear that the latest reforms will turn Australia’s higher education sector into a US-style two tier system, which will create unequal opportunities and force working students into debt.
Meld also reported in May this year that international students may also face university fee hikes as a result of the proposed deregulation of the university system.
The Federal Government stated plans to overhaul the education sector with a focus on universities in its budget which was released in May.
It plans to deregulate university fees by 2016, removing artificial caps on course fees and allowing universities to charge students at will.
Deanna Taylor, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), said in an interview that students have the support of staff at the NTEU, as well as parents all over the country.
“We want to keep the pressure on the Government. Pyne’s already indicated he’s going to compromise on some elements in the package, and that’s really the talk of a man who knows he’s fighting a losing battle against us,” she said.
Declan Murphy, one of the protest organizers, believes grassroots movements are key to fighting the education reforms and making the Government listen.
“I think we’ve shown that with this movement, all of the major opposition parties are singing from the same songbook as us and they support what we’re saying,” he said.
“We hope to defeat the reforms the Government has proposed. We want every opposition and crossbench Senator to vote against Chris Pyne’s package (introduced next Wednesday), so that it won’t become law.”
During the protest, students burned an effigy of Chris Pyne and staged a sit-down at the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets, forcing cars and trams to a standstill.
Police maintained a constant presence nearby and no arrests were made.