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Feature image illustration by Monica Renn.
After milling around in front of a small EAG speak-out for approximately 15 minutes, entry into the Great Hall for tonight’s meeting has begun. The room is about 1/3 full.
Here’s a picture of the stage set up.
Attendees currently being treated to some mild classical music over the PA system. We suspect that the Uni is hoping to set a calm, serene tone for the evening.
The meeting has been interrupted by the Bust the Budget group A person is standing on a chair speaking loudly. They have labelled the meeting a farce and said Michael Spence has been lobbying for fee deregulation for four years. The volume of the classical music has suddenly become louder.
The Bust the Budget speaker has been interrupted by MC Adam Spencer, who has started proceedings. The group briefly chant and then quieten (after booing Vice Chancellor Michael Spence).
Bust the Budget speaker standing above the crowd to condemn the setup of the meeting.
The meeting has been interrupted by the Bust the Budget group, with a person standing on a chair speaking loudly. They have labelled the meeting a farce and said Michael Spence has been lobbying for fee deregulation for four years. The volume of the classical music has suddenly become louder.
We just heard an Acknowledgement of Country from DVC Shane Houston. We are now hearing an introduction from the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson. Some of the things she covers in her speech:
She says the challenge for USyd and other universities is that the changes to policy were announced with a round of funding cuts to universities.
She says the cuts are hard for USyd as USyd is committing to providing world class research.
We have been able to counter some funding cuts through attracting fee-paying international students to USyd, but it is still a challenge, she says.
“We are particularly concerned about equity and access,” she says.
Hutchinson also touches on the gender pay gap in Australia, saying that equity in higher education is especially important for women. She add that the likelihood of women to enter low-paying professions (e.g. teaching and nursing) also contributes to the pay gap.
“The evening is an important opportunity for you… to have your say,” she says. “It is about listening to the views of each other.”
Michael Spence’s presentation has been interrupted by SRC Education Officer Eleanor Morley, demanding why she has not been permitted to speak at the meeting. MC Adam Spencer has intervened, and says that he has permission to shut the meeting down if the shouting gets so bad that people cannot be heard.
Spence continues his presentation, while EAG members continue to heckle.
MC Adam Spencer now explaining the process of how speakers will proceed tonight (TL;DR, hard limit of 3 minutes per speaker, no one should interrupt, etc etc)
Vice- Chancellor Michael Spence, after taking the stage to a chorus of “shames”, boos, and chants, wants to provide students with some “new information”.
Spence has brought visual aids in the form of a powerpoint presentation. He is talking about “our contribution to the nation’s flourishing”. Poses a series of questions to the room:
How is the expanision of uni education to be funded, and in a way that enhances quality and access? Should it be from tuition fees? What should be the balance between public and private contributions?
What from my point of view is this evening about? This is a town hall meeting in which we will have the opportunity to listen to people. That will be followed up by a variety of forms of consultation.
I hope that this is a moment in time in which we can talk not just about the Pyne reforms, but about the broader questions of the social importance of universities and education. For the first time in a long time, those questions are being taken seriously by the public.
First speaker is Timothy Scriven. The changes to the sector will make it more exclusive, limit minority groups from accessing University.
“I want to use this platform to call for free education”.
TIMOTHY SCRIVEN – SUPRA PRESIDENT
– Against fee deregulation
– “I wish to use this platform to call for free education.”
– Refers to recent policy changes in Germany, Turkey.
– Aus universities refer to themselves as having brands, students refer to themselves as consumers.
– Marketing reduces intrinsic value students place on knowledge.
– “I call on this assembly to imagine a university … that refuses the idea learning should ever be a commodity, de-regulated or otherwise.”
– Ends speech with “We will win.”
Second speaker is Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women Australia:
-I want to focus on how the changes will affect women;
– This will disproportionately impact women. The gender pay gap is now 18.2%, and women are more likely to take more time to pay off debt because of caring for children, which will mean they accrue more interest and debt;
– Women are more sensitive to the cost factors of education, and may opt out of tertiary education or go to cheaper degrees;
-The University must establish a gender equality fund to assist women to bring down the cost of their education;
– I urge the University to invest in the education of women as a mechanism to drive economic growth and social equality.
Third speaker is Matthew Etherden, CPSU Vice President
– Started at USyd in 1994, he has been here ever since.
– Did an Honours degree on people who worship aliens, was asked why he bothered with that.
– Now works in the IT infrastructure area at USyd.
– He says students don’t want an environment where they’re going to be under debt.
– “We are the best university in the country and we should be leading the charge to say to the government enough is enough, start prioritising higher education.”
Fourth speaker is Amy Knox, Women’s Officer of NSW branch of NUS and SRC councillor
– I want to talk about women;
– Under the current system, women already take twice as long to pay off their HECS debt
– If these government proposals go through, women will have to bear a huge burden of debt if they take time out of their career to have a family;
– I implore this university to consider women students in particular, and not to let women students down.
Fifth speaker – Damian Furlong, President of USU Alumni and Friends
– Refers to fee deregulation as “unpalatable”.
– Says we have amongst us people who can exert pressure on politicans, journalists and other power holders in society.
– “We must reach out to every alumni we have.”
– “I want to speak about talent management of our alumni cohort.”
– “Accept the world is changing, but don’t lose our moral compass.”
– He says we must go into friend-raising instead of fund-raising — recognising the forming of networks outside of lectures and tutorials.
Sixth speaker is Rebecca Plumbe, Alumni and Current Staff Member
-Education is a social good- affecting access to education affects not just the individual but our whole society;
– This will disproportionality affect people who come from low-SES backgrounds and people who enter low-paid professions;
– I would like to see this university push the government hard to find alternatives to fee deregulation;
– If deregulation is necessary, then people who enter lower-paid professions should have to pay less.
Seventh speaker, Simon Hill, postgrad JD student
– I am a student who values the education I get.
– “These changes also affect all postgrads,” he says.
– Says his JD is virtually indistinguishable from undergrad law. Describes postgrads as the cash cows of the university, says it has been turned into a commodity, not an opportunity.
– Says by providing better circumstances, our PHds would be more sought after.
– He doesn’t want deregulation, but wants better conditions IF deregulations occurs.
– “If deregulation occurs, we need to be able to hold the university to account to see where our money is going.”
– He calls for universities to more transparent about where funds go.
Eighth speaker is Georg Tamm, current undergraduate student
– Fee deregulation is an attack on our students, staff and the university itself;
– Higher costs of living for students all the time, which aren’t covered by Centrelink, and won’t be covered by proposed access scholarships. I already struggle to cover my costs;
– Access scholarships would have to be huge to cover the cost of fee deregulation, and I don’t believe they’ll be big enough;
– The university should care about the continued growth of our country, and should update its scholarships, but not at the cost of its students.
Ninth speaker is Michael Thomson, President of the USyd NTEU Branch
– Many people have been shocked by the harsh Abbott budget.
– “The federal budget must be condemned.”
– NTEU polling shows higher ed is an important issue for many people.
– Govt is proposing further deregulation and privatisation of higher ed. Some VCs at Go8 universities have welcomed the changes.
– “The same people who support deregulation of fees are cutting staff at universities.”
– There is no commitment to low SES students.
– “Student learning conditions are staff working conditions.”
Tenth speaker is Jun Tong, PHD student and tutor
– I am not politically affiliated.
– We will lose out if the university charges prohibitive fees for degrees that do not lead to a proper salary.
– Is it affordable to study what you are passionate about?
– This debate is not only about pricing out students from an education of their own passion, it is also the loss of talent we will suffer if we pose exorbitant disincentives.
– We will produce fewer artists and scientists, more lawyers and accountants.
– “Why are we adopting a system that everybody else is abandoning?”
– The Pyne reforms are a disincentive to academic excellence, to arts and the sciences.
Eleventh speaker is Alex Dore, SUPRA councillor and former SULC president:
– Tonight’s event was created to be a partisan attack on the Abbott government;
– I am glad to see that the government is beginning to stop the gravy train;
– The opponents of reform in this debate have no problem with student money being used to hire jumping castles and hold a “radical sex week”;
– The reforms proposed are fair- “there is no such thing as a free education”;
– A free education is something paid for by taxes of all, most of whom haven’t had the benefit of higher education.
Twelfth speaker – Caitlin Gardner, student from regional Australia
– Hometown is five hours inland from Sydney but not rural enough for any benefit schemes.
– Her ability to come to university relied on ATAR, family support, cost of accomodation.
– Rural and regional students are being priced out of the university market. Moving away from family is difficult, challenges are almost impossible for some to overcome.
– Most people are unaware of the bias against rural and regional students in Youth Allowance. In some rural and regional areas getting the amount of work to be classified as independent is sometimes hard to find.
– There isn’t a week that goes by when my heart doesn’t break for friends back home.
– Many of her friends do not have the option to go away to university.
– Does the university want to be one of the city privileged, or where minds gather regardless of their background?
– Thanks the university for holding this forum.
Thirteenth speaker is Nick Riemer, CPSU member and USyd academic
– Fee deregulation means the entrenchment of educational disadvantage and the enclosure of knowledge in our society;
– The VC makes arguments for fee deregulation with a rationale of providing “quality” education- quality has a nasty habit of aligning with privilege;
– Education is a human right, just like food resources- we wouldn’t give some people good food and others none;
– In essence of silence, the VC has sided with the government;
– Mediocre standards for all is far more just than superior standards of education for some and no education for others.
Fourteenth is Donherra Walmsley, former SRC prez and NUS prez
– USyd already struggles to attract students who are not from advantaged backgrounds, not because of competitive entry, not because of ATARs, but because these students don’t feel USyd is for them.
– Students from public schools perform better than private counterparts at uni
– These reforms discourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
– They also encourage graduates to focus on escaping debt, rather than enriching communities with their degrees and knowledge.
– If there is a shortfall in funding, let’s look to the wealthy to fill it.
– “This is a conversation… about what kind of society we want to be. Do we want opportunity based on merit or what family you are born in to?”
Fifteenth speaker is Elly Howse, former SRC President
– I want you to consider what our dream university would look like- we need to define this vision and then discuss how we can support it;
– Merit should be the first criteria through which students can gain access to education, not money or background;
– We should have an inclusive supportive community of staff and student built on core values such as equality;
– Fee dereg might get us more money to buy nice new buildings, but it would compromise this community.
Sixteenth speaker is Tara Waniganayaka, current President of the University of Sydney Union.
– Says the USU is the heart of the University.
– Staff, students, alumni, we all sit here with the grace of knowing universities are not just academic institutions.
– Education, and the formative experience it provides students, is a public good.
– Quotes Dead Poets Society, education as a debate and contest of ideas.
– Has been proud to witness USyd promoting social changes — banning smoking, combating obesity, says it has a fine track record.
– The USU compromises profit to be accessible to students from all backgrounds.
– These reforms shoot Australia’s future in the foot.
Seventeenth speaker is Ed McMahon, USU Board Director
– Pyne’s reforms represent an ideological radicalism, they seek to replicate the systems of the US and UK which have the most stratified education systems in the world;
– The marketisation that deregulation entails betrays the ideals of a public university;
– Funding cuts are being inflicted on my generation by the people who benefited from the more enlightened education policies of yesteryear (free education under Whitlam).
McMahon putting forward a motion condemning cuts to uni funding, the deregulation of fees, and calling on all university bodies to campaign against these measures. Overwhelming support from the room.
18th speaker is Astha Rajvanshi, Honi Soit editor and former USU President
– USyd has set a strong benchmark when it comes to including women and people from racially diverse backgrounds, two groups I belong to.
– But low SES enrolment is half the national percentage.
– Female science graduates can expect to pay off debt for 16.4 years, double the current time length.
– “This is regressive, rather than progressive.”
– Women tend to have lower incomes after graduation.
– Scholarships to support disadvantaged students are not a silver bullet.
– Deregulating fees has the potential to create an inequitable system and lock out people from low SES backgrounds. We need to make financial concessions for accessibility. We need to have a system that privileges all students, not just the elite.
Nineteenth speaker is Nina Khoury, USyd Elite Athlete
– I’d like to speak about what sport currently brings and could bring to this university, and why we need to continue to invest in its future;
– Sport enhances the collective culture of this university;
– Sport gives people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to pursue tertiary education via the Elite Athlete Program;
– If sport were to receive an increase in funding in line with the proposed changes, it would contribute to enhancing the culture of this university.
20th speaker is Anna Reid, a staff member at the Con
– Where has the concept of social wellbeing gone? For me, the notion is tied up with social justice.
– In creative arts, output impacts upon how society sees itself.
– There is no direct job associated with the career choice of my students. If they are lucky, they may produce enough income to live happily.
– Prior to students even starting, the cost of developing creative artists is viewed as an indulgence.
– An increase in fees for this group will render many university courses unattractive to the kinds of people universities need to promote social growth.
21st speaker is Max Hall, SRC Vice President
– I want speak against the idea that a university education is some commodity that ought to be thrown to the market;
– If we deny that Indigenous, rural and disadvantaged students ought to be at the centre of any reforms to the university system, we are denying them the opportunity to live better lives;
– We at the SRC already see students struggling to stay above the poverty line;
– If the university is serious as it claims about improving the enrolment of disadvantaged students, then opposition to fee dereg should be a given;
– It impossible to see any supposed scholarship scheme regaining the ground we would lose with fee deregulation pushing people away from studying at university.
22nd speaker is Jen Light, current President of the SRC.
– “I have to ask: what is to come of today? There is no point proceeding if the management have already made up their mind.”
– Uni is not a business, it’s a place for young and old to learn, grow and develop.
– The deregulation of fees would strip university of its greatest assets – diversity, access, fairness.
– Talented students will think twice before applying to university, those who come will be left with debt.
– Women, people from racially diverse background, rural and regional students will be hit.
– The best universities is when students are selected on effort, not postcode or wealth.
– Education is a right, not a privilege, and everybody deserves the chance to have an education.
23rd speaker is Barry Cathclove, former Senate Fellow and alumni
– There is an overwhelming case for major reform of tertiary education funding;
– Currently we have to cross-subsidise tuition and research;
– There is an inreasing dependence on overseas students to cross-fund teaching and research;
– As bad as these reforms are, they are not the worst case scenario, which is the status quo, with restrictive regulation.
24th speaker is Margaret Kirkby, a SUPRA employee
– I asked to speak because I am a graduate and I work for SUPRA.
– I wish to say that we are already witnessing the impact of deregulation as this university is run, and I see that in the casework I do when I work with individual students.
– Not all graduates of this university intend to seek high income jobs when they graduate, many are committed to not-for-profit or govt work.
– I feel the evidence of marketisation and commodification of degrees is already there.
– For instance, SMH over the weekend had a postgrad education insert and a USyd professor said: Postgrad degrees allow people to have another layer that companies are looking for, postgrad qualification can help in making a big career change.
– We benefit from people studying what they’re interested in and thinking deeply about a range of things.
– We need to allow people to be free of the worry of paying back debt.
25th speaker is Andrew Cooper, postgraduate student
– The question of funding is premised on the larger question of who we are. We are as a collective are required to reimagine USyd’s identity;
– When you know who you are, you know what your priorities are- new buildings or new staff members?
– These problems should cause us to join together in self-reflection to work towards our common aims;
– We have the resources we need to be a world class university- we lack the leadership to put these resources to good use.
Our 26th and final speaker is Ashley Brinson, JD candidate and CEO of an engineering org.
– Has a great American accent.
– Has been privileged to enjoy living in diverse locations.
– USyd would be well advised to consider its overall value proposition for international students.
– Asks the uni to examine critically how it contributes to students as individuals.
– Are students customers or products? This is a critical distinction from a quality output.
– I pay $250 each for my two hours lectures, every lecture must pay back.
– In the coming weeks, look outwardly, not inwardly. Look at what the rest of the world is doing and focus on the success of each individual students.
Consultation to come includes:
– Online form
– Divisional and Faculty meetings for staff
– Focus groups and surveys for all stakeholders
Adam Spencer has wished everybody a safe trip home and with that, the forum is over. (The classical music has returned as people leave the room.) Thanks for following! We’ll have video footage up ASAP.