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Students take to the streets against controversial fee hikes

A crowd of over two hundred protesters marched.

An emergency protest against fee hikes took to the streets of Sydney CBD this afternoon as part of a nationwide campaign against proposed cuts to tertiary education. 

A crowd of over two hundred protesters marched under heavy police presence from Sydney Town Hall to the Liberal Party Headquarters in East Sydney. Police were seen carrying a long range acoustic device (LRAD) weapon. The LRAD is often used overseas as a non-lethal crowd control weapon, but has the potential to cause permanent ear damage.

Officer holding the LRAD sound weapon. Image: Seth Dias

The emergency protest, chaired by USyd Education Officer Jazzlyn Breen and UNSW Education Officer Shovan Bhattarai, was called in response to the government’s announcement of fee hikes in tertiary education last week. The fee hikes will see the cost of arts and communication degrees more than double, with law, economics and commerce fees also being impacted. The effects of the fee hikes will be felt across the board with larger class sizes, cuts to staff pay and jobs, and an overall diminished quality of education.

NUS Queer Officer Dashie Prasad spoke about the wide-reaching effects of the government’s fee changes, saying that, “this funding structure screws over all students, no matter what they are studying.”

Prasad also linked the government’s cuts to tertiary education funding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The government wants to once again make students fund the shortfalls of their economic failures. Under the disguise of fee reduction to some courses, the Liberal Party wants to cut $770 million from public funding to teaching and learning.”

Greens spokesperson for Education, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, described the fee hikes as “cruel.” Faruqi pointed out that the fee hikes will not achieve what the government has promised – more engineers, technologists and scientists. Instead, it will “reduce funding, reduce quality that staff and academics can offer, and create decades of debt for students.”

“[Education] is about finding new horizons. It is about opening up our minds. It is about critical thinking. It is about finding out how the world works, and it’s about us finding a place in that world,” said Faruqi.

Will Glen, a high school student from the Blue Mountains, is one of the thousands who face an uncertain future. Glen spoke to the intergenerational damage that will be wrought by the proposed changes. 

“It’s not only going to hit those currently studying, but my generation and every generation after.”

Glen compared the fight against fee hikes to a successful campaign against fee deregulation in 2014, also spearheaded by student activists. 

“Just like the fight back in 2014, we will win again. But in order to win, we must be just as united and militant, drawing in all those who will be affected, student and staff, high school and university, with no division by subject or campus.”

Following the march, Liam Donohoe, President of the USyd Students’ Representative Council (SRC), spoke on the footsteps of the Liberal Party Headquarters. Donohoe commented on the farcical nature of the proposed changes, which will still result in decreased funding to sectors like STEM that the changes have claimed to stimulate. 

He noted that “while many will cop an unfair and significant debt increase in order to pursue their passions, it’s the most vulnerable who will be deterred from certain pursuits or University altogether.”

At the protest’s close, Donohoe reminded the crowd that “we don’t just have an education to defend, but an entire world to win.” Protesters left the Liberal Headquarters with a resounding final chant: we’ll be back.

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