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Students and staff protest cuts and fee hikes to the higher education sector

The fee hikes are symptomatic of changes to the university sector as a whole.

Photograph: Claire Ollivain.

Around 250 students, teachers, staff and community supporters gathered today at Town Hall for a speak-out and march protesting against the Morrison government’s education funding cuts and fee hikes. 

The protest, chaired by USyd Education Officer Jack Mansell and UNSW student activist Ruby Pandolfi, is part of the ongoing nationwide campaign to stop the new austerity measures which will force students and staff to pay for the funding crisis caused by the pandemic. Mansell condemned the government for “forking out $270 billion to buy war planes and missiles” while simultaneously claiming a lack of money to fund higher education, health services and renewable energy.

Multiple speakers emphasised that fighting back against these recent cuts and fee hikes is just the first step in transforming the university sector as a whole. Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi stated that “what we want is fully funded universities and TAFE by the government. What we want is security for staff and safe working conditions – and we will win this, we must win this.”

Students won the battle against fee deregulation in 2014 by building a united movement with staff, unions and other community members, and Faruqi emphasised that this kind of organising is needed today.

Casual academic at USyd, Robert Boncardo, emphasised that these recent measures are part of the ongoing crisis of the neoliberalisation of universities and called on people to consider “what kind of university we actually want and not just the university that we’re against.”

Boncardo condemned the “exorbitant fees” paid by international students, and brought attention to the unstable working conditions faced by casuals working in the university sector all across Australia.

“I don’t want to see a university sector where there can be Vice Chancellors and senior executives who can earn hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, while subjecting staff to the banal evil of managerialism that snuffs out even the smallest flickerings of intellectual life that’s possible on campus.”

Boncardo argued that universities should be for producing knowledge that is for all of humanity, not just the rich and not for the purposes of private profit.

Jack Morris, a student activist at Macquarie University, also related the most recent attacks on higher education to a perception of universities as “degree factories” held by those in power who treat students and staff as “cogs in the machine of capitalism.”

“We are here today to tell Scott Morrison, Dan Tehan and university management across the country that if they want a class war then they’ll fucking get one…We’re not going to stop until we win.”

Protesters marched from Town Hall to UTS amid a heavy police presence, chanting “cuts, job losses, money for the bosses”, “fund books not bombs” and “money for health and education, not for mining corporations.” 

National Union of Students LGBTI Officer Dashie Prasad spoke outside the front of UTS which had been blocked off and guarded by police. They acknowledged that the protest took place on the land of the Gadigal people and emphasised how the attacks on the university sector would further entrench the gaps in access to education and mean that subjects about the struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would likely be cut altogether.

“Fighting for sovereignty and justice for black lives includes not funding $19 billion into the police, it means not funding $250 billion into the military, but instead investing in things like education and building stronger communities.” 

Mansell concluded the rally with the message that “everything sacred and good in this world is under attack from the people in power. They are our enemies and they have representatives here in blue… But we’ve got far more allies than them.” He echoed other speakers’ calls to build a united movement to win against the government.

A snap rally against mass job losses will be held at UNSW on Friday.