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Activists protest higher education bill outside Parliament House

Students from across the country travelled to the ACT as part of the ongoing action against the government's proposed attacks on the university sector.

Students rally outside Parliament House in 2020

Students from multiple universities across the country gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra today in an emergency protest against the proposed Higher Education Support Amendment Bill. The bill is set to be put to the Federal Senate today and, if passed, will double fees for humanities degrees and cut funding to universities in all areas of study. Additionally, the proposed changes to HECS-HELP will bar students who have failed half of their units from receiving government help.

Co-chaired by the National Union of Students LGBTQAI+ Officer Dashie Prasad and Convenor of the ANU Education Activism Network Wren Somerville, the emergency protest followed a build-up of actions over the last few months. At USyd, education protests have been met with a heavy police presence and over $30k in fines.

Speakers attending the rally spoke to the callous treatment of students and staff in universities across the country, which they argued would be further exacerbated by the higher education bill.

Ngambri elder and casual lecturer Shane Mortimer welcomed protesters to country and condemned the fact that casual teachers are paid only $30 an hour, which doesn’t include the countless hours spent marking.

Speakers also attested to the erosion of the education sector for the purpose of increasing profit by governments over the years. USyd SRC President Liam Donohoe urged protesters to “acknowledge the long tradition of knowledge and scholarship that existed tens of thousands of years within Indigenous communities, which never required a dollar sign to be put on the exchange of knowledge.”

“This is not a funeral but the birth of a mass militant movement.”

Layla Steed, a casual staff member of the NTEU emphasised that “this [bill] is on the back of decades of under-funding to the sector that has seen staff-to-student ratios decrease, class sizes increase, contact hours decrease and workloads for academics increase massively…this is a major step in the continuing neo-liberalisation of higher education.”

Steed argued that we must completely reject the running of universities as businesses, calling on the government to pay for the entirety of the financial shortfall and provide free education for all.

“Giving up our conditions for these institutions sets up a really terrible precedent for all workers in Australia.”

NUS Welfare Officer Ali Amin stated: “The National Union of Students will not accept this as a defeat… we will send a signal to this government that we care about higher education, we will mobilise for higher education and we will fight them every step of the way”.

Earlier today, news broke that the LNP had negotiated a deal with Centre Alliance to secure their crucial vote, making it highly likely that the bill will pass.