University of Sydney students gathered to protest the Coalition government’s higher education policies in the National Union of Students’ ‘National Day of Action’ last Wednesday.
Around the country, more than 1000 protesters voiced opposition to $2.3 billion of tertiary education cuts announced by the government in December last year, as well as potential legislative reforms including the privatisation of HECS and the abolition of the Student Services and Amenities Fee.
At the University of Sydney, students expressed concern at a recent Group of Eight proposal to deregulate fees for in-demand courses such as Commerce and Law, and at proposed reforms to the University Library system.
Attendance at the USyd rally was substantially lower than at the 2013 NDA, but USyd Education Officer and NDA organiser Eleanor Morley said she believed the rally had served as a clear indication of students’ opposition to the Coalition’s policies.
“There has already been a massive amount of opposition to the Abbott Government in the six months since he was elected, and actions such as this continue to demonstrate that people, in particular students, won’t take these attacks lying down,” she said.
The protest was largely uneventful, but some USyd students expressed concern at the “laughable” presence of mounted police at the rally.
“The police presence was completely over the top. A couple of dozen police accompanied a completely peaceful protest. I’m sure they could be put to better use,” said prominent USyd activist Tom Raue.
The NDA has become a regular feature on student activists’ calendars in the past few years, with organisers insisting that rallies continue to play an important role in shaping governments’ legislative agendas.
USyd Education Officer Ridah Hasson said she believed that protests, such as the NDA, had informed the Labor Opposition’s decision to reject its own proposed tertiary education cuts in the Senate late last year.
“The education campaign last year proved that protests work,” she said.
“Through their own action at protests, students turned education into an election issue and made the cuts unpopular among the general population.”