President’s Report: Jen Light
It’s the beginning of the end…Abbott and Pyne are ready to cut and make you pay!!!!
It is nearly the end of the financial year that means the release of the Federal budget, as well as the change over of the Federal senate.
There is much to be scared about in relation to higher education. Two areas that would dramatically alter the accessibility to Universities, as we know them are the deregulation of fees, and the abolishment of low SES enrolment targets. These two policies combined together will leave a fragmented University system, which will only be available to the upper enchalant who can afford it.
Presidents of student organisations at all of the Group of Eight universities have jointly called for the Federal Government to reject a number of recommendations made in the Review of the Demand Driven Funding System. The report, released on the 13th of April calls for the abolition of university enrolment share targets for students from low socio-economic status backgrounds, the introduction of load fees, and increases to student contributions without any increase in base government funding to public universities.
Low SES students already face significant barriers to participation in higher education. Removing engagement targets for universities could ultimately mean that resources previously dedicated to recruiting and retaining students from low SES backgrounds could be diverted. This is a serious issue that goes to the core value of equal opportunity for all students regardless of their parents’ occupation or the suburb in which they live.
In addition the deregulation of Fees will further enhance the gap in accessibility to Universities. Deregulation allows the Universities to choose the price tag and segment the quality of your education, ie the quality of the teachers, how many students in you lectures and tutorials, and the quality of the content being taught.
As stated in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 23/4 “Students could choose to pay a premium for a particular research intensive course or smaller classes at a particular university or opt for paying a lower fee for fewer options at another institution.” Although there has been no talk of abolishing HECS, the deregulation of fees will force students to choose between a higher-class education, or a lifetime of debt.
This is just the beginning of the detrimental announcements that will come from Christopher Pyne over the coming months.
General Secretary’s Report: James Leeder
It may come as a shock to you, as it did to me, to learn that we are entering week 8. Each mid-semester break thousands of students tell themselves that they will study hard and hardly drink at all. And yet, here we are, with three assignments and ten lectures to catch up on. Despite this shock to the system, mid-semester inevitably signals some form of change. Whether that’s an unwilling change because of the realisation that work is required to get through your degree, or a willing change to give up one your four regular society drinks each week in favour of study. Turning our eyes to the political cesspit, we are faced with the looming change of the first budget of the Abbott government. Regardless of how you feel, week 8 is inevitably a time of reflection and realisation; work, politics or courses, and it’s at this point that seeking out your SRC may be in your interests.
In my first year, it took me until week 8 to realise that mathematics lectures were never going to help me get through the course. It often can take a while to get into the swing of this semester’s courses, but week 8 is typically the point at which any issues become apparent. By now you have most likely done an assignment or two. This is the point – where you have an identified an issue but still have to endure it – where you are best placed to come to the SRC. Not only to seek caseworker help in appealing an unfair result or to receive advice, but also to see the student office-bearers who can campaign and attend meetings on your behalf. This is the way the SRC helps to improve your learning. We can only advocate for you when we are made aware of issues that require our help.
In two weeks we face (unwillingly) the first budget of the Abbott government. We have heard in the media, as recently as last weekend, that Christopher Pyne, our esteemed Minister for Education, has decided that the university sector shall be a point of focus. He has likened it to the car industry of the past, though the analogy is worrying if Sydney University is to go the way of Holden or Ford. But really, his point is that government sees the industry as failing and not keeping up to standards. It’s important to remember that unlike most other sectors, which the government supports, universities have not received increased funding year after year. Instead, as more and more students enrol, the government places an increasingly unreasonable burden on the expected quality and number of services provided. More worrying is the fact that many, including the Abbott government, have suggested fee increases as a necessary recourse. Increased fees only hurt students and the quality of our education. It validates the view that the education sector is not worthy of government support, yet billions of dollars on ineffective fighter planes is money well spent. We are clearly entering dark times.
Brace yourselves; winter is both literally and figuratively coming. Remember to bring issues and concerns to the SRC; you, as students, are our best source of information and political action.
Education Officers’ Report: Eleanor Morley & Ridah Hassan
The results of the Norton-Kemp review into the demand-driven higher education system are in, and it’s not looking good for students. This review was commissioned by Abbott and Pyne late last year, doubtlessly to provide an excuse for a new round of cuts to be announced in next months budget. Andrew Norton and David Kemp were responsible for an attack on university funding under the Howard government, and this report shows they are now gearing up for round two.
The main recommendation announced in the review is to further expand the demand-driven system first implemented by the Gillard government to include private colleges. Many private colleges are run like businesses, with profit rather than a quality education being key. To continue the demand-driven scheme without a corresponding increase in government funding will lead to a further degeneration of the quality education students are receiving.
How do Norton and Kemp suggest to fund this expansion? With students, rather than government, footing the bill of course. An increase in student fees has been recommended in the review, alongside the removal of equity targets, which would see 20% of all students originate from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020.
Postgraduate students are also coming under attack, with the removal of subsidies for more postgrad degrees slated as another way to cut costs. HECS has not escaped the firing line either, with the suggestion of a flat 10% loan fee on HECS, the lowering of the minimum income required to start repayments, and plans to pass the HECS debt down from deceased states or retrieve it from ex-students living out of the country.
While it is unclear exactly which of these attacks will be unleashed in next months budget, it is clear that higher education will be taking a hit, with students bearing the brunt of the costs. Students need to be ready to respond to any cuts, while continuing the demand for a free and fully funded education system. If you would like to get involved with fighting Abbott and Pyne’s cuts, join the weekly Education Action Group meetings, Tuesday 2pm on the New Law Lawns.
Queerkat Officers’ Report (Queer Non-Cis Male Collective): Elsa Kohane
When I first started here at Usyd last year, Women’s Collective and Queer Collective were almost everything this little queer baby from a Catholic high school could ever want out of university life. However, there is an intersection between my identities that means something is lacking in these two groups; in women’s spaces that hold up heterosexuality as the dominant way of life and think only of the experience of heterosexual, cis-gendered woman; in queer spaces where I’m the only woman in the room, where I’m talked over and dismissed, where casual sexism is excused and the benefits of the patriarchy to cisgendered men are ignored.
Queerkats exists for this reason. Building on the work of a small group of queer women last year who started a Queer Women’s Network, we are an autonomous collective for any non cis-male identifying queer people. That is, anyone who isn’t a cis man (assigned male at birth and male identifying). We want to be a safe, attentive and comfortable space, where issues pertaining to queer non cis-men are actively discussed, prioritised and fought for.
This year ACON stopped printing The Birds and the Birds, an important information booklet about lesbian sexual education and health, and Gender Questioning, an information booklet for Trans youth. It just shows how marginalised queer non-cis men are, when the largest queer health organisation in Sydney stops catering to us. It’s therefore important to try and make a difference. Throughout the year we will be running campaigns, workshops and skill-shares, creating resources and posters aimed at non cis male queer people, and holding parties and social events specifically for non cis-men.
Our first event of the year, a Queerkat Tea Party, was a huge success. Held in the Queerspace one Thursday afternoon, it was a great way for people with similar experiences to meet and chat comfortably and happily. Delicious tea and cakes certainly helped!
There are still many issues with our male dominated Queer Action Collective, that Holly and I are working hard at combatting, but the Queerkats has thus far been an amazingly successful, encouraging and positive collective, and we hope for that to continue throughout the year and beyond!
If you’re interested in getting involved, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend Elsa Kohane or Holly Parrington on Facebook to be added to the group.
Vice Presidents’ Report: Max Hall & Laura Webster
We’ve traipsed back from mid-semester, grudgingly faced assignments that should have been started earlier and are already counting down the days until a real holiday. Between now and then are the exams, essays, emails, extensions, excuses and all other things that start with ‘e’ – including elections.
Oh student elections. This time around we’re electing board directors to the USU, our campus-wide champion of the onesie and marketing focused parent of Manning and Hermann’s. It’s easy to write off the mess of coloured t-shirts and cringe worthy slogans as being the irrelevant noise of student politicians whose need for public validation is matched only by their willingness to promise you anything. This may be (read: probably is) true, but, mess and slogans aside, the process of student democracy and its outcomes should not be quickly dismissed.
Superficially, the first reason student elections are worth caring about is how much you have already invested into organisations like the USU. Last year a quarter of the Student Services fee that you paid to the university was allocated to the Union – in other words $70 per student, just over $3 million in total, is given over to the decision making of those students elected to the board.
Who cares? Well, if one truth emerged from the recent Raue saga it’s that the USU board is capable of spending student money on all sorts of things, including the cost of defending in court a failed attempt to oust the duly elected vice-president of the board. The Union hasn’t disclosed how much was spent in this . An exact figure is almost beside the point, because the example itself is enough to illustrate that the elected figures – yes, with their tshirts, slogan and cheesy videos – are responsible for spending your cash, even in situations when it is unclear why it is in the student interest. Anyone as broke as most students are cares where there money goes and how it is being spent, student elections give us just a little bit of control over who gets to do that spending.
If you don’t care about money, or prefer a principled approach to things, your second reason to care when the ballot arrives is for the sake of student control itself. Long past are the glory days of democratic learning when students were allowed to vote in department meetings. In contrast, it’s not so long ago that the University attempted to wrest control of the USU’s commercial operations away from students. There are worthy critiques to be made of the methods and decisions of student representatives and board directors, but at the end of the day the needs and interests of student will always be best served by their own and can be defended by simply casting a vote.
Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced wherever we can get it, because at least we have it.
Environment Officers’ Report: Marco Avena, Steven Kwon & Amelie Vanderstock
The enviro collective have been up to much eco-friendly mischief the last couple weeks. We had a very successful info-night discussing the horrors of the Maules Creek mine up in the Leard State Forest in northern NSW. We were lucky to hear from three fantastic speakers – Steven Laird, a man with great spiritual and familial connections to the area, our very own Andy Mason from Sydney Uni and Emma Wosson, a sustainability veteran from The Wilderness Society. The mine will destroy a devastating amount of Indigenous forest that is incredibly bio-diverse (396 species of flora and fauna; 34 are critically endangered), as well as disturb important farmland in the area. Whitehaven, the coal company pushing for the mine’s development, was shown by Andy to have dodgy plans for rehabilitation of the site and terrible offset modelling: planting a forest for threatened animals to move to in the next 20 years which will only be in a state habitable for them in 100 years at the earliest.
The almost 600 day blockade up at the forest against the new mine seems strong and a very worthwhile place to be.
We are very excited for May 1st, the National Day of Divestment Action. Look out for the collective on Eastern Ave as we urge the university community to reach out to their banks and to the university itself to divest from coal and gas projects in Australia. This brings us to FOSSIL FREE UNIVERSITIES! You might have caught Amelie as she strongly addressed the Chancellor’s building at the National Day of Action against cuts to education a few weeks back, talking about ‘fossil free universities’. This is an important issue that we are taking seriously within the collective. As the name suggests, we are urging the university to divest from mining companies and other fossil fuel producers.
Finally, we will be going to Canberra in early July for the Students of Sustainability conference and encouraging students to come along. Keep an eye out for more info on this and check out studentsofsustainability.org. If any of these campaigns tickle your fancy, our meetings are Monday 12pm on the Sunken Lawns next to Manning, and we’d love to see you! Feel free to get involved anyway you’d like from chatting on the Facebook page to realizing your environmentalist vision!