Student protestors demand greater funding to higher education22 March 2017
More than one hundred Melbourne students gathered on the steps of the State Library of Victoria on 22 March to rally against cuts to higher education. Similar protests have taken place all over Australia as part of National Student Protests organised by the National Union of Students (NUS).
Protestors marched down Swanston Street to highlight the ways in which students are affected by the rising cost of living, high education fees, cuts to welfare and cuts to penalty rates.
The protests form part of the NUS’ wider ‘Make Education Free Again’ campaign. Education Officer for the National Union of Students, Anneke Demanule, said that the recent cut to penalty rates was a big focus for the national day of action this year.
“The cut to Sunday penalty rates means that students who already have to work to survive are going to be abhorrently affected by these cuts,” Demanuele said.
She also discussed federal funding of tertiary education.
“It would only cost an extra $8 billion per year to fund free university education for Australian students. That’s not much money compared to the huge wages of vice-chancellors and the fact that we spend billions of dollars on war. We think education is a way more worthy of funding,” she said.
Demanuele was also satisfied with the turn out, and is hopeful that student mobilisation is still alive.
“Students are angry about what’s going on, but not everyone knows about these attacks to higher education. These protests are important even if they’re smaller,” she said. “They form the basis for when the bigger attacks do come.”
The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Education Department organised a ‘Big NDA(y) Out’ for students, which included a panel discussion, a letter writing session to MPs and the opportunity for students to join the department in attending the protest.
UMSU Education (Public) Officer, Daniel Lopez, said that a major issue seems to be that higher education has no clear constituency, a point bought forward by the panel, of which guests included Senior Lecturer at Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Dr Gwilym Croucher, and Paul Kniest from the National Tertiary Education Union.
“It could be students who benefit from higher education, but it’s so hard to engage students. It could be the public, but the public don’t know the public benefits of a skilled, tertiary educated workforce. It’s important for us to persuade both of these constituencies of the importance of higher education if we are to achieve anything,” Lopez said.
“Today we’re hoping to raise awareness about how important higher education is and how when the government talks about reducing debt by bringing the budget back into surplus, these aren’t just political statements, but they’re statements that have a human impact. We want to make it loud and clear that the government can’t continue to put students last,” he said.
Students also held signs that drew attention to women’s issues in particular. A damning submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission has accused universities of covering up cases of sexual assault putting Australian universities under increased public scrutiny.
The protest concluded with a rousing chant of “we’ll be back”.