Students Protest $2.2 Billion Cuts to Higher Education

23 March 2018

A contingent of over 30 University of Melbourne students joined forces with fellow Victorian students at the State Library of Victoria to protest the Coalition government’s $2.2 billion cuts to higher education on Wednesday, 21 March.

This is the largest single cut to university funding in Australia’s history, resulting in the loss of 10,000 Commonwealth Supported Places, particularly in regional and smaller universities. Students also protested the government’s plans to introduce a lifetime government assistance limit of $104,000 and lower the HECS repayment threshold to $45,000.

The National Day of Action was organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) as part of their broader ‘Make Education Free Again’ campaign. Choruses of “No Cuts, No Fees, No Corporate Universities!” were led by representatives from the NUS along with Monash, La Trobe, RMIT, Swinburne and the University of Melbourne students.

The march was fronted by members of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) fielding a ‘Free Education For All’ banner.  Flanked by a small police presence, the crowd of approximately 150 filed down Swanston Street, causing blockages to traffic and public transport.

The Victorian Education Vice-President for the NUS, Anneke D’emanuele, says that this protest is crucial in generating buzz around the issue.

“I don’t think the government want to stop with just the $2 billion of funding cuts, the cap on lifetime funding, or the HECS repayment threshold lowering. I think they want to fundamentally transform higher education to make it very hard for young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds to access higher education.”

“We need to create a situation where, when students hear about cuts, their immediate response is that we need to get out onto the streets and fight this.”

UMSU President Desiree Cai said that these proposed changes will result in students being locked out of higher education.

“With the Melbourne Model specifically, it is expected students do their undergraduate studies and take up a Commonwealth Supported Place during their postgraduate degree,” Cai said.

“Postgraduate studies cost a lot especially with accumulated costs from undergraduate studies, meaning exceeding the proposed cap is likely. Students would need to take out a private loan or pay their fees upfront just to attend university which results in serious accessibility issues.”

The University’s contingent was led by UMSU’s education (public) department. Education (Public) Officer Conor Clements says that the department supports the work of NUS on this issue.

“The most important thing about the protest is that it shows students care about the government trying to cut money away from our education,” he said.

“It shows that we don’t support the ridiculous precedent it sets so that they can just funnel money out of higher education and put it into disgusting programs like the increasing production of military vehicles.”

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