16 March 2016

The National Day of Action (NDA) on 13 April aims to put education policy in the spotlight in time for the upcoming federal election to be held this year.

The nationwide student protest has three main demands: stopping funding cuts to university staff and courses, ensuring that deregulation does not re-emerge in government policy and pushing for increased funding to higher education.

Organised by the National Union of Students (NUS), NDA rallies last year were attended by thousands of students in opposition to the government’s university fee deregulation policy. Organisers cited vocal student opposition as one of the key factors in influencing change in government policy.

Though the Liberal Government has shelved their fee deregulation policy until at least 2017 and are yet to announce anything concrete to replace it with, UMSU Education Public Officer, Dominic Cernaz, believes it is important to continue to focus on higher education policy.

“We’re in an election year and it’s important we’re presenting higher education as an issue for debate for the upcoming election,” he said. “We don’t want to see what happened last year where there was no discussion on higher education before the election and afterwards we found out deregulation was going to happen.”

Rather than just being on the defensive, he says, students are now able to push for improvements to higher education funding.

“The last thing we want to do is take our foot off the gas. We can now push forward and say that in fact, we don’t want to see deregulation, we want to see better funding, we want to reach a model where education is accessible, sustainable and most importantly, affordable.”

Since O Week, the UMSU Education Departments have been raising awareness among students about the NDA.

In the weeks leading up to the rally, the Education Public department aims to hold stalls around campus to talk to students. Throughout March, they will dedicate a series of weeks to focus on certain aspects of the campaign. This will include opposing fee deregulation, the negative effects of funding cuts and why they believe free education is the best system for universities. In the week directly before the NDA, they will stage a series of stunts around the theme of a ‘debt sentence’.

On the day of the rally, they plan to hold a barbeque on South Lawn, before heading down to the State Library where the rally will start at 2pm. A series of speakers organised by the NUS will speak at the rally but are yet to be confirmed.

The Education Public department is optimistic about the turnout for the rally, claiming that many first years heard about the campaign last year and are keen to get involved.

However, many students still have little information about it.  

Liam Krebs, first year Bachelor of Music student, was unaware of the protest. While he supports student activism, he doesn’t feel like he knows enough about it to get involved.  

“[Protests] are great, it’s just that where I grew up, which was in Wagga, there was nothing political going on so it’s all kind of new for me.”

He also questions whether rallies are the best way to create change, citing a young people versus old people mentality as a barrier.

“The lack of understanding between those two parties is why the protests are needed. But the main issue is that not both parties are willing. You have one party that’s willing and one party that’s not. And nobody listens to a protest if they’re not completely willing and they’re in a position of power.”

Tom Crowley, Education Academic Officer, also notes that NDAs are not the only way students can get involved in education activism.

“Other students prefer formats like the SRN (Student Representative Network) where they sit in on committee meetings and have discussions, or by giving feedback on lecturers and tutors. Others get involved through mainstream politics by joining a political party and getting involved in higher education policy that way.

“I hope the turn out for the NDA will be good but that also shouldn’t be seen as an indication of how much students care. Students care in different ways.”

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