The National Union of Students’ (NUS) National Student Protests are set to occur on 22 March as part of their ‘Make Education Free Again’ campaign.
Previously referred to as National Days of Action (NDAs), these days have targeted various policies and cuts, most notably university fee deregulation in 2014, with speakers from universities and unions, as well as Labor and Greens politicians. For many, these days represent a time to make the general public and political class aware of the issues that affect students.
With the trio of impassioned slogans ‘Make Education Free Again’, ‘Your Rights At Work’ and ‘You’re Worse off as a Woman’, the NDA is including women’s issues in their campaign, in addition to protesting against cuts to education and welfare.
Since 2014, however, the NDAs have been scantly attended, with numbers hovering at around 50, with many in the crowd being closely linked to Labor Left or Socialist Alternative factions.
This year, the NUS is making an effort to rebuild the protests through an interlinking of major issues affecting students as well as a high-profile push by the NUS and groups linked to Socialist Alternative and the Labor Left, to engage more students.
Member of the Australian Labour Party Club (Labor Left) at the University of Melbourne and organiser, Desiree Cai, suggests that an interconnected approach in messaging would lead to an increase in attendance and help raise awareness.
“There is a particular political climate which is bringing a lot more people out to protest. So that should translate to larger crowds,” she said.
Cai acknowledged that they hadn’t been well attended in the past two years. She did not comment when asked about the non-attendance of NDAs by Student Unity (Labor Right’s student wing), a faction that now holds a substantial amount of influence within the NUS.
The NUS, in their advertising for the protests, has included images of the recently inaugurated president in an apparent attempt to draw on anti-Trump sentiment.
However, some are critical regarding the success of NDAs. The University of Melbourne Student Union’s (UMSU) Education (Public Affairs) Officer, Sinead Manning, suggests that when part of a wider group of activism, NDAs are fundamental.
However she did say that in the past they have been divisive.
“NDAs in the past have been alienating due to their association with particular political groups – often quite extreme groups. A lot of students are unwilling to become involved in a protest that is dominated by a political group that they do not want to be associated with,” Manning said.
Manning also noted that “unclear messaging” can sometimes prevent NDAs from being as effective as they could be.
“In the upcoming NDA there are three different overarching campaigns which are not even consistent in themselves,” she said.
Cai suggested that the advertising and messaging for the NDA has been broad but that it would allow various campuses and student unions to tie into the campaign, focussing on the cuts and issues relevant to them.
“In the past the issues with education have been more about government policy, whereas today the cuts are coming from the universities,” she said, pointing to the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney moving to a trimester system.
Despite Manning’s criticisms, she stated that the UMSU Education Department is set to have a group of students attend the protest and that their department would be doing its best to properly engage students with the issues at the forefront of
“UMSU Education is organising a day of activities to go alongside the NDA, this will include panel discussions and sustained conversations about education issues,” Manning said.
Although Manning criticised the NDAs’ association with some extreme groups, she praised NUS Education Officer, Anneke D’emanuele, stating that her experience organising could encourage a larger turnout, with Cai also noting that the Education Department has been “a lot more active since the start of their term.”
Anneke D’emanuele was unavailable for comment.