Education activists meet

July 8, 1998

By Marcus Pabian and Keara Courtney

WOLLONGONG — The National Union of Students' (NUS) national education conference was held here on June 27-28. It was attended by students from all states and territories and discussed the state of higher education under the Coalition and plans to fight the government's agenda.

 Key issues were the threat of federal “voluntary student unionism” (VSU) legislation, the government-commissioned West Review of higher education, the Youth Allowance and the campaign against the racist policies of One Nation.

Damien Cahill, from NUS NSW, and Zanny Begg, from NUS Queensland, emphasised that the “voucher system” recommended in the West Review would widen the gap in quality between poor and rich universities and lay the basis for increased fees.

Discussion of anti-student legislation dominated the conference. Particularly controversial was the proposal put by NUS national president Rose Tracey that NUS call for the replacement of the compulsory non-academic fees (which in part fund the activities of student unions) with higher federal government grants.

Further controversy was sparked in discussions about how to fight VSU. More conservative students argued for student organisations to focus on strategies to survive VSU, while others, including students from Resistance, argued for a strategy of mobilising students in protest actions against VSU.

Robust debate occurred in many workshops, which covered topics ranging from “how to build effective collectives” and organising the anti-Hanson campaign to the effects of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

In the final session, Resistance members put forward motions for a continued campaign against One Nation and for student solidarity with the Indonesian democracy movement. A decision was also made to organise a national day of action against education funding cuts and VSU on August 26. 

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