Students and staff at the University of Wollongong (UOW) held a forum on August 7 to discuss the impact the higher education cuts proposed by the federal government would have on the university.
The forum was organised by UOW Uncut, a new group of staff and students who are campaigning against the funding cuts.
The anger was palpable among the 60 people who attended the forum, chaired by UOW National Tertiary Education Union branch president Joanne Buckskin, and addressed by NTEU NSW secretary Genevieve Kelly, staff member Alexander Brown, and student Ben Kohler.
Kelly explained that the government’s proposals were an ideologically driven package designed to change the nature of Australian universities by creating a system that was far worse than that of the US on which it is supposedly modelled.
She pointed out that what the Tony Abbott government is doing is far more destructive because it is based on the idea that those students who can afford to pay to go to university deserve to be there — and the measure of those who do not deserve to be there is that they cannot afford the entrance fee.
Kohler spoke about the way in which young people who are already marginalised are “being made into an even more vulnerable group whose lives are increasingly at the mercy of the market and the cold logic of capital.”
He said that as degrees become more and more commodified, the funding cuts could not be separated from the system that engenders them and it was ultimately capitalism that had to be replaced.
Brown, a PhD student and casual tutor at UOW, said since 2005 only 24% of new jobs created in Australian universities have been ongoing positions. Of the 11,125 new positions created in research and teaching roles between 2005 and 2012, 84% are insecure with many of them fix-term research contracts with no ongoing job security.
He is a member of the UOW Casuals Network, a group seeking to improve the conditions of workers in casual and insecure employment at the university.
He spoke about his desire to stay in Wollongong and find a job at the university in a field related to his doctorate. But the reality of the experience of his friends and colleagues who have graduated recently is a choice between teaching on a sessional basis with no recognised place in the university, or to move overseas.
During discussion, students at the forum voiced their concerns. When one person suggested the need for an “occupation” of the university, it was met by loud cheers. The regimented and disrespectful way in which students were treated was contrasted with the positive pedagogy of ideas-sharing, networking and learning of the “Free School” set up by the UOW Feminist Society following the axing of gender study courses last year.
[UOW Uncut meets every Tuesdays at 12.30pm at Rush under Building 67. It is organising support for the student national day of protest against the budget on August 20. To get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org.]