A history of the education campaign

Issue 

  • In 1976, and again in 1981, Malcolm Fraser's Liberal government attempted to cut tertiary education funding, replace TEAS (the precursor of Austudy) with a loans scheme and reintroduce up-front fees. Student opposition on numerous campuses fed into days of action and student strikes coordinated nationally by the Australian Union of Students. AUS worked closely with the trade union movement to defeat the government's proposals.

  • In August 1986, the Bob Hawke Labor government proposed an up-front $250 fee, the Higher Education Administrative Charge. State-based rallies involved hundreds of people and fed into a national day of action involving 12,000 students in September.

  • During 1987, 12 campuses participated in a boycott campaign of HEAC. At the University of Queensland, a massive boycott helped to activate many students in the campaign. In March, 25,000 students participated in a national day of action. In 1988, the government replaced HEAC with a deferred fee (the Higher Education Contribution Scheme).

  • The Paul Keating Labor government announced a plan to replace Austudy payments with a loans scheme in January 1992. In March, the day before a national day of action which mobilised 3000 angry students, the government backed down.

  • A national day of action in September 1994 against proposals to allow more up-front fees attracted thousands of students. Three hundred students stormed the chancellory at the Australian National University and occupied the building for nine days to protest against a proposal to charge full fees for a law subject.

ANU students had been holding rallies of up to 500 students for many weeks beforehand. Trade unionists attended the occupation each night, and assisted with publicity and security. The occupation won a temporary backdown on the fee. Most importantly, it helped to revitalise a national campaign.

  • In March 1995, a national day of action against fees attracted 15,000 students. A further 30,000 boycotted classes.

  • In August 1996, the Liberal government announced a $2.3 million cut to federal education funding. More than 30,000 rallied to oppose it as part of a national day of industrial and street action organised by the National Tertiary Education Industry Union and student organisations.

  • During 1997, national days of action in March and May brought together student and staff opposition. Occupations and strong campus-based campaigns at the University of Technology Sydney and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology halted the implementation of up-front fees for some undergraduates at those campuses.

The up-front fee scheme implemented by the government is now widely acknowledged as a failure. Only 809 people took up fee-paying undergraduate places in 1999.

  • "Voluntary student unionism" legislation proposed by the Liberal government in 1999 failed to get the numbers in the Senate. Public opposition and student rallies of up to 6000 made the legislation unpalatable for the Democrats, ALP and independents Mal Colston and Brian Harradine.

  • Last year, activists at the University of Western Sydney-Macarthur's Bankstown campus organised a 14-day occupation. This, combined with a strong build-up campaign of rallies and talking to students, forced the administration to agree to more 30 demands to improve campus conditions.

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