The National Union of Students organised national actions for Free Education and against staff cuts and fee hikes on March 23. I was at the action and it made me reflect on Germany's free education.
I spent my gap year in Germany. I decided to enrol in a German course to improve my language skills. I expected to have to pay for this course as I was used to paying for my education in Australia. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the course was completely free, as long as you were planning to be an immigrant.
I was very nervous when I went to my first class, not sure who I would meet and what awaited me in the six months ahead. It was one of the best years of my life. I met many people from different cultures and countries — Romania, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Bolivia, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan just to name a few.
The class had about 12 people. I was made to feel very welcome. Everyone was very friendly and open, especially the teacher Marcello. Together we organised school trips to the Zoo, and breakfasts at Afghani restaurants — which were delicious by the way.
I look back on my time in Germany fondly, remembering how welcoming everyone I met was, and how willing everyone was to help me. Even though at times it was hard waiting in line for hours to organise my Student Allowance, once it started I had no problems what so ever — unlike the constant problems I now have with Centrelink.
I received money to go to this German course and learn. It was amazing! I was able to travel, meet new people, learn so much more about the world than I ever thought possible and the education was all completely free!
I loved the feeling of being part of something special. Belonging to a group of people who were so vastly different, yet who all had the same problems: we didn’t understand the difficult German grammar (trust me it’s near impossible to learn); we had work to do after class; and we didn’t have time to do the homework or even just the time to get the teacher a Christmas present.
I love studying German at University of Sydney. However the staff are underpaid and overworked. Since I began studying at Sydney University I have had multiple problems with the administration, to the extent that I could not even enrol in my German course until second semester, because it took so long to process!
There are simply not enough people to do all the work, and there are still cuts going on to just about every department in the university, which is ridiculous because we are paying so much money for our education. It makes me feel like I shouldn't be studying, as I simply can't afford to pay for the course that I love.
I wish Australia could have free education like they do in Germany. It would make it much easier for me to afford university and feel like what I'm doing is an investment, not something that will cause me debt.
Students in Germany had to fight for free education and they won — proving that protests work. We need to take a stand, and fight for something that should be free, our education, our careers and our dreams to study.
[Molly Weber is a second year Arts at Sydney University, majoring in German language studies.]