By Karen Fredericks
Students across Australia participated in a National Day of Action called by the National Union of Students (NUS) on August 10 to protest the increases in tertiary education charges foreshadowed for the upcoming federal budget. In some states the actions linked up with ongoing campaigns against state government education cuts.
Proposals expected to be included in this years federal budget include an increase in the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) charge from $2328 to $3000 per full-time year, higher rates for "more expensive courses" such as Medicine, Science and Engineering, a lowering of the income threshold at which the HECS charge must be paid back and an increase in HECS up to $9000 per extra year of study or for a second degree.
In Sydney Michael Tardif reports that over a thousand students marched against the federal budget proposals. Several hundred students from country campuses joined the protest against Labor's user-pays education "reforms".
Although the demonstration was called in response to proposed increases to HECS, many students took the opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to HECS altogether. For instance, while the official chants consisted of "Back off Beazley", and "No to HECS increases", many students chose, in addition, to demand free education, chanting "Education for all, not just the rich".
At Town Hall the demonstration was addressed by NSW NUS President Ray Marcello, who stated that NUS would "oppose absolutely this drift towards user-pays, and we're going to tell this government to back off". When students later marched to the ALP offices, NUS demanded that there be "no increases to the rate of HECS or the rate of repayment in the federal budget".
The demonstration then proceeded to the Department of Employment Education and Training where students exchanged experiences and ideas for ongoing activities on an open platform. It was decided that a post-budget rally would take place on August 19, outside the ALP offices.
In Brisbane Freya Pinney reports that 800 students marched to demand a stop to the proposed HECS increases and free education for all. The rally was the third in a series of recent actions in Brisbane against education cuts.
On August 4, 5000 teachers demonstrated against the state ALP governments' proposed education cutbacks and on July 28 600 student teachers met to protest the state budget cuts to education.
Queensland Teachers Union vice-president Shane Groth attended the rally and gave greetings from the QTU. A further rally to fight the state cuts has been called for Tuesday August 24, 4:30pm at Parliament
In Melbourne Jo Brown and Rob Miller report that around 3000 students from university and TAFE campuses rallied in a combined protest against both state and federal plans to increase the cost of education for students.
Tertiary students from Melbourne, Monash, La Trobe and other university campuses were joined by TAFE contingents from Horsham, Gippsland, Ballarat, Bendigo, Warrnambool, Wodonga, Geelong and Shepparton and 16 Metropolitan TAFE Colleges, protesting against the Victorian Governments' plans to increase TAFE enrolment fees by up to 33%.
The Victorian TAFE Students & Apprentices Network (VTSAN) which represents TAFE students at a state level has been conducting a statewide campaign against fee increases, involving Victoria's 31 TAFE colleges and 270,000 students and apprentices. The rally was the first time TAFE students have taken to the streets and was a result of the state government's refusal to maintain its commitment to the TAFE sector.
The two groups initially planned to split and march separately to the state education minister's office and Melbourne office of the federal Department of Employment, Education and Training, but the rally voted to march together to both sites, to highlight the need for solidarity in fighting attacks on education.
The students marched from the Treasury Gardens to the state minister's office at the Rialto building where a massive cloth petition opposing the fee increase was unveiled. A delegation was allowed through the cordon of police into the building to present the petition to a ministerial adviser.
Tertiary student speakers highlighted the way in which increases to HECS would prevent many students from studying, and would hit students from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds most heavily. Other issues raised included the way HECS has already affected women's participation in higher education and the need to link up the campaign against TAFE fee increases with the campaign against HECS and fees in the higher education sector.
Julian Pocock, VTSAN coordinator, indicated that under the One Nation and Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) agreement the State was likely to lose at least 18 million dollars each year in Federal Funds if it failed to maintain its effort within the TAFE sector.
Steven Meyer from Box Hill Student Union stated, "there can be no doubt that any hike in TAFE enrolment fees will threaten the future of thousands of TAFE Students and Apprentices and will have a catastrophic effect on the student numbers in the sector, thus placing Victoria in breach of the ANTA agreement".
VTSAN women's officer Lorelle Kraft said that with full-time fees soaring over $500, additional materials fees in many courses costing over $300 and no availability of student loans to meet these costs ced out of TAFE. Other groups she said would be hard hit included the unemployed, Koori students, people with disabilities and low-income earners. These groups she said were most desperate for training and retraining, yet the government was insistent on making life even more difficult.
The rally, loudly chanting "Free Education For All; Not Just The Rich!", marched through the city and ended at the ALP headquarters to highlight the role of Labor governments, state and federal, in eroding free education over the last decade.