Students defiant against fees


By Andy Gianniotis

SYDNEY — The University of Sydney Senate met on April 7 to decide whether to introduce up-front fees for undergraduate places from 1998. Within hours of university reconvening from the Easter break, more than 500 students rallied against the meeting.

"Instead of negotiating and consulting with students, Vice-Chancellor Gavin Brown called in 50 police to maintain 'law and order'", said Marcus Greville, University of Sydney education officer and Resistance activist. "Students were determined to disrupt the meeting, at which we were not properly represented."

Students chanted outside the meeting, and occupied an adjoining office for an hour — hemmed in both sides by police — sending a letter of demands to the meeting. When no response was forthcoming, students left peacefully and the hunt for access to the meeting was on again.

The meeting location was changed four times. Afterwards, senate member Professor Stuart Rees met with students to inform them that the motion had been passed, 14 to five.

Greville said, "Although the motion has been passed, the campaign is not over. We are calling for the decision to be reversed and running a petition campaign. We intend to disrupt the implementation at every step."

More than 500 students rallied again on April 9. Students decided to march around the university to inspire others to join the campaign.

A nine-kilometre march into the city followed, blocking traffic with successive sit-downs on the main road into the city. Over a period of three hours, the protest visited the University of Technology, Sydney; the offices of the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs; John Howard's office; the stock exchange; and Labor Party headquarters.

"The occupation of UTS over Easter to protest against fees and education cuts, and all the protests on other campuses, show that it is possible to fight back, but success depends on how many students we can get involved", said Greville.

"Key to involving students is building education action groups on each campus. At the last minute before the rally on April 9, ALP and Left Alliance office-bearers changed the meeting time of the EAG and the list of speakers, which had been decided the day before. The campaign will be hampered if EAG decisions are undemocratically ignored by office-bearers. EAGs need to be the bodies clearly directing the campaign."

The Cross Campus Education Network has decided to rally on April 16 at the Bankstown campus of the University of Western Sydney to protest against the dissolution of the Student Representative Council there. Rallies are also planned at Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney, this week.

These protests are all building towards another national day of action on May 8, which is expected to involve high school and TAFE students, university staff, teachers' unions and supporters.