By Damien Christmas and Jackie Lynch
MELBOURNE — After an emergency general student meeting on March 2, around 100 students at the Frankston campus of the Chisholm Institute of TAFE marched to Administration Building and commenced an indefinite peaceful sit-in. They were protesting management's failure to hand over student money to the student union.
Three hours into the sit-in, management caved in to demands for interim funding and handed over $28,000 to the student union. Students left the building and in the best tradition of TAFE held a barbeque to celebrate their victory. Students from Chisholm's Moorabbin campus joined the protest.
Students won control of their money after going without adequate funding for a year. The student union, which represents around 10,000 students at Frankston, Rosebud and Bonbeach campuses, had cancelled orientation week due to lack of funds. Student union staff had not been paid since February 5.
This dispute between students and management follows months of planning for the student organisation to represent the 60,000 students at Victoria's largest TAFE institution.
Maurice Sibelle, coordinator of the Victorian TAFE Students and Apprentices Network, said: "Chisholm management attempted to break students' resolve ... starve out the student union at Frankston campus and isolate it from students at other campuses. Management failed.
"Chisholm students have had a lot thrown at them — giant price hikes in materials fees, course closures and increased class sizes. They are not going to take this lying down and they realise that they need democratic, activist student unions to take up these issues.
"Chisholm management won't be able to smooth the path for their austerity measures, or for Kemp's anti-student union legislation by installing docile, well-behaved 'yellow' unions at Chisholm TAFE."
Chisholm TAFE was formed in July 1998 and is the result of an amalgamation between Casey, Peninsula and Barton TAFEs. Since the amalgamation, some 300 staff have left the institute and services to students have been drastically reduced.
Recently, the Australian Education Union, which represents teaching staff, held a stop-work to protest against the erosion of pay and conditions. The student organisations at Chisholm TAFE supported the stop-work and many students attended the stop-work meetings.
Students at Chisholm TAFE face a long battle with management to win a student-controlled student organisation capable of mobilising students across nine campuses. But the victory at Frankston campus bodes well for a victory.