The University of Western Sydney Student Association (UWSSA) has launched a new campaign for better quality education, with speak-outs, information stalls and open forums that are drawing many students into action.
Political activity by students is increasing on the UWS's Bankstown campus, especially following a campaign that began last semester to stop a large increase in parking fees on the campus. The fee increase angered many students, who organised a protest rally and partially won their demands.
Now the students are calling on the university to increase the quality of education it provides. The UWS has dramatically cut course hours and replaced actual lectures with "podcasts" (recorded lectures, available to download).
The UWS is not the only university to use podcasts, but it has replaced a much higher proportion of teaching hours with the pre-recorded classes than other universities.
UWS student and Resistance member Stewart Woolley told Green Left Weekly: "A class is all about the interaction between the lecturer and the students. I came to the university to learn, to hear my lecturers, to ask them questions. I did not come to uni only to download lectures and pretend I'm in class."
Another student, Tammy Lawlor, is running a petition amongst students demanding that "the removal of weekly lectures from my units be reflected in a reduction of my student fees".
Lawlor told GLW, "I believe it is a student's prerogative to cut classes, not the university's".
Another major issue for students is food prices. A university owned company called Connect controls all food outlets on UWS campuses. Officially, Connect is a non-profit company, but the food it provides is highly overpriced and, according to many students, very low quality.
"The food situation is unbearable", Woolley said. "For a salad and a drink, I have to pay $11. A sandwich is more than $5.
"Combined with the increase in the parking fees, and the cutting of courses and teaching hours, it is clear that UWS is trying the make more profits from already poor students. It's outrageous."
The UWS Bankstown students are still campaigning for the cancellation of campus parking fees. The university is planning to raise the fees once again over the summer. The Bankstown campus is very inaccessible by public transport, with only two privately operated suburban bus lines operating to the campus.
While these campaigns are ongoing, the university is putting increasing pressure on UWSSA, including a plan to move its offices to a smaller and less accessible space on campus. As well, since the beginning of this semester, posters and banners of the student association and affiliated clubs have been repeatedly ripped off notice boards by university staff.
This is all happening in the context of "voluntary student unionism", which was introduced by the previous federal government. VSU meant that funds for student unions around Australia dried up, weakening students' ability to collectively organise and campaign for their rights.
This has allowed university administrations to get away more easily with increasing fees, outsourcing services and attacking the weakened student unions.
The UWS students' struggles are therefore an important contribution to re-strengthening the nationwide student movement.
More students are joining the UWS campaigns every week. The student association offices have become open organising spaces in which students meet, discuss the issues and organise actions. These include weekly speak-outs and advertised campaign meetings, and breakfast clubs and free barbeques to help students boycott Connect's cafeteria.
UWSSA Bankstown organiser Jacquie Carovski told GLW: "Since the beginning of the campaign, the university [administration] has tried to censor us and is now threatening to take our space in the main building and push us to the edge of campus.
"We will remain vigilant and continue to protest. We deserve a better education. Students cannot afford to study in these conditions."
For more information about the petition to reduce fees, email Tammy at email@example.com. For more information about the campaign for better quality education, visit http://www.uwssa.org.au.