Fight deregulation for the good of society

Saturday, August 30, 2014
Students protest fee deregulation in Sydney on August 20. Photo: Peter Boyle.

Nick Riemer, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, addressed a Town Hall meeting on August 25 on the proposed deregulation of fees at Australian universities. Riemer is a member of the NTEU Sydney University branch committee.

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Fee deregulation means the entrenchment of educational disadvantage and the enclosure of knowledge in our society.

That’s not irresponsible exaggeration: it’s an accurate characterisation that follows from the careful modelling done by a number of authorities.

A key argument put by deregulation-supporters, including [Sydney university vice-chancellor] Michael Spence, is that only it can safeguard “quality”.

But “quality” has a habit of lining up with privilege – and there’s a simple analogy that shows why Michael’s “quality” argument for deregulation is so wrong.

In a food shortage, you couldn’t argue that only the rich should get adequate nourishment.

Education is a human right, like food-resources. It too should be equally available to everyone.

READ MORE: Sydney University meeting opposes cuts

Vice-Chancellor, you’ve disguised your opposition to that principle with progressive sounding cavils about equity – but, in essence, you’ve sided with Pyne, Abbott, Hockey – the same people who want to comprehensively dismantle social protections in this country.

It’s simply shameful that you are supporting these thugs. You’re out of step both with public opinion, and with the good of society.

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing about the University of Sydney that justifies our flourishing at the expense of Wollongong or Southern Queensland.

Mediocre standards for all is far more just than the educational disadvantage of the many for the benefit of the few.

In a just world, free public education would be funded through higher taxes – particularly on millionaire CEOs like the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor.

That’s not utopianism: it’s an essential political and social project.

Ms Hutchinson, Dr Spence, you should be using your influence to publicly oppose billions of dollars that could go to education being thrown instead at warplanes, the persecution of refugees, and the destruction of the environment.

Instead, you’ve shown nothing but market tunnel-vision, cooperation with the most backward forces in Australian politics, and an implacable opposition to genuine consultation.

We can only imagine the contortions and evasions that must have taken place in the secret Senate meeting that evidently decided that a motion explicitly on deregulation wouldn’t be debated tonight.

Dr Spence, Ms Hutchinson, you say you’re lobbying government, but it’s exactly that disastrous and failed inside-the-tent strategy that has emboldened Pyne to now blackmail us with cuts to research funding.

You and other university leaders have been complicit with the erosion of public higher education in Australia.

Your actions show that you’re unfit to lead an institution supposedly committed to the collegial harnessing of reason for the betterment of the society as a whole.

For the good of this society, we must fight deregulation, and we must win. That’s a precondition for the development and growth of everyone, not just the wealthy.

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From GLW issue 1023