Students protest against continuing threat of fee deregulation

Issue 
Sarah Hathway (left) with other students protesting against fee deregulation, in Melbourne on August 24. Photo: Sarah Hathway

Chants of “No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities” rang out loudly from hundreds of university students in Melbourne's CBD on August 24. They came from RMIT, Swinburne, Monash, Melbourne University, Deakin University and other tertiary institutions.

The protest was part of a national day of action organised by the National Union of Students against the Coalition government's cut to subsidies for undergraduate places, by 20%, as well as its plans to deregulate fees for particular courses.

Many student leaders addressed the crowd about the importance of well-funded tertiary education.

Sarah Hathway, a social work student at Deakin University in Geelong, said the Coalition government wants to deregulate fees for high-paying professions.

“Partial fee deregulation is still going to price those students from lower socio-economic families out of tertiary education,” Hathway said. “This is just the thin edge of the wedge towards full fee deregulation and an American style model of fee paying tertiary education.”

She added that domestic students are not the only ones who are the victims of the overpriced and underfunded education: international students are overcharged for the same degrees.

“Education is a fundamental human right and it should be free and accessible for anyone who comes to this country. Whether you are a migrant, a refugee or an international student here temporarily, you should have equal access to tertiary level education,” Hathway said.

In addition to the cuts to university funding, both major parties support reducing the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) repayment threshold from its current $54,869. This would put even more pressure on students.

Young people and students are also taking a direct battering due to government cuts to all new recipients of Youth Allowance, Austudy and Newstart payments.

Simon Stormy, another student protester, said: “We are out to protest today because we realise we need to put pressure on the government. We need to tell the big end of town that this is not on. We have done it in the past. We have stopped fee deregulation three times from getting through the Senate by coming out and protesting.”

The campaign for our education over several years has been able to prevent fee deregulation. We can do it again provided we can continue to mount political pressure on both major parties via a collective approach that seeks to draw in broader layers of students.

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