Education

University students across Australia will take to the streets on May 14 to protest the federal Labor government’s $2.8 billion cuts to higher education. The call by the National Union of Students (NUS) for a “student strike against education cuts” has not only received support from students, but also the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), which covers university staff. On a number of campuses, NTEU members have been resisting cuts that university administrations claim are necessary due to lack of government funding.

Austerity almost seems like the defining feature of politics today. Across Europe and the US, crippling cuts to education, health care and welfare budgets are driving millions further into poverty. Even in Australia, where our economy has been spared the worst of the financial crisis, both big parties are raising taxes on ordinary people and applying cuts to welfare and education. Last year, cuts to courses and staff at several universities, including Sydney University and La Trobe University, led to strong campaigns by staff and students to defend their education and jobs.
In an article in the Australian on April 20, Adam Creighton asserted that: “Teachers’ unions in Australia and worldwide have been astonishingly successful at hoodwinking the public into thinking smaller classes matter.” As a teacher with over 30 years’ experience and a member of the Australian Education Union, I can say articles such as that display ignorance about what it is really like to be a teacher in front of a class.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell signed onto Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s national education reform agreement on April 23. Many saw this as a windfall for public education, but little analysis regarding the detail has been made. On the surface it would seem that $5 billion over the next six years will be spent on students in NSW. However, it appears to be at the cost of tertiary education, namely university and NSW TAFE.
In an attempt to stop students protesting against the federal Labor government's $2.3 billion cut to higher education, NSW police pushed protesters off the road as they marched from Sydney University to Labor MP Tanya Plibersek's office in Broadway, central Sydney. Julia Gillard's government also plans to increase public funding to private schools by $2.4 billion to $85 billion over four years.
The federal government’s plan to cut $2.3 billion from university funding is wrong. The government should end public funding to private schools and make mining companies and banks pay instead. It makes no sense for Julia Gillard’s government to fund primary and secondary education by cutting $2.3 billion from the budget of university education. Described as a “razor-gang”, the cuts to universities will turn a student scholarship scheme into a loans scheme, disadvantaging thousands of students.
50 people rallied on April 18 to save the gender studies department from being cut at the University of Queensland. UQ has been teaching gender studies for 41 years and it is the only university in Queensland that still does. The university has announced it will discontinue the gender studies major from this year and has plans to cut all gender studies courses by 2018. Students marched from the great court to the UQ senate meeting where they were barred from personally delivering a petition signed by hundreds of students.
The federal Labor government has announced it intends to dramatically increase funding to primary and high school education as part of the Gonski reforms. But before you think that maybe, just maybe, the government might be making some policy that could be defended by progressives, there's a devil in the detail.
The Victorian state council of the Australian Education Union (AEU) held a special meeting on April 17 to consider an offer from the Coalition state government to commit to a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). The AEU and the state government have been in dispute over the EBA for more than two years. AEU members had previously voted to continue the industrial campaign until their demands for improved working conditions and pay were met. This decision was taken at a mass stopwork meeting of over 12,000 teachers and education support staff on February 14.
Socialist Alliance member and TAFE student Sarah Hathway spoke at a rally at Geelong TAFE on April 16. Her speech is abridged below. *** I’m currently studying a Diploma of Community Services at the Gordon [TAFE]. Like many of us here, I also studied at the Gordon before these insidious TAFE cuts took effect, so I’ve seen the devastating impact the cuts have had on services that used to be provided on campus.
University of Queensland (UQ) Executive Dean of Arts Fred D’Agostino said last month the gender studies major would be cut from the Bachelor of Arts program. No student commencing next year would have the option of majoring in this area. Gender studies has a 41-year history at the university. The program was won in the early 1970s by the powerful feminist movement of the time. It was the first of its kind in Australia and one of the first in the world.

US International Socialist Organisation member Brian Jones speaking at the opening night of Marxism 2013. This snippet from his speech deals with the hypocrisy and current contradictions in US capitalism including the fights by teachers for justice in education.