Higher Education is Under Attack. Time to Organise a Fightback!

Words by Nix Herriot

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Photo: 2014 protests against University fee deregulation

The COVID-19 pandemic is being used as the pretext for historic attacks on higher education. Education Minister Dan Tehan has proposed measures to slash public funding and saddle students with debt. These sweeping ‘reforms’, to be implemented from next year, would increase the cost of humanities degrees by up to 113 percent. We are being asked to pay more for less.

Tehan’s tertiary reforms will not only see working class students shoulder lifelong debt but also mark a significant shift away from public funding. Although fees for degrees such as maths and nursing will be reduced, the reality is that cuts to university funding are bad for all students. For Adelaide University, Tehan’s proposals deliver a 15% reduction in federal support. This will result in further staff cuts, hiring freezes, increased workloads and oversized classes. Staff will be deprived of the resources they need to teach STEM. In short, the overall quality of our education will suffer.

The Liberals are waging war against the very idea of higher education as a public good. These attacks are just the latest move in a strategy to refashion universities as degree factories that funnel ‘job ready graduates’ into industry. Indeed, reductions in government funding will drive higher education further into the arms of the private sector. Tehan is unambiguous: ‘we will strengthen the relationship between all universities and business’. The government envisions universities as profitable corporations which treat students as passive consumers of an increasingly expensive commodity.

Students can scuttle the Liberals’ attacks. In 2014, we were told by the Abbott government that it was time for us to finally abandon the archaic idea that education should be a right not a privilege. Provoking outrage, then education minister Christopher Pyne proposed fee deregulation which would have introduced $100,000 university degrees.

We defeated these attacks through a national campaign of mass protest. In 2014, thousands of students marched in cities across the country. On the campuses, Liberal politicians were besieged by angry students. When he visited Adelaide University in August 2014, prime minister Tony Abbott was forced to seek refuge behind two-metre high barricades as over 500 student protesters chanted ‘no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities!’ These kinds of mobilisations made fee deregulation a political impossibility. They demonstrated that if students fight, we can win.

Now is the time to organise another fightback. Students must once again counter a government offensive with our own vision of a free and fully funded education system.

The fight is kicking off this Friday, 26 June. Student activists have called an emergency protest for 1pm at Bonython Hall. Let’s show the Liberals that they’ve got a fight on their hands.

A link to the Facebook even can be found here.

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Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at onditmag@gmail.com

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