By Tang Li
Students from the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) have united over the past year in a series of protests against the Federal Government’s push towards fee deregulation, which would allow universities to set their own fees.
A combined effort of the Palmer United Party, the ALP and federal Independents Jackie Lambe and Nick Xenophon blocked the bill after the students nationwide made it clear they opposed it.
The Senate rejected Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s controversial higher education reforms bill, 33 to 31.
In May student activists began to vocally rally against the proposal, starting with the National Union of Students’ National Day of Action (NUS NDA) where thousands of university students marched across the Sydney CBD in light of the Federal Budget’s cuts to university funding and fee deregulation.
During the largest of the Sydney rallies on May 21 students from Sydney, UTS and UNSW were joined by other protestors to force partial closures of George Street as they blocked traffic and participated in sit-ins.
This and following NDAs included speeches made by Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, political economy professor Frank Stilwell, NTEU representative Nick Riemer and various student groups.
The ABC Q&A protest and the burning of a Christopher Pyne effigy were among the most controversial demonstrations to date.
Former President of the UTS Students’ Association, Andy Zephyr, said that tertiary students from across NSW universities and TAFEs have lead the national charge on the biggest protests this year, from interrupting Q&A, chasing Liberals off campus and gathering in thousands against the corporatisation of universities.
“This won’t be the last we see of deregulation, and Pyne’s backwards bills that are gutting social mobility from students and young people,” he said.
Brigitte Garozzo, one of the Q&A protestors from the NSW Education Action Network said they were motivated to get the education crisis back in the spotlight with a two-minute disruption of a national television broadcast.
A convocation held in late August at Sydney University saw twenty-six speakers address an audience of more than 500, only one of whom voiced full support for Pyne’s reforms.
Zephyr said the main objective is to restore Gough Whitlam’s legacy of free education whether it be on the ground campaigning, or working in established student unions and groups such as NUS.
“The more doctors, nurses, scientists and degree-holders we have in society, the smarter and more innovative Australia will become. Education is a key part of democracy, and in attacking every Australian’s right to receive further education the Liberals have shown how out of touch they are with us,” he said.
Sydney University SRC Education Officers Ridah Hassan and Eleanor Morley hold themselves responsible for the Senate rejecting Pyne’s bill.
“Our 2014 student campaign has led to the defeat of the bill in the Senate in the last sitting week of Parliament. Keeping up the pressure on the opposition to hold their line, and to continue to rally in numbers on the streets will be crucial for defeating the bill for good next year,” Ridah Hassan said.
The 87th SRC’s agenda will focus on opposing fee deregulation and continuing to fight against discriminatory reforms to higher education.
“I want an SRC that will continue to challenge the government and the university management for the benefit of students,” President Kyol Blakeney said.
Pyne has proposed a new reform package, which will be presented to the Senate early next year.