Students protest fee hikes

On 19 June, Coalition Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that the cost of studying the humanities at university would double, while fees for the supposedly more “job relevant” courses would be slashed.

Students of nursing, psychology, English, languages, teaching, agriculture, maths, science, health, engineering and architecture would emerge from university with a much smaller debt than those who studied law, commerce, economics, history, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics or communications.

But students refuse to take this lying down. Chanting “When student rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” several hundred gathered (at safe social distances) to protest in Sydney on 26 June.

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi (pictured top), who holds degrees in civil and environmental engineering, addressed the crowd. “This is a package that condemns students to decades of debt at a time when we know that youth unemployment is soaring,” Senator Faruqi said.

“This is a package that completely fails uni staff who are set to lose tens of thousands of jobs across Australia. This is a package that gives nothing – no funding for the vital research that we need to get us out of the COVID crisis, the inequality crisis and the climate crisis.”

The term “hypocrisy” reverberated throughout the afternoon – hardly surprising, since Tehan himself holds an arts degree from the University of Melbourne.

Shovan Bhattarai, Education Officer at the University of NSW Students Representative Council (pictured above, holding microphone), also spoke to the assembled. “The Liberal Government is trying to make choosing what you want to study at university a privilege reserved for a small minority who can afford it,” Bhattarai said. “For the rest of us, education will mean a degree factory, pumping us through so we can make profits for the bosses.”

Another student, Raul Haagensen, who is studying arts at the University of Sydney, quipped that “only a couple of weeks ago, ScoMo said slavery had never existed in Australia, so maybe he should be studying history”.

Speaking in the media in the week of Tehan’s announcement, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said: “High school students who will graduate this year and want to go to university decided 18 months ago which subjects they would study to qualify for their degree of choice. At that time, they also believed they knew what their degree of choice would cost. Tehan now wants to change that.

“This is the government of $100,000 university degrees. They don’t seem to understand that education benefits not just an individual, it also benefits the nation.

“This is also a government that has ripped $3 billion from TAFE. So if they talk about support for education programs that benefit the workforce, why have they cut $3 billion from TAFE?”

Monica Crouch