Anyone who was unfortunate enough to find themselves in Wholefoods during the MSA’s Q&A with three leading representatives of the Monash University administration witnessed an absolute masterclass in political spin. The Q&A was organised to allow students to quiz leading figures in the University about the future direction of our education, and then to hear genuine and considered answers from the people who control the levers of power here at Monash. We held up our end of the bargain. The same can’t be said for Edwina Cornish (the Provost of Monash) and her two colleagues.
The three of them put on an exhibition in question evasion. Clearly having studied at length the playbook of Australia’s political elite, they turned up equipped with contentless phrases like ‘student journey’, ‘technology opportunities’ and ‘community quality’. Voluble yet inarticulate, they managed to use a great many words to say very little. It may as well have been the 2013 federal election.
This was a shame. Students face one of the most hostile political climates in Australian history. The federal Government, with its allies in the Commission of Audit, have proposed a swathe of deeply reactionary policy changes. Alongside maintaining massive funding cuts to universities, federal education minister Christopher Pyne wants to deregulate tertiary fees. This would see universities compete for the price of degrees. Where that has been implemented elsewhere, like in America, the result has been a massive hike in fees and student debt. The American higher education system is rightly seen internationally as a basket case. The children of the elite can pay exorbitant sums to the prestigious colleges like Harvard and Yale, while working class students are priced out of the market and left to go to under-resourced and under-staffed tin pot community colleges. Student debt there amounts to $1 trillion (roughly the size of Australia’s GDP). But none of this has stopped Pyne explicitly stating that “we have much to learn about this from our friends in the United States.” The Liberals see in America the future of Australian higher education, and fee deregulation as another step on the road to perdition. The Vice-Chancellor of Monash, Ed Byrne, has publicly come out in support of deregulation.
Student activists questioned the Provost about this. We asked her what her position on deregulation was. We quizzed her about why she hadn’t publicly opposed it. Her response was bewildering, simultaneously informing us that she ‘has no power to have any impact’ but also that she is ‘fighting very hard’- a curious thing to do for someone with no apparent power whatsoever. She wouldn’t say she was against deregulation. I think we can safely assume that she lines up with Ed Byrne on this one.
We can’t rely on our administration to stand up for our rights as students. No one will do that except for us. The next chance we have is on May 21 at a nation-wide protest against the Liberals’ agenda in higher education. Come to the protest- we’re meeting at 1pm on the Menzies Lawn to catch free buses into the city for the central rally. It may be one of the last chances we have to avoid the disastrous situation planned for us by Abbott and Pyne.