Students March to Defend Fee Regulation

Over 3,000 teachers and students marched in the CBD today as the rally headed by National Union of Students opposing new higher education proposals took place in Melbourne.

The rally was supported by Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt as well as shadow minister for education, Kate Ellis and saw thousands of people speak out against Joe Hockey and Chris Pyne’s imitation of the American higher education model.

In the budget handed down last week by the Government, Treasurer Joe Hockey spoke of a higher education system that would be ‘more diverse, more innovative, and more responsive to students’ needs.’

Monash Student Association President, Ben Knight attended the rally and said a U.S model would be anything but responsive to students’ needs.

“Universities will cross-subsidise these undergraduate fees…which isn’t good for students because it means they’re essentially paying more for less,” he said.

With a U.S model, Hockey and Pyne aim to push a greater number of Australian universities into the top 100 in the world, 46 of which are currently in America. While the idea of raising the standards may have merit, Knight believes there is a better way to achieve this goal without costs coming to students.

“First of all, increasing the base level of funding. Obviously setting a reasonable cap on fees if not looking to promote free education for all.”

Along with the deregulation of fees from 2016, Hockey’s budget has also imposed a 20% cut to the Government’s contribution of HECS. The Department of Education predicts that this will result in an average loan debt of $21,500 within five years, while the average time to repay student debts will increase to just under 10 years. Finally, the proportion of new debt not expected to be paid will be a whopping 23% in 2017.

The rally was one of many that has been staged on the day in response to Treasurer Hockey’s budget, similar rallies have also been organised by the National Union of Students in other major Australian cities, including Sydney, Canberra, and Adelaide.

Unfortunately, there have been reports of arrests at these rallies, including in Melbourne. ABC has reported that 13 arrests have been made in Melbourne after students occupied the intersection of Bourke and Spring streets after the rally had concluded. Arrests were also made in Sydney after one protester set off a flare. The incidents are a dark patch on an otherwise bright day for student activism given healthy turnouts across the country.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott had to cancel a scheduled appearance at Geelong University in light of the planned protests.

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