The Morrison government’s recently announced changes to HECS and higher education funding are a serious attack on students. The Liberals see a major opportunity to restructure the entire sector in response to the pandemic and economic crisis. However, these changes are far from a fait accompli, they can be resisted, and we should look to the massive social struggles sweeping the world right now, from Lebanon to the United States, for inspiration. Our next chance to fight these attacks will be on August 28 at the Perth Protest to Stop Uni Fee Hikes.
What are the changes?
Last week Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that the government will cut students who fail 50% of their first year units off of HECS. This move would force struggling students to pay up front fees in order to complete their degrees. However, this is only the latest in a string of proposals coming from the government since June.
Alongside the changes to HECS the government is also planning to double the costs of arts degrees. Media commentators were quick to point out the ideological and cultural war angle of the proposed changes. Indeed, the announcement coming in the wake of BLM protesters calling for statues of Cook and other colonisers to be torn down really drove this point home.
These changes go beyond the usual Liberal culture war though. The doubling of humanities fees is only one part of an overall cut to university funding that would see the government contribution per student per year fall by $2700. If these changes go ahead it will be the first time since fees were reintroduced that the government has funded a minority of teaching costs.
These cuts demonstrate just how broad the proposed attack on students is. While this change hits humanities students particularly hard, it means that all students, regardless of faculty, are looking at a worse quality of education and will bear the burden of education funding going forward.
What can we do?
To put it simply these changes need to be resisted. Student activists around the country have already started to push back against the changes. Just last week student activists from Curtin and UWA crashed Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office to voice their opposition to the cuts. Her office was targeted as a response to the government plan to boost military spending by $270 billion.
But we want to do so much more than crash the odd Liberal ministers’ office. All around the world right now there are countless examples of people taking to the streets to fight for their rights. From Belarus to Black Lives Matter, militant street protests and mass movements are becoming a regular feature of world politics. We should look to these places for inspiration and see that sustained, mass protest gets the goods.
In the US, the Black Lives Matter movement has shown that these kinds of protests and confrontations are not limited to places like the Middle East or Eastern Europe. In the heart of world capitalism we have seen militant and mass protests take place in hundreds of cities for several weeks. In both Democratic and Republican held cities we have seen images of protesters facing down fully armed riot cops, clouds of tear gas and storms of rubber bullets and flash bang grenades. Millions of people, including Black, white, and other POC, have been drawn into radical politics. Most inspiring of all is the long list of wins that they have won, from the charging of George Floyd’s killers to chasing the feds out of Portland.
It can, and in many ways does, feel like Australia is a million miles from this kind of radicalism. However, if we look back at the year so far it is clear that there is a serious appetite for protest and resistance in Australia. Just look at the tens of thousands of people who turned out to protest the Liberal’s response to the bushfires. Or the thousands of people who turned out for the Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
These attacks from the Morrison government threatens not only the quality of our education, it threatens to push higher education towards a US style system that sees students take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt in order to access a basic human right. These changes are massive and need to be met by a student movement, inspired by the heroism of protesters on display around the world, right now.
Our next chance to do this is on August 28. Let’s hit the streets and beat back the Liberals’ attacks.
The next protest is August 28 at 1pm in Forrest Chase. Rally details can be found here.