A rare public forum at the University of Sydney has seen a host of voices speak out against the Coalition’s plans to deregulate the university sector, heaping further pressure on a group of vice-chancellors championing the changes.
The ‘town hall’ meeting, held on last night in the University of Sydney’s Great Hall, saw speakers from the community invited to address the changes, due to come before Parliament later this week.
Of the 26 staff, students, and alumni at the meeting just two spoke in favour of the changes.
Attended by around 500 people, the event revealed broad concern about the Coalition’s plans, which would see caps on fees removed, likely sparking a sharp increase in expenses for students at major universities.
Caitlin Gardner, a student from regional Australia, told the forum that many students from similar areas had already been priced out of studying at major metropolitan-based universities and questioned whether the University of Sydney wanted to be a place only accessible to privileged city residents.
Timothy Scriven, President of the University’s postgraduate student association, was met with cheers after calling on students to take inspiration from those in Germany, Turkey, and Quebec, where mass movements had halted increases to tuition costs and paved the way for free tertiary education.
“I don’t think we should rest at opposing or stopping deregulation. I wish to use this platform to call for free education,” Scriven said.
The only student to speak in favour of deregulation was one-time Liberal candidate for Grayndler, Alexander Dore, a rising party star and an elected member of the postgraduate student association at the University of Sydney.
“There is no such thing as a free education,” he said.
“We need world-class universities and that means ensuring that they have a capacity to raise adequate revenue,” Dore later told New Matilda.
Though an unpopular view among the crowd gathered in Sydney University’s Great Hall, Dore’s sentiments appear to still have the backing of Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, who will today travel to Canberra and join other Go8 VCs in lobbying Education Minister Christopher Pyne.
According to a report in the Australian the group are hoping to convince Pyne to abandon funding cuts to universities and rethink his plan to tie HECs interest rates to the bond rate, a move experts have warned will increase student debt and punish women in particular.
Trying to allay those fears in a recent appearance on the ABC’s 7:30 program, Pyne added another classic to the government’s growing gaffe reel, claiming women would not feel the impact of the changes as courses like nursing and teaching were less likely to see fees rise.
“What happens to a female lawyer or a female dentist,” host Sarah Ferguson asked.
The question went unanswered.
President of the University of Sydney Union Tara Waniganayaka, who spoke against deregulation, criticised Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence for failing to oppose more of Pyne’s changes.
“While the GO8 Vice Chancellors will be fighting increased interest rates today, it seems there is little else they’ll be fighting,” she said.
“It is perplexing that Michael Spence is pushing ahead with his support for the deregulation of university fees just hours after hearing overwhelming rousing opposition from staff, students and alumni.
“I hope he has a change of heart and starts paying heed to the calls of those who know exactly how deregulation will affect women and those from low socio-economic backgrounds and minority groups.”
Not all involved in the meeting were content with the proceedings.
Eleanor Morley, Education Officer at the University of Sydney SRC and member of Socialist Alternative, was unhappy about the absence of certain student representatives from the speaking list, and was one among a crowd who heckled the Vice-Chancellor’s opening address.
Echoing the words of some students who did address the gathering from the stage, Morley said the event would mean nothing if the university did not respond to student anger.
“I felt that the whole event was clearly just some ploy for the university and I thought that I should interrupt it,” she said.
The university was forced into allowing the forum to take place after pressure to call a meeting of the Convocation was dismissed.
For a summary of all speakers, see Honi Soit’s live blog of the event.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.