Education minister Christopher Pyne wants to attack students. He has a plan to dramatically cut funding and privatise higher education. He has also made student unions a target, letting it slip late last year that he had made plans to revoke their funding.
Student activists intend to confirm the suspicions that motivate this proposal from Pyne. We intend to show that student unions are bastions of the left and are key to opposing the government’s agenda.
During the union elections late last year, Socialist Alternative activists were elected to 25 offices within campus student unions across the country. At the National Union of Students (NUS) conference in December, six Socialist Alternative activists were elected to positions.
At every level we were elected on the basis of having a left wing program, a focus on grassroots activism and because we had become known around the country as key activists in the campaign to stop the federal government funding cuts. That campaign included the biggest student demonstrations in almost 10 years.
Given the attacks in store this year, some of the most important positions in the student unions are the education offices. Socialist Alternative activists were elected into campus education offices at Monash, Latrobe, Sydney and Curtin universities. We have been elected as state branch education officers in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland. We also secured the national education office.
Having socialists implanted in the student unions will be crucial to the fight to defend education. Socialist Alternative is planning to use these positions to further a campaign that began last year in response to the Labor government’s announcement of funding cuts of $2.3 billion.
This year we will need more street demonstrations, more collective action, and more people involved in the grassroots campaign.
But the campaign needs to have a broader focus than the funding cuts. We have called the campaign “Abbott and Pyne, get your hands off our education” in anticipation of other attacks on students throughout the year.
The Liberals are toying with the idea of privatising HECs debt, a move that would open the door to massive fee increases and would increase the already appalling level of student poverty.
They have also talked about introducing measures to exclude more working class and poor students from universities.
Students on many campuses also face severe cuts from administrations. Socialist Alternative’s Jessica Lenehan, who has been elected as the Latrobe student union education officer, comes from a campus all too familiar with savage cuts.
“Latrobe is currently experiencing the biggest sweep of cuts to any university in Australia’s history. Whole faculties are being eradicated, student services are being hollowed out, hundreds of jobs are on the line, and students are being prevented from concluding the degrees they began.
“It’s really important that the student union be used to mobilise students to fight these savage cuts. In response to the last round of cuts two years ago, students launched a protest campaign and were able to reinstate some subjects that the university had planned to axe.
“The stakes are higher this time. Students need to be given a strong lead from the student union.”
Student unions at every level need to work together to combat attacks from the universities and the government. We have to be prepared to disrupt business as usual and put pressure on those in power who are so blithely destroying our education system for the sake of profits.
Having socialists elected into the student unions is a step in the right direction. We intend to make Pyne’s term a nightmare and to take him on at every turn.
But without grassroots involvement and activism, we won’t get anywhere. More students need to get involved in the campaign collectives on their campus or in their state.
The first national education protest for the year will be held on Wednesday 26 March.