18 August 2014


The decision to undergo tertiary education is not something one makes lightly, it is not a cheap endeavour by any means. The costs associated with studying at university begin to pile up when we purchase textbooks, readers and academic incidentals, but they do not stop there; these costs follow us well after we complete our degrees via our Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) debts. All of this is not ideal, it already tends to holdback hundreds, if not thousands of young people from attending university or having the same equal access to a fair education as their peers - the system is not perfect, but further changes will only make it catastrophic. 

Many of our parents, teachers, lecturers and academic idols were lucky enough to be educated just after the Whitlam Labor Government abolished university fees in 1974, under a scheme to prioritise tertiary education and open this amazing educative opportunity up to working and middle class Australians. This however, was a short-lived opportunity, afforded to individuals like Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the Minster for Education Christopher Pyne who choose to attack our education today.  

Thousands filled Town Hall Square in July to protest the Budget
Providing free tertiary education to all is an ideal, an ideal I share and would love to witness the dawn of again, but the perceived impracticalities of it as a policy led the Hawke Labor Government to introduce the Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS), the system we pay for university fees under currently. Subsequent governments have sought to alter this system, the Howard Coalition Government introduced a three-tiered HECS fee system, which charged higher fees to certain degrees - based on the perceived value of the course. Following this there have been further attempts to take some of the financial responsibility for providing fair and equitable education away from the Federal Government. All of this will seem like nothing compared to what we face now. 

These changes, if carried through, will be the worst yet. Why? Because they are part of a string of damaging reforms to many things we take for granted in this country. The current Federal Liberal Government seems to believe that introducing uncapped university fees, striking funding from healthcare and drastically altering welfare payments (just to name a few of their "plans") are all good ideas. Why? Perhaps they believe that to save money and be fiscally responsible we should cut services and opportunities that promote welfare, equal opportunity and fairness in our nation.

To this I call bullshit! 

I, like many others, believe that education and access to welfare services are basic rights, and when such rights are facing extreme opposition, we have a duty to stand up and fight in their defence. Thankfully, I am not alone in this view. The University of Sydney Union Board of Directors is united against these changes, changes that will make being a university student even harder. 

My response to the Federal Liberal Government's budget
The road ahead looks grim for Australians. It is grim for unemployed graduates, who struggle to find work after completing their degrees and will find it increasingly difficult to secure welfare payments straight out of university. It will be grim for those with longstanding illnesses, who will now be expected to pay for each visit to their doctor under the guise of funding further medical research. And it will be especially grim for young people from low-socio economic backgrounds, especially if they wish to take on tertiary education after they finish high school. Basically, if you are poor, sick, or unemployed, you're fucked!

Sorry Abbott and Pyne, but you're both hypocrites!
BUT BACK TO EDUCATION - Moves to deregulate university fees will invariably lead to an education system much like that in the US, where universities can charge whatever they like for a degree, without considering the impact it will have on young people from low-socio economic backgrounds. Couple deregulation with changes to HECS so that we incur interest and we have an tertiary sector that will be dominated by those from wealthy families, with the occasional token poor kid being lucky enough to grab a spot. I came from such a background, and if faced with deregulated fees I would have been unable to justify enrolling into one, let alone two university degree programs. And the worst thing is, this is the case for many of my friends and a wide pool of currently enrolled students. This budget only seeks to benefit the rich, and bleed workers and the poor dry. I hope the hypocrisy of these changes being introduced by a government that is full of individuals who reaped the benefit of free tertiary education is not lost on you. 

This Wednesday 20th August, students across the country will be attending rallies, marches and debates as part of the National Day of Action (NDA) to display their sheer outrage against the Federal Liberal Government’s proposed budget, which contains the most significant attacks to welfare and education we have seen in this country. This budget, in my view, cannot be defended. I am angry, and you should be too! You can read up on the 2014 - 2015 budget here: http://www.budget.gov.au/2014-15/index.htm

THE NUS/SRC poster calling students to the NDA
Some might argue that it is not the place for the Union to take a stance on a federal issue, to them I say, you’re damn wrong. This is exactly what we should be doing. As a Student Board of Directors we have a responsibility not only to our membership, but also to the legacy of this university and our organisation.  We have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of our members and staff, both present and future. Many of us on the Board and employed by the Union would not be where we are if we were faced with a country that accepted these changes, this is why we are joining the fight. In the past, Boards have protested against Voluntary Student Unionism and even the Vietnam War, I believe it is time to bring back a fighting student Board. 

This view is not isolated to just the Board of Directors, it is held by staff and members throughout the organisation. This is why we have taken steps to assist the National Union of Students and the Sydney University Education Action Group in marketing the NDA in our outlets with flyers, posters and badges, and on our social media channels. 

We at the University of Sydney Union believe it is time for us to speak out on campus and assist the SRC, SUPRA and the wider student community in building a strong movement against this budget. This is why we urge everyone who reads this to get involved in the campaign against the budget and the various actions that are taking place on campus – particularly the NDA this Wednesday.
The Board says "BUST THE BUDGET"

You might read this and say "this does not impact me" or "I will be finished uni by the time fee deregulation happens" - that's fine to say, and it could very well be true. But think of the thousands of people who will be faced with fee hikes in the future. Take a stand not for yourself, but for future generations!

Check out the following event links for more information.

The University of Sydney feeder rally: https://www.facebook.com/events/1512027665680662/?ref=4

Look forward to seeing you at the NDA!

Robby Magyar
Honorary Treasurer


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