03 February 2015


Whether you are a incoming student starting this March, or a second, third, or eighth year student continuing with your degree, you might be aware of the National Union of Students (NUS), and the work it does lobbying the Federal Government on behalf of over 1 million students across Australia for accessible education and fair income support payments.

Student activists engaging in a presentation at Presidents Summit
Last week, the Executive of the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors attended NUS’ annual President’s Summit, held in Host Co’s recently refurbished Holme Sutherland Room. The summit was an opportunity for campus Presidents, General Secretaries, and Treasurers of affiliate student organisations to gather and discuss their campus, the student movement, and receive updates on the proposed initiatives of each of the National Office Bearers. While the USU does not affiliate to NUS, we have sought to engage with the national union both because of our constitutional commitment to Universal Student Unionism and the campaigns NUS has run to defend the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), but also because we have recently adopted recommendations made by the NUS Queer Department campaign "I'm Here to Pee" by installing a gender neutral bathroom in the Holme Building.

Around 60 student activists attended the summit from across Australia, some coming from as far as WA, or from regional campuses like the University of Newcastle. During the course of the summit there were also workshops run by autonomous Office Bearers – I personally found the workshop run by the National Disabilities Officer eye opening as it forced me to think more about invisible illnesses that can make being a student even more difficult. However, what remained at the core of the summit were the reports and workshops run by both the National Education Officer and the National Welfare Officer.

The National Welfare OB telling it like it is
Last year, after the release of the Federal Budget, NUS ran one of the most successful education campaigns ever in Australia – uniting thousands of students in protest against the Federal Liberal Government’s proposed cuts to education, and income support payments such as Youth Allowance and Newstart. It was this campaign, the lobbying done in Senate Committees by NUS, and the involvement of so many students from diverse backgrounds, courses and universities that the introduction of fee deregulation has been held off.

If implemented, fee deregulation would mean universities across the nation would be faced with a massive reduction in funding from the Federal Government, and be forced to find sources of income elsewhere. The rhetoric from the Government suggests that this would enable competition based on quality and innovation, for the benefit of students. However, what it actually does is leave universities the ability to charge whatever they wish for the courses they offer for the first time since the 1970s, with estimates suggesting some degrees could go up to $100,000. This would create astronomical debt for graduates.

Call to action to email Senator Muir
Last year’s victory however is not concrete. Student activists across the nation know that at any moment this damaging policy could be proposed again, and could get implemented if support for the reform builds. This will reduce the accessibility of tertiary education for many young people, especially those from low-socio economic backgrounds. We’ve reached a critical juncture in higher education; with uncertainty around funding sources, fees, and the availability of income support. We require an active national student union more than ever. Without a union, a whole generation of young people might be forced to rule out going to university.  

Last week the discussion around fee deregulation picked up again when the ABC reported cross-bench Senator Ricky Muir had announced he would consider plans to deregulate university fees after receiving a call from Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Office, full article here:

Those attending President Summit wrote emails to Senator Muir asking him not to support the deregulation of university fees, and within a few hours his position changed, with a statement on Facebook that he had “listened to the people of Victoria and Australia" and "decided that if deregulation is the only option for university reform then it should be taken to the election.” 

The gender pay-gap will impact HECS debts
You may have also come across the hashtag #hackthefees whilst scrolling through Twitter over the past couple of days, which was used during two online actions run during Triple J’s radio program, the Hack. The purpose was for student leaders and activists to inform Nick Xenophon and Christopher Pyne of the damaging impact of deregulating university fees whilst they were both on air. Summit attendees rallied together and were tweeting like mad, which lead to many students not at the summit joining in. 

Small actions like these can make a difference, but is simply not enough. It is not enough to just have a few rallies and campaigns, here and there, what we need is a national union that not only protests the Federal Government’s attacks on students and young people, but one that is active in the conversations the around the future of higher education in Australia.

Joining in on the online twitter protest
Presidents Summit is a small part of this, designed to engage campus student leaders in campaigns and organising to fight against damaging attacks on our education. At the summit, the Education campaign for 2015 was discussed extensively.

Over the next year, NUS has a plan to organise students to:
  • Ensure the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill is blocked in the Senate and the Federal Liberal Government abandons it’s plans
  • Demand Vice-Chancellor’s and University administrations stop selling out students, and oppose these unfair reforms
  • Work with community groups and key sector bodies to plan for a fairer higher education sector

Now more than ever it is important that we DEMAND A BETTER FUTURE. This is where YOU come in. To win this battle, NUS is going beyond the traditional rallies, protests, summits of campus Presidents, and National Days of Action. This year the Education Department is seeking students new and old to share their stories and views on the proposed changes to higher education. You do not have to be a seasoned activist, heavily engaged in education campaigns, or even hold a position on your campus. 

Campus activists stand united against increased fees at the summit
Why? Because the “campaign is about all students and members taking the lead. We know that conservatives like to take aim at campaigns by saying unions are unrepresentative and ideological. By sharing their stories, students are showing that deregulation is truly an unpopular policy in our community. We also know that real student stories are more powerful than any facts or figures” according to Hannah Smith. Responses will be compiled and presented in meetings with key politicians and policy makers, with an opportunity for students to accompany education activists to such meetings – this will be determined on a case by case basis, and when strategically appropriate.

If you are interested in being involved, answer the following questions, and send your responses to Hannah Smith at education@nus.asn.au
NUS is asking for YOU to build its message

Your name:
Residential postcode:
What does education mean to you?
How do the proposed higher education changes make you feel?
How would you be willing to share your story?

You can also attend the National Day of Action on March 25th - but we will remind you closer to the event I'm sure. For more information click here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1411912355766655/?fref=ts

The student movement needs a united union and engaged students, will you join the fight?

In Unity,


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