Most students avoid protesting against fee increases

University students took to the State Library to send Federal Parliament a message. Photo: Laura Placella

By Laura Placella

About 80 per cent of university students are not protesting the cuts to university funding and increases in fees, a recent poll has found.

And 155 of the poll’s 270 students, who attend Melbourne universities, thought students on the whole were “apathetic” about their peers’ cries to “Make Education Free Again”.

The 2017 Budget, handed down by Treasurer Scott Morrison on May 9, saw university funding cut by $2.8 billion and fee increases of 7.5 per cent.

Students will also pay their HECs debt back sooner, with the threshold lowered from $55,000 to $42,000.

The National Union of Students orchestrated a nationwide protest on May 17, with students occupying nine different locations to march against these proposals.

While 60 per cent of students either “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with the proposals, only 1.5 per cent attended the May 17 protests.

The Monash Student Association (MSA) organised a sausage sizzle on campus before shuttling students off to the State Library.

MSA education officer Juliet Steel said the MSA was “happy” with the turnout.

“Monash students ended up being one of the largest contingents at the rally,” Ms Steel said.

Ms Steel said students’ voices can influence “real legislative change”.

“In 2014, when deregulation was introduced into the Federal Budget, students came out in the thousands to protest the Americanisation of higher education,” she said.

“These protests put pressure on politicians to reconsider the implementation of deregulation.”

Monash University student Tom Horan said the way student organisations rally support for their protests was “all wrong”.

“They hound you,” Mr Horan said.

“You’re walking through campus, trying to get to class, trying to get food, trying to meet up with friends … the last thing we need is someone coming up to us and annoying us about something we don’t really care about.”

Monash University education expert David Zyngier said the Government’s plans for tertiary education were very short sighted.

“Funding universities is an investment that Australia’s future economic and intellectual prosperity is reliant on,” Mr Zyngier said.

Mr Zyngier said raising fees was a “punitive” action that will deter students from underrepresented communities considering university education.

“This will return universities to the traditional place for the elite class, to gain economic and educational advantage to maintain their power position in society,” he said.