When last year’s federal budget was released, nobody spared much thought for fee deregulation. Unlike the $7 Medicare copayment which screamed “attack on the poor!”, deregulation seemed innocuous. The destructiveness of this policy was disguised by its ambiguous title. Thankfully, students across Australia erupted in protest, and prevented the deregulation bill sneaking through the senate and into our universities.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Education Christopher Pyne do not believe education to be a right. It does not matter to the Liberal government whether the poor get poorer, so long as the rich get richer. Higher education, Australia’s third largest export, is big business.
Deregulation will privatise universities. Even as student poverty soars, university administrators will be allowed to set the price of their degrees. Contrary to the Abbott government’s claims that we cannot know what deregulated fees will look like, Dr Bruce Chapman created a model that estimated the cost of some degrees would rise to $100,000. To the bulk of working-class Australians, this is completely unaffordable.
If deregulation makes it through the senate, tertiary education will become a bastion of the wealthy. We will see the creation of a two-tiered education system. Students will be forced to shoulder massive amounts of debt, which may linger until they are saving up for their own children to go to college. The Liberal Government wants to privatise and Americanise; students must hit back in order to stop them.
In 2014, Australia saw a vibrant student-led campaign. Christopher Pyne was left dumbfounded when students burst into chant on Q&A. Liberal ministers were chased off campus by students, demonstrating neither they nor their policies were welcome. Most notably, thousands took to streets all across the country, keeping deregulation in the media and in public discourse. The ANU did its fair share, boasting the largest turnouts to rallies in proportion to student population.
The effectiveness of these efforts became evident in December 2014, when fee deregulation was rejected from the senate. If Abbott and Pyne were in touch with public opinion, they would drop fee deregulation. Instead, Pyne is continuing to support deregulation, and students must keep up the fight.
On Wednesday 25 March at 2pm in Union Court, students will be taking to the streets once more. As part of nationwide protests, we will be making our case clear that Abbott and Pyne should get their hands off our education. Deregulation was defeated once and we can do it again, for good.