Students protest uni fee deregulation in marches across Australia

May 21, 2014
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Thousands of students, academics and unionists marched to Sydney Town Hall this afternoon to protest the Federal Budget’s higher education cuts and deregulation of tertiary fees.  

Students from The University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney gathered at their various city campuses before joining forces and storming down George Street with cries of “no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities,” and the succinct, “fuck you, Tony, fuck you”.

The mass of protestors included students from several universities in and around Sydney, including University of Western Sydney and University of Newcastle, and students from TAFEs and colleges around the state. 

The huge crowd also joined thousands of other student protestors in cities across the country, including in Melbourne, where protestors charged at a police line while marching from the State Library to Parliament House.

Violence also broke out during the Sydney event when protestors attempted to break away from the crowd towards Hyde Park, which forced riot and mounted police to steer them back towards the road.

These incidents aside, Hijacked saw no other signs of violence from the crowds – yet the anti-Abbott sentiment expressed within the massive Sydney crowd was definitely palpable.

A few eye-catching posters glimpsed by Hijacked carried slogans like “stop the slaughter of our education” and a sign with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s head on the body of Mr Burns from The Simpsons with the tagline “HECS-ellent”.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne also featured on mocking signage and one protestor even wore a mask of Treasurer Joe Hockey, a still-flaming cigarette perched between his paper lips.

University of Sydney Education Officer Ridah Hassan told Hijacked before the event that organisers were expecting a huge turnout to the rallies, which were held to oppose the deregulation of university fees and the “undermining of public education by the Liberals".

“The deregulation of unis fees could see fees triple to upwards of $100,000. We feel this is unacceptable, and will exclude working class and disadvantaged students from the higher education system.

“We want to make it very clear to the government that we’re opposed to what they’re doing to higher education and we want a public and fully funded education system for all.”

After a string of rousing speeches and a march through the Quadrangle, The University of Sydney students headed towards Broadway – to the bemusement and grins of passerbys – before meeting their UTS peers and charging up George Street.

At one point, the crowd plunked down in the middle of George Street before police sorted out the ruckus and made an arrest.

The crowd soon moved on to Town Hall, where the roars of the young, the old, students and non-students – and at least one hipster with a disposable camera – reached a deafening crescendo.

The protestors were a diverse bunch, with passionate unionists, young reporters and UTS teachers striking out against the education cuts and even international students joining the fray.

“There is no way that education is only the right of the rich,” said 19-year-old Chinese national Wendy Xin, who is studying at The University of Sydney.

“The fact that I’m not a citizen here doesn’t really affect my dissatisfaction or anger. My friends are struggling with the situation because they don’t have money for the housing. It’s really expensive already.”

Not everybody participated in the protests. Protest onlooker and Nutrition and Dietetics student at The University of Sydney, Fatima Hamdi, told Hijacked that while students have a right to protest, they should adopt a more pragmatic view towards education policy.

“The government does need to save money, because apparently we were in debt - in a way they have to cut, that’s just the way it is,” said Hamdi.

“Labor will come in and spend the money, and Liberal will come in and try to save more money… no-one is ever going to be happy.”

Kristen Daly

Images: Kristen Daly