Over 150 students blockaded a dinner party at Melbourne University last night to protest at the administration’s plans to introduce cuts to courses, student and staff numbers next year. The university is making dramatic changes to the way it operates which will be bad news for students and staff across the board.
Following the official launch of the Growing Esteem plan yesterday morning, the administration decided they wanted to throw a dinner party to celebrate. The student union organised a ‘counter launch’ which included a BBQ, speeches and a march to the Academic House where the dinner was to be held.
During the speeches one student representative explained how she got evicted from the morning media launch four times! Other student reps also spoke outlining the problems with the Growing Esteem model, as did a member of the academics union, the NTEU.
After marching to Academic House the crowd broke through the line of hired thugs provided by Chubb Security and towards the doors of the building. One security guard pushed a young woman down the stairs and another punched a male student. After the rest of the crowd was alerted to this violence a decision was made to establish picket lines at all the entrances and shut down the event.
This meant that a small number of guests were inside but the vast majority including many Vice Chancellors and guests were left outside. Catering workers inside, some of whom were students, reported major disruption to the event.
A small number of police attended the demonstration but refused to intervene obviously because they were massively outnumbered. The lines were maintained for several hours until many of the guests went home and the administration decided to cancel the event.
This action was an important first victory for the campaign against Growing Esteem and showed the administration that the students mean business. It was heartening to see students from other campuses attending the rally especially many first year students. A good layer of supporters from the labour movement and community were also in attendance.
All in all a fantastic first win for the campaign and the struggle against cuts to education in Australia.
By Socialist Party reporters
See text of SSG leaflet handed out on the night below
Scrap Growing Esteem – Say NO to cuts in education
Melbourne University is currently making major changes to the way it operates. As of next year it plans to bring in a US-style graduate-based model which is threatening the future of tertiary education across Australia. The plan, called ‘Growing Esteem’, will shift the traditional focus of education from undergraduate level to graduate level. This means the university stands to massively increase its profits whilst in the process student numbers will be cut by up to 25%. Many staff will also lose their jobs and many courses which don’t quite fit the ‘new generation’ degrees will be rolled back.
The plan sees students enlisting in a three-year generalist degree, followed by a two or three year graduate program where professional or specialised skills (such as law, architecture or medicine) are taught. It will therefore eliminate the 100 or so current undergraduate degrees and replace them all with 6 ‘new generation degrees’: Arts, Biomedicine, Commerce, Environments, Music and Science.
To sell its new direction, the university has emphasised the benefits of the new educational model. Special attention has been paid to highlighting the problems of the current undergraduate-based system. They have highlighted student to staff ratios, the length of time to teach courses and lack of resources. Many of these things would improve, but only through a massive cut in student numbers.
In reality the university has decided to go down this road not because of the educational merits but for reasons of status and profit. In 2005, when the model was first proposed, the Vice Chancellor highlighted that over the past 25 years guaranteed federal funding has gone from 90% to 23% of university revenue. Therefore the university perceived two choices, continue to grow at the current rate or opt for a radical rethink.
That the issue is financial, not educational is belied by the fact the ‘new generation’ bioscience (now renamed biomedicine) is just a feeder degree for medicine which undermines the idea that the graduate system should provide a broad general education. Furthermore, much of the detailed planning of course structure and content has still not been decided on, let alone made public.
The reasoning is that more full-fees may be charged at graduate level, where professional and specialised skills are to be taught. In a taste of what is to come, the university recently announced that 2008 graduate law places will be half federally funded and half full-fee. The university strongly lobbied Canberra to achieve this unprecedented leverage in how it used its HECS funding. The government obviously jumped at the chance to help ween the university off government funding. Overall the university aims to shift graduate places from one quarter to at least one third of all students.
Other universities have adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach to the ‘Melbourne Model’. It is clear that if the Melbourne Model is successful many more universities will follow suit. This not only means that current students will suffer during the bloody implementation of the program as courses will be cut and future students will have to pay through the nose for an education, but that there will be an overall reduction in student numbers across Australia. Australia’s public spending on higher education as a proportion of GDP is already well below the OECD average, leading to the current crisis of funding at universities.
In Victoria this year, nearly 20,000 first-round applicants missed out on a university place. With an estimated extra 10,000 students being eliminated from the Melbourne system, and an unforetold number from universities which will follow suit we are facing an education abyss. This means an increase in the current ‘skills crisis’, notably in medicine, nursing and education, and gives lie to the ‘knowledge economy’ of the Howard and the ALP.
The SSG is campaigning for:
An end to Growing Esteem and all other programs which make cuts to education
Free education for all from childcare to university – Write off all student debts
Not one job loss at Melbourne Uni or any other university
Boost the Youth Allowance – Students need a decent living wage
Student control of student affairs – End VSU – Full representation for all students!