Federal Education Policy Unmasked:
Don't fix unis, bust student unions
Details of the Howard Government's legislation to cut funding to those universities that support compulsory Student Union membership have now been revealed. The legislation, whose formulation has been spearheaded by Federal Minister for Higher Education, Dr David Kemp, has been greeted with protest and opposition from both student bodies and university administrators. The Student Unions serve as a voice for students' rights, and also provide a wide range of essential services for students. If implemented, the legislation could financially cripple the unions. National Union of Students President Amanda Tatersall said last Wednesday that: "As a consequence of the Government cutting $180 million from university operating grants in 1996, our education system is in disrepair. "Dr Kemp's policy response to this is not to reinvigorate our universities, but to shut down his Government's most vocal critic on education issues, that being student organisations. "It is compulsory for students to pay thousands of dollars per year in the form of HECS, yet the Government wants to make it voluntary to contribute to student organisations who provide support services that are essential for access to, and participation in, our education system. "This is an attack on one of the largest collective organisations in Australia. It is a blatant attempt to silence vocal democratic organisations by cloaking it in the rhetoric of choice." In order to ensure that student fee deduction is abolished, the legislation would also strip most annual funding from universities which continued to collect Union fees from students. Some indication of the damage that could be caused to student union services has been given in Western Australia, where Voluntary Student Union (VSU) legislation has already been introduced by the Court Government. The Guild of Students at Perth's Murdoch University has now been forced to cut student welfare services as well as funding for political, cultural, sporting and recreational clubs and societies on campus. They have also been forced to drastically reduce funding for representation on Guild Councils. The Councils have a student welfare and representational role for particular student groups, including women, postgraduate, international, part-time, external and mature age students. The National Union of Students has served notice on the Government that it will vigorously oppose the legislation.