It’s time to FIGHT the cuts to Higher Education

The Commission of Audit released last week was the stuff of nightmares. It recommended increasing student fees by 34%, lowering the threshold at which HECS repayments start to the minimum wage, turning relocation scholarships into loans, and a litany of other attacks on students and higher education.

This was all accompanied by suggestions to introduce Medicare co-payments, reduce the minimum wage, raise the pension age, undermine welfare payments, and a number of other severe measures designed to assault the working class and poor.
We don’t know exactly what will happen come budget day, but it’s clear by now that this government is there of the rich, and for the rich. The fact that the Commission of Audit was released on May Day, the day for the international working class, is telling.

Students need to match the intensity of these attacks in our campaign to defend our education system. We have to oppose any fee increases and Pyne’s plans to move to a US style education model with ferocity. Only a mass campaign on the streets is going to stand any chance of winning against the heartless bastards that make up the government.

The National Union of Students had called for a national day of action on May 21 to start that fight. Sydney Uni students will be meeting at 1.30pm oytside Fisher library for an on campus rally, before marching to UTS.

There’s no time to lose, public education as we know it is under threat!

Pick up some posters from the SRC, join + share the event online, announce the rally in your lectures + tutes – and make sure you and everyone you know is there on May 21!

Mental Illness and help for students

Mental illness is overwhelmingly overrepresented in young people at university and USYD is no exception. Sometimes it manifests in the form of not being able to complete uni work or social obligations. Other times it comes down to being unable to do basic daily tasks.

If you need help, please get it. Keep an eye out for unusual behaviour in friends, like detachment and disinterest in participating in activities they would otherwise enjoy.

The University has Disability Services, which you can register for in order to receive support for mental health issues that affect your studies. Their email is disability.services@sydney.edu.au, and they’re located in the Jane Foss Russell building, next to Wentworth.

CAPS – Counselling and Psychological Services – offer one-on-one appointments with psychologists, and they also have support groups to help you manage by adopting strategies. Their email is caps.admin@sydney.edu.au.

Headspace Camperdown is just down the road, and have free psychologists and psychiatrists. The waiting lists tend to be quite long, so allow for this factor by ensuring you have access to other support if you need it in the meantime.

Here is a short list of some quiet places to sit on campus, mostly away from people:

The high levels of fisher library, around the 900s of the Dewey decimal, the courtyard behind the chemistry building that leads to Fisher Road, the courtyards in Old Teacher’s College, St. Paul’s college oval when it is unoccupied, the giant set of steps next to the law building that leads to Victoria Park, the aesthetically pleasing but functionally useless steps next to Verge Gallery, the entirety of Schaeffer library, and the toilets in the basement of the Holme building.

If you need to unwind, buy a $1 bag of yesterday’s bread from Little Devil bakery near Broadway and feed it in bits to the ducks and eels in the Victoria Park lake. My friends taught me that one.

Remember that if you’re struggling with academic penalties or appeals, the SRC’s caseworkers can help you. We’re in the Wentworth building basement; enter via City Road.

Jen Light is not happy about Tony Abbott’s plans for Highter Education

The long awaited Abbott Government’s Commission of Audit was released on the 22nd of April. The Commission was established by the Government as an independent body to review and report on the performance, functions and efficiency of the Commonwealth government – in essence it was a tool for the Abbott Government to legitimize the reckless and damaging reductions in Government spending they have had planned since opposition.

The commission gave recommendations that if followed though, will be devastating for not only for the wellbeing of the Nation – but will absolutely destroy the tertiary education sector as we know it.

From the recommendations of the Commission of Audit, we see findings right from the once widely ridiculed list of desired reforms from the stupidly far-right Institute of Public Affairs. From a Government that before the Commission already singled their intention to fundamentally change the programs that make Australian higher education sector one the most accessible in the world.

The destructive Higher Education recommendations are as follows:

  • Decrease Commonwealth contribution to higher education costs from 59 per cent to 45 per cent and increase the student share from 41 to 55 per cent
  • Deregulation of university fees.
  • Increase interest rates on student debt.
  • Graduates repay HELP debt once they earn the minimum wage ($32,354).
  • Abolish all Commonwealth vocational education and training programs including support for apprentices.

This is the time to send the Abbott Liberal Government a message. We will not stand for cuts to education, for increased burden on students, and for ELIMINATING ACCESSIBILITY TO EDUCATION!!

Your SRC is ready to fight the implementation of these appalling recommendations and will be closely watching Abbott and Hockey’s first budget, due next week. Education is a right, quality education is a right, and we are ready to defend it.

ASK ABE: Do I need to pay to use an ambulance?

Dear Abe,

Is it true that you have to pay to use an ambulance?

Car Struck

——

Dear Car Struck,

Yes it is and they can be very expensive. The cost ranges from $252 to $5248 depending on the type of care and the distance travelled. If you have a Health Care Card or a Low Income Health Care Card (available to people earning less than $500 per week) you get a bunch of discounts including free ambulance in NSW.

If you have private health insurance you may also have ambulance cover. You can even get just ambulance cover starting at around $30 per year.

Also note that you will be billed regardless of whether you called the ambulance or not.

Abe

Ask Abe: Centrelink Over-payment

Dear Abe,

I have just received a letter from Centrelink saying that I have been overpaid. I had been reporting my income according to my jobs’ pay fortnight, but they wanted it to be according to their pay fortnight. I didn’t try to hide money from them. I’ve declared everything, but they’re getting really angry because it makes a difference to my student income bank.

Fortnight Mismatch

——

Dear Mismatch,

As you need to report your gross earnings you should be able to just keep records of the amount of hours you have worked during your Centrelink fortnight and multiply that by your hourly rate. That will help you for future reportings.

However, for this situation you need to first establish whether or not you have been overpaid. Ask for a copy of your file (Freedom of Information Act). Your file will be huge so it will take weeks to compile. Calculate what you should have been reporting and how this would have affected your Student Income Bank and therefore your payments. Of course you can ask the SRC for help with this.

In the meantime Centrelink will probably start taking money out of your payments to pay off the debt. If this will cause you extreme financial hardship contact Centrelink and see how small a payment they will allow you to have. Also consider going to the Financial Assistance Centre of the University to be able to pay it off as a lump sum. If you can show the debt to be incorrect you will be able to get this money back.

If they ask you to attend an interview in their offices I would advise you to decline, but instead offer to answer any written questions that they have. Do not do this without talking to SRC Help.

Abe

Enviro Collective Campaigns

The enviro collective have been up to much eco-friendly mischief the last couple weeks. We had a very successful info-night discussing the horrors of the Maules Creek mine up in the Leard State Forest in northern NSW. We were lucky to hear from three fantastic speakers – Steven Laird, a man with great spiritual and familial connections to the area, our very own Andy Mason from Sydney Uni and Emma Wosson, a sustainability veteran from The Wilderness Society. The mine will destroy a devastating amount of Indigenous forest that is incredibly bio-diverse (396 species of flora and fauna; 34 are critically endangered), as well as disturb important farmland in the area. Whitehaven, the coal company pushing for the mine’s development, was shown by Andy to have dodgy plans for rehabilitation of the site and terrible offset modelling: planting a forest for threatened animals to move to in the next 20 years which will only be in a state habitable for them in 100 years at the earliest.

The almost 600 day blockade up at the forest against the new mine seems strong and a very worthwhile place to be.
We are very excited for May 1st, the National Day of Divestment Action. Look out for the collective on Eastern Ave as we urge the university community to reach out to their banks and to the university itself to divest from coal and gas projects in Australia. This brings us to FOSSIL FREE UNIVERSITIES! You might have caught Amelie as she strongly addressed the Chancellor’s building at the National Day of Action against cuts to education a few weeks back, talking about ‘fossil free universities’. This is an important issue that we are taking seriously within the collective. As the name suggests, we are urging the university to divest from mining companies and other fossil fuel producers.

Finally, we will be going to Canberra in early July for the Students of Sustainability conference and encouraging students to come along. Keep an eye out for more info on this and check out studentsofsustainability.org

If any of these campaigns tickle your fancy, our meetings are Monday 12pm on the Sunken Lawns next to Manning, and we’d love to see you! Feel free to get involved anyway you’d like from chatting on the Facebook page to realizing your environmentalist vision!

Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced

We’ve traipsed back from mid-semester, grudgingly faced assignments that should have been started earlier and are already counting down the days until a real holiday. Between now and then are the exams, essays, emails, extensions, excuses and all other things that start with ‘e’ – including elections.

Oh student elections. This time around we’re electing board directors to the USU, our campus-wide champion of the onesie and marketing focused parent of Manning and Hermann’s. It’s easy to write off the mess of coloured t-shirts and cringe worthy slogans as being the irrelevant noise of student politicians whose need for public validation is matched only by their willingness to promise you anything. This may be (read: probably is) true, but, mess and slogans aside, the process of student democracy and its outcomes should not be quickly dismissed.

Superficially, the first reason student elections are worth caring about is how much you have already invested into organisations like the USU. Last year a quarter of the Student Services fee that you paid to the university was allocated to the Union – in other words $70 per student, just over $3 million in total, is given over to the decision making of those students elected to the board.

Who cares? Well, if one truth emerged from the recent Raue saga it’s that the USU board is capable of spending student money on all sorts of things, including the cost of defending in court a failed attempt to oust the duly elected vice-president of the board. The Union hasn’t disclosed how much was spent in this . An exact figure is almost beside the point, because the example itself is enough to illustrate that the elected figures – yes, with their tshirts, slogan and cheesy videos – are responsible for spending your cash, even in situations when it is unclear why it is in the student interest. Anyone as broke as most students are cares where there money goes and how it is being spent, student elections give us just a little bit of control over who gets to do that spending.

If you don’t care about money, or prefer a principled approach to things, your second reason to care when the ballot arrives is for the sake of student control itself. Long past are the glory days of democratic learning when students were allowed to vote in department meetings. In contrast, it’s not so long ago that the University attempted to wrest control of the USU’s commercial operations away from students. There are worthy critiques to be made of the methods and decisions of student representatives and board directors, but at the end of the day the needs and interests of student will always be best served by their own and can be defended by simply casting a vote.

Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced wherever we can get it, because at least we have it.

Elsa Kohane talks about the importance of non cis-male queer representation.

When I first started here at Usyd last year, Women’s Collective and Queer Collective were almost everything this little queer baby from a Catholic high school could ever want out of university life. However, there is an intersection between my identities that means something is lacking in these two groups; in women’s spaces that hold up heterosexuality as the dominant way of life and think only of the experience of heterosexual, cis-gendered woman; in queer spaces where I’m the only woman in the room, where I’m talked over and dismissed, where casual sexism is excused and the benefits of the patriarchy to cisgendered men are ignored.

Queerkats exists for this reason. Building on the work of a small group of queer women last year who started a Queer Women’s Network, we are an autonomous collective for any non cis-male identifying queer people. That is, anyone who isn’t a cis man (assigned male at birth and male identifying). We want to be a safe, attentive and comfortable space, where issues pertaining to queer non cis-men are actively discussed, prioritised and fought for.

This year ACON stopped printing The Birds and the Birds, an important information booklet about lesbian sexual education and health, and Gender Questioning, an information booklet for Trans youth.  It just shows how marginalised queer non-cis men are, when the largest queer health organisation in Sydney stops catering to us. It’s therefore important to try and make a difference. Throughout the year we will be running campaigns, workshops and skill-shares, creating resources and posters aimed at non cis male queer people, and holding parties and social events specifically for non cis-men.

Our first event of the year, a Queerkat Tea Party, was a huge success. Held in the Queerspace one Thursday afternoon, it was a great way for people with similar experiences to meet and chat comfortably and happily. Delicious tea and cakes certainly helped!

There are still many issues with our male dominated Queer Action Collective, that Holly and I are working hard at combatting, but the Queerkats has thus far been an amazingly successful, encouraging and positive collective, and we hope for that to continue throughout the year and beyond!

If you’re interested in getting involved, contact us at queerkatsusyd@gmail.com or friend Elsa Kohane or Holly Parrington on facebook to be added to the group.

The results of the Norton-Kemp review into the demand-driven higher education system are in, and it’s not looking good

The results of the Norton-Kemp review into the demand-driven higher education system are in, and it’s not looking good for students. This review was commissioned by Abbott and Pyne late last year, doubtlessly to provide an excuse for a new round of cuts to be announced in next months budget. Andrew Norton and David Kemp were responsible for an attack on university funding under the Howard government, and this report shows they are now gearing up for round two.

The main recommendation announced in the review is to further expand the demand-driven system first implemented by the Gillard government to include private colleges. Many private colleges are run like businesses, with profit rather than a quality education being key. To continue the demand-driven scheme without a corresponding increase in government funding will lead to a further degeneration of the quality education students are receiving.

How do Norton and Kemp suggest to fund this expansion? With students, rather than government, footing the bill of course. An increase in student fees has been recommended in the review, alongside the removal of equity targets, which would see 20% of all students originate from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020.

Postgraduate students are also coming under attack, with the removal of subsidies for more postgrad degrees slated as another way to cut costs. HECS has not escaped the firing line either, with the suggestion of a flat 10% loan fee on HECS, the lowering of the minimum income required to start repayments, and plans to pass the HECS debt down from deceased states or retrieve it from ex-students living out of the country.

While it is unclear exactly which of these attacks will be unleashed in next months budget, it is clear that higher education will be taking a hit, with students bearing the brunt of the costs. Students need to be ready to respond to any cuts, while continuing the demand for a free and fully funded education system. If you would like to get involved with fighting Abbott and Pyne’s cuts, join the weekly Education Action Group meetings, Tuesday 2pm on the New Law Lawns.

James Leeder recognises change, and encourages you to bring your issues to the SRC.

It may come as a shock to you, as it did to me, to learn that we are entering week 8. Each mid-semester break thousands of students tell themselves that they will study hard and hardly drink at all. And yet, here we are, with three assignments and ten lectures to catch up on. Despite this shock to the system, mid-semester inevitably signals some form of change. Whether that’s an unwilling change because of the realisation that work is required to get through your degree, or a willing change to give up one your four regular society drinks each week in favour of study. Turning our eyes to the political cesspit, we are faced with the looming change of the first budget of the Abbott government. Regardless of how you feel, week 8 is inevitably a time of reflection and realisation; work, politics or courses, and it’s at this point that seeking out your SRC may be in your interests.

In my first year, it took me until week 8 to realise that mathematics lectures were never going to help me get through the course. It often can take a while to get into the swing of this semester’s courses, but week 8 is typically the point at which any issues become apparent. By now you have most likely done an assignment or two. This is the point – where you have an identified an issue but still have to endure it – where you are best placed to come to the SRC. Not only to seek caseworker help in appealing an unfair result or to receive advice, but also to see the student office-bearers who can campaign and attend meetings on your behalf. This is the way the SRC helps to improve your learning. We can only advocate for you when we are made aware of issues that require our help.

In two weeks we face (unwillingly) the first budget of the Abbott government. We have heard in the media, as recently as last weekend, that Christopher Pyne, our esteemed Minister for Education, has decided that the university sector shall be a point of focus. He has likened it to the car industry of the past, though the analogy is worrying if Sydney University is to go the way of Holden or Ford. But really, his point is that government sees the industry as failing and not keeping up to standards. It’s important to remember that unlike most other sectors, which the government supports, universities have not received increased funding year after year. Instead, as more and more students enrol, the government places an increasingly unreasonable burden on the expected quality and number of services provided. More worrying is the fact that many, including the Abbott government, have suggested fee increases as a necessary recourse. Increased fees only hurt students and the quality of our education. It validates the view that the education sector is not worthy of government support, yet billions of dollars on ineffective fighter planes is money well spent. We are clearly entering dark times.

Brace yourselves; winter is both literally and figuratively coming. Remember to bring issues and concerns to the SRC; you, as students, are our best source of information and political action.