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July 28, 2014 | by  | in News |
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Hub Crawl

Over 100 students gathered in the Hub last Wednesday to protest commercialisation of the University.

Newly formed group Reclaim Vic organised the event. Students, staff and guest speakers spoke, raising concerns about course cuts, fees, staff welfare, the restriction of the use of the Hub and the silencing of the student voice.

Spokesperson for Reclaim Joshua James told Salient the group wanted the University and Government to recognise the role of university as the “critic and conscience of society”, and to be “treated as students at a university, and not as shoppers at a mall.”

“The continuous raising of fees must be stopped, the cutting of courses must be stopped, the continual neglect of student input must be stopped, the denial of use of university space for students must be stopped.”

Speaking at the protest, Reclaim member Juliana Jones said she wanted students to be free to access the Hub, as students are not allowed to use the space for events, protests or meetings.

VUWSA was barred from serving free soup to students in the Hub for Mental Health Week last year, as it was considered unfair competition for the businesses in the Hub. The VUWSA Trust contributed $7 million to the construction of the Hub, out of a total project cost of $67 million.

Lecturer and TEU National President Sandra Grey said the Government and University should “recognise public education is a public good” and it is “crucial that it remain that”.

Grey said she was concerned students are having to work 20 hours a week and combine this with full-time study. She said the Government should recognise that university is not a marketable product, and students should not have to face fatigue, hunger and depression while paying for their study.

Reclaim wants all staff to be paid an equitable and fair wage, including caretakers and cleaners, and want the “pressures of constant output to be removed” from lecturers.

Former VUWSA President Fleur Fitzsimmons spoke about “people who aren’t at university and should be”, such as students from low-decile schools, Māori, Pasifika, and people barred by fees and restrictions to Allowances.

Fitzsimmons said staff are hindered by their pay and by the Performance Based Research Scheme, and this restricts their ability to provide genuine, quality teaching. She told students “you own this university: take it back”.

Fitzsimmons was well known for her activism while at Victoria, particularly for protesting fee rises in 2007.

The final speeches included a poetic speech about neoliberalism, a speech about privatisation of food production, and a call to attend a march against the occupation of Palestine.

Former VUWSA Welfare Vice-President Heleyni Pratley says “education shouldn’t be a privilege in a functioning democracy”; it is “paid for by working people, students and families, not businesses”.

Pratley, a member of the Mana Party and Team Leader at Unite, was trespassed from the University for two years in 2009 after pelting members of the University Council with eggs and rotten fruit.

Joel Cosgrove, a former VUWSA President who was also trespassed after the incident, was MC at the event.

Reverend John Murray told students to not see themselves as “productive consumers” or “human resources”.

Murray said students should consider themselves in terms of their values, growths and relationships, and told students not to “become a human resource.”

The protest echoes previous group We Are the University (WATU) who joined a nationwide campaign against course cuts, fee hikes and the silencing of student expression.

They stood for “free education, and academic and student freedom”, and against “neoliberalism and commercialism”.

The group was active in 2011 and 2012, but has not been heard from since.

Reclaim’s protest went ahead without intervention, with Campus Security watching at a distance.

VUWSA President Sonya Clark commented she would like to see the Hub become a student-friendly place.

She wants to see “a set of guidelines, agreed to by VUWSA and University, to allow and cultivate student creativity, action and entrepreneurship”.

Reclaim’s protesting over the Hub is “an overdue conversation, and I’m glad they brought it up again”.

Reclaim Vic intend to meet again this week, and students who wish to know more can find them on Facebook.

 

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