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September 21, 2014 | by  | in Online Only |
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OPINION by Reclaim Vic

Reclaim Vic aims to construct a working dialogue with the University. The opportunity to see the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Finance Committee seems to occur approximately one hour a year. For these reasons,and despite Salient’s hopes for a Reclaim Vic protest, we decided to attempt to engage politely and constructively in their fees forum.

Students raised concerns about this disconnection with high-level decision makers. They also raised concerns about their salaries relative to refusals to pay staff a Living Wage; quality of education not being matched by fee rises; transparency about where expenditure goes and what our fees go towards; exploitation of international students, and much more. Amongst these concerns, the Vice Chancellor laughed at the idea of not raising fees by the maximum this year. Later over cheese and Fresh Up students got to continue discussing concerns. Chancellor Ian’s tactic seemed to be interrupting several different students mid-sentence asking what high schools we went to. They ‘listened’ and/or chatted nicely to students, but no concerns will be acted on.

The forum was not designed to be consultative, and the chance to ‘have your say on fees’ was also going to be ineffective. It was intended to quell protest, explained by the Vice Chancellor as stemming from student voice being limited to two student representatives on Council. So they held this forum as a solution. However, we say protest stems from fee rises being unsustainable, and exacerbating time and financial hardships and inequalities of education. We reject rising student debt when free education is viable. Free education would cost around $1 billion a year. Compare this to our more than $14 billion debt, the older generation which received free education and free education programmes overseas today.

For this reason students were driven to express their demands in a more direct way.

Student voice was totally ineffective at fee-setting. It is a disempowering space. The only students given a place to speak presented really serious issues for Māori and International Student hardship, and about the frustrating deja-vu of repeating this for the last 10 years. The Council told the students they had ‘concise and well-written’ arguments. Student voice raised in the Gallery was told off for disrupting the ‘debate’. They absolutely cannot call this a debate. It was pre-written speeches by the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Chair of the Finance Committee. Reclaim Vic talked to other members of the University Council afterwards. We learned that other staff council members would normally have spoken, but they were told not to add to the debate this time. The Council voted to raise fees amidst student outrage, ignoring disruption.

It was always going to be this way.

It’s still important to recognise the disempowerment felt by students as their voices were reduced to token noises. We also refuse to not hold the University accountable for their lack of will to challenge Government forces and constraints. However, for now, we give up on the University fulfilling their role to be autonomous, to provide for students, and to critique government policy – and on their crap ‘meaningful consultation’ with students.

This Friday 26th September, we’re having a march for fairer tertiary education policy aimed at the incoming government – whether or not a coalition has been made. Reclaim Vic’s aim is for fully funded tertiary education, endorsed by the TEU – however, this is an open, inclusive march for any group who thinks this Government’s tertiary education policies are not good enough – we invite everyone to join us in demanding more accessible, more supportive, more equitable tertiary education policy from any incoming government. All are welcome – email if you want to get involved. HUB. FRIDAY. 1pm. MARCH. As Nicky Hager said in his visit last week, democracy is about more than just voting!

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