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October 8, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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We Are Still The University

Student activism and the state of play.


We are living in an era of global student activism revived.This year, the largest student movement in history developed in Canada when the provincial government of Quebec threatened to raise tuition fees to the national average. In recent weeks, after months of strikes and street demonstrations numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the government abandoned its proposed reforms, and student fees in Quebec will remain the lowest in Canada. The student movement won.This week, Chilean students made headlines around the world when they were brutalised by militarised police at a free education protest. Chileans have been struggling for free education for over a year now, and attempts to appease the student movement with small concessions from the Government only serve to further galvanise resistance to its programme. In 2010, a student revolt paralysed much of central London in response to the near tripling of tuition fees for British students, and student movements continue to gain momentum in the United States, in Columbia, Argentina, and many other countries around the world.

Down under, we’ve seen a similar surge in activity. A series of student occupations at Auckland University made headlines late last year, culminating in the arrest of 42 students during a peaceful sit-in of hundreds of students in June of this year.Weeks later, a group calling itself Stop the Humanities and Social Sciences Cuts staged a student occupation at La Trobe University in Melbourne. AtVictoria,WeAreThe University has organised several sit-ins, protests and occupations over the past year, and students have been active in resisting a savage attack on the Humanities at Canterbury University in recent months.

New Zealand students have reason to be angry: arguably, more so than students in Quebec. Since the neoliberal restructuring of the late 1980s, New Zealand universities have been increasingly starved of funding by successive governments, and acquiescent university administrations have towed the line by hiking student fees and making significant cuts to the Humanities, with little or no meaningful consultation with students or staff.This year, the Victoria University Council voted to raise fees, as they did last year and the year before, as they do every year. University students in New Zealand pay some of the highest tuition fees in the developed world—the seventh highest, according to OECD reports. The last two National Government Budgets have set tertiary funding at historic lows, suggesting an acceleration of the trend towards New Zealand topping the table for tuition fees internationally. In addition, we can expect to see further corporatisation, with the sacking of academic staff, termination of departments like Gender and Women’s Studies, and cancellation of papers and courses as administrators seek to cut what they deem unnecessary costs. In March, the Government cancelled student allowances for post- graduate study, further heaping debt onto students who wish to further their educations.

We Are the University is the banner under which students in Auckland,Wellington and Christchurch have been organising. Really, the only ideological unity we share is the conviction that New Zealand students are being seriously ripped off, and that students are responsible for defending their own interests. Our primary goal is to get as many students together as possible to talk about the state of education so we can decide on some action. Last month, a leading figure in the Canadian student movement, Guillaume Legault, visited university cities around New Zealand to talk about his experiences as an organiser with the largest radical student association in Quebec, CLASSE, responsible for coordinating the student strike. Listening to him speak, it is clear that Canadian students built their movement only through hard work and dedication. Next year, get involved. Join We Are the University (wgtn) on Facebook and come to the meetings, for more information, or to post articles, or whatever.

As they say in Chile:“Revolt is Contagious!”▲

Sam Oldham is a student at Victoria University. Sam has been actively involved with We Are The University since its emergence in 2011.    
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