ACT News

ANU students slam fee deregulation at vocal protest

Close to 200 university student protesters clad with placards and banners gathered to slam the federal government's continued push to deregulate university fees at a rally at the ANU Wednesday afternoon.

The protest was milder than a similar demonstration last May where students barricaded vice-chancellor Ian Young in his office at the Chancelry Building and one young man tried to break down the door to the building.

Wednesday's protest mirrored similar rallies at university campuses across the country as part of a national day of outrage, following the Liberal government's second failed attempt to pass its higher education changes, including the deregulation of university fees, through the Senate last week.

A giant Tony Abbott swayed through a growing crowd at Union Court, "cutting" signs symbolising the pension, health, the ABC indigenous funding and of course, education, with his giant hands as students chanted, "liar, liar, pants on fire".

Members of student and tertiary unions and the Australian Greens also delivered impassioned speeches against the proposed reforms before the core protest group moved to the Chancellory Building.

Student protesters took to a microphone to voice their disgust with outgoing Vice-chancellor Ian Young's support of the reforms, under the direct watch of seven security guards.

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ANU Student Association education officer Jock Webb said students were appalled by the government's continued support of the unfair and inaccessible legislation.

"We are concerned about the fact we have a government who has time and time again showed they are not a friend of students -twice now they've had their higher education and research reform bill rejected from the Senate," he said.

"I think the students here are absolutely appalled by the fact our government would so blatantly disregard what its constituents want. We want better for our education system and we want better for the future of our students."

Mr Webb feared the reforms would irreversibly worsen Australia's tertiary system and bar some students from university studies altogether.

"It will render our system less accessible, it will mean fewer people will have the opportunity to access higher education," he said.

"I speak for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, from immigrant communities, and they tell me they're struggling enough with the debts they're accruing.

"Rather than leaving university with a 30 or $40,000 debt we might leave with a $100,000 debt. That's a mortgage you have before you even leave university. It's disingenuous for this government to say HECS is a protection or say it doesn't matter, 18 year olds aren't thinking about this, because they are now and who cares, they'll have to one day."

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon was among guest speakers protesting the Liberal government's reform package, which she described as a "neoliberal assault on what we stand for on our public universities".

"Right now the momentum is with us," she said. "We need to see where we can take it."

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