In late October, around 100 students marched through Sydney University to demand affordable student housing. The protest was organised by students who live at Sydney University Village (SUV) alongside students involved in the campaign against staff cuts.
In the last two years SUV has increased rent by 22.4 per cent, far above the 6 per cent inflation rate for the same period. When SUV announced that next year the minimum rent will be $256 per week, more than the weekly Youth Allowance payment, some residents decided it was time to fight. Whilst it has been a common complaint among SUV residents that the rent is ridiculously expensive, this is the first time that they have had the confidence to collectively do something about it.
The University has contracted out the running of SUV to the multinational company Campus Living Villages (CLV). Rents are set at market rates and the concern is profit, not student need or welfare.
This privatisation of student accommodation is set to continue with the University’s proposed Abercrombie development. The University has purchased property nearby on Abercrombie Street that it plans to develop into more privately run student accommodation. They claim that they will set the rent at the Abercrombie development. But, as many students have learnt this year, you can’t trust the University management.
That is why the fight for affordable student accommodation needs to continue. We need to pressure both the University management and CLV to stop the SUV rent hike and ultimately to hand control of student housing back to students’ themselves. We can start to apply pressure to make sure the Abercrombie development does not follow the same path as SUV.
The experience of building a broad, grassroots movement against the cuts last semester has shown students what we need to do to win.
That campaign is also continuing in the fight against the cuts to the Koori Centre. The Centre has provided vital support services for Indigenous students and has been responsible for running the Indigenous Studies program.
It was the focus of another vibrant protest and march in October, that despite being at the closing end of semester, brought together students angry at the lack of information and consultation in the plans to restructure the Centre.
The Koori Centre has been under attack since the end of last semester. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston has repeatedly denied that the Koori Centre is being cut, instead saying that it will be restructured. But what this restructuring will mean is that the Koori Centre will be decentralised, with staff and programs moved from the Koori Centre to various faculties, and there will be no independent Aboriginal run centre on campus.
The rally has won an important concession. At a meeting with Houston afterwards, he agreed to retain two staff members at the Koori Centre for two days a week.
By Marijke Hoving
Photo: Jennifer Yui