In early November the Rudd government announced it would introduce a Student Service Fee of up to $250 per student which universities could choose to implement. This is to seek to address the damage done to student services since the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) in 2005.
VSU banned student organisations from collecting compulsory membership dues from students. This was designed to destroy the student union structures through which students could maintain a democratic voice and fight for their rights in an increasingly privatised sector.
Around the country VSU has caused wholesale collapses of student unions, massive cuts to student support services and silencing of the political activities of student unions that managed to survive through restrictions imposed to get access to funding from their universities.
Murdoch Student Guild in Perth has been campaigning against the closure of the Rockingham campus and for better pay for lecturers and tutors. The University’s Chancellor recently threatened to cut off the funding the Student Guild’s receives from the university if they continued this, requesting that the Guild should consider whether their campaigning “is consistent with an expectation that the University’s financial and in-kind support will also continue.”
Yet Rudd’s Student Services Fee will also go directly to university administrations. This proposal represents a continuation of the Howard-era attacks on student representative bodies and does nothing to ensure the collective political voice of students is restored.
The Rudd government went to the election promising an Education Revolution, and many voted hoped to see desperately needing funding returned to university education. But the first 12 months of the Rudd government have brought no substantial increase in funding, no end to the mass casualisation of university staff and ongoing cuts to faculties such as the Arts, History and Politics.
Student unions should exist without restriction on their role as democratic representative bodies for students, and their right to collect membership dues on campuses without interference from government or university administrations on how they are spent.