More than 100 outraged students marched on the offices of Federal Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash on Monday, during a national day of action aimed at proposed university funding cuts and a reduction in the HECS repayment threshold.
The march started at Solidarity Park, opposite WA’s Parliament House, and finished outside Ms Cash’s office in West Perth.
National Union of Students WA branch education vice president Dylan Heywood said Senator Cash had a role in cutting penalty rates, hurting the union movement and reducing the quality of conditions for workers, especially young people. He said she was not directly involved with the proposed changes.
Students from Curtin University, the University of WA and Edith Cowan University joined the march.
The proposed amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 would mean students would start repaying their HECS debt when their taxable income reached $45,000. The current threshold is $54,000.
The amendment has already passed the House of Representatives, and the students have called on the Senate to vote it down.
Mr Heywood said it would amount to a real-world pay cut.
“If students were having to pay back their HECS earlier it would be a problem for people not yet getting value out of their degree,” he said.
“The $2 billion cut to funding would have significant repercussions to universities around the country.
“According to shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek, Curtin University alone would lose $86 million.
“We are expecting they may have to cut more staff, increase class sizes and reduce funding to programs which would mean students’ quality of education would be lessened. This makes things harder on an already stressed system.”
UWA senior lecturer and head of economics Dr Andrew David Williams said the cuts would stretch UWA’s resources.
“[The cuts will mean] a case of redirecting resources into certain areas, and of course that means away from other areas,” he said.
“It’s a really important part of our job to help students become productive members of society, but we cannot guarantee a job when they graduate.
“We have also noticed there is probably a greater proportion of students struggling to find a job straight out of university.
“We see, for example, we have a higher number of people applying for an honours or a masters program.”
Curtin Guild president Liam O’Neill said any reduction of the HECS threshold would mean graduates working to establish themselves in the workforce would have to start repaying their HECS debt sooner.
“Currently, graduate employment is falling and the value of our degree, due to the demand-driven system, is less. Yet we are being asked to pay more and pay back our fees on a lower income, without an actual graduate job,” Mr O’Neill said.
The Senate is currently considering the legislation with a decision due in the next fortnight.
“We are quite worried it will be passed by the support of the crossbench,” Mr Heywood said.
“We are hoping these protests can be effective in letting the crossbenchers know and persuade their vote.”
A snapshot of what the people of Perth had to say | Video by Chariema Madih and Kaelen Ruland