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National Day Of Campus Action

National Day Of Campus Action

Open letter to students

High fees, student poverty and debt – they’re still the issue.

The promise to remove interest on student loans shows that the Labour government is feeling the pressure over its tertiary education policies.

Since 1999, Labour has tinkered with the market model, but the fundamentals of fees, loans, student poverty, and the corporate ethos has remained firmly in place. As a result, dissatisfaction and anger has not gone away. Nationwide polls have consistently shown education to be one of the top two issues of concern. Labour’s own polling was telling them they had to do something.

The promise to wipe interest on student loans is being welcomed by students. But it won’t be enough to relieve the burden of fees and debt that students are struggling under. For starters, any reduction resulting from the cancellation of interest payments will be offset by future increases in fees. Student fees have been climbing steadily, up 34% on average since 2001.

Labour is playing political games. They’re hoping they’ve done enough to dampen down some of the anger resulting from hatred of fees and loans.

But they're still vulnerable, which means it’s not the time to step back. Student association leaders, student activists and political groups on campuses across the country need to push on and put even more heat on the government.

Pressure is currently being exerted on a number of fronts. University staff are taking strike action for national collective contract, resisted by the corporate managers of universities. The Association of University Staff (AUS) is saying that continued government underfunding is the core problem affecting staff pay and workloads, which is jeopardizing teaching standards.

There’s also massive anger amongst staff and students at Te Wananga O Aotearoa. The institution has been subjected to a political motivated attack from Labour. The government is threatening to cut students numbers by 57%, down to the 43% of students who are Maori.

The wananga, with the backing of staff and students, wants to remain open to all students, not just Maori. As Tank Gordon, Tuia Union representative at the wananga, has said, “The way I’d like to see the wananga go is free education for one and all.”

Staff and students at the wananga are ready to protest up and down the country if the government moves to carry out its plan − a plan that would effectively scuttle the institution and remove quality courses currently being offered free to students.

Some are saying that Labour’s student loan announcement is no more than an election year bribe. The contrasting treatment of the wananga supports this view, that the government has no real intention of moving towards a properly funded quality public education service.

Students and staff at polytechnics, universities and wananga are all concerned about the direction of tertiary education. The problem we collectively face is a government, along with corporate managers and bureaucrats, who are opposed to the fundamental changes in policy and funding which are urgently needed.

Each group of students and staff can’t do it alone. It’s vital that the different struggles unite if we’re to achieve lasting and substantial change. A National Day of Campus Action, coordinated by student associations, staff unions and political groups at wananga, polytechs and universities, is a real possibility. But it requires will and leadership.

As a first step, student association leaders at universities should move to coordinate student rallies and protests alongside striking university staff.

A National Day of Campus Action, which unites and builds on the struggles currently in progress, could be the start of a combined campaign for free public education. We have to seize the opportunity and make it happen.

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