Why students are revolting
Why students are revolting
Students from the University of Auckland, as a part of the National Student Day of Action on the 15th August, are protesting against the corporatisation of the University. The corporate composition of the University contradicts its role as the ‘critic and conscious of society’ as outlined in the University Charter. To critique society, the university must also be able to critique itself. Government cuts to public education, and the restructuring of the University, impacts most on those already facing systematic marginalisation--Māori, Pasifika and migrant students; female staff members; and minimum wage workers.
Firstly, the University of Auckland has undertaken the Faculty Administration Review (FAR) in order to offer education in the form of ‘customer focused service delivery’ and allegedly more efficient and effective services in administrative structures. Despite the fact that this administration restructure was not initially framed as directly affecting job security of staff, University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon stated ‘it is an aim of the project [the Faculty Administration Review or FAR] to substantially reduce [staff] numbers’.
This substantial reduction disestablishes 358 positions and intends to create only 249 in their place. Administrative staff have minimal job security, are being asked to reapply for positions they already hold and to compete with their colleagues for consolidated generic positions. These consolidated positions will place greater stress on fewer numbers of administrative staff who are already over-worked, under-valued and under-paid. With rising student enrolments, we ask how a reduction in the number of staff who keep the university running behind the scenes could possibly lead to greater efficiency? Perhaps the Vice-Chancellor himself, is due for a check-up and restructure.
Redundancies of this nature are reflected in the university’s governance structure. Under a proposed change by the current government, university and wānanga councils will be reduced in size from 20 members to 12 members, 3-4 of whom must be appointed by the Tertiary Education minister with the rest chosen by the university . Most frustratingly, our hard-fought for student representation will no longer be mandatory. This is an erosion of student democracy and self-governance which places more power in the hands of central government. We believe that the University should be run by those who make it up--students, staff and the community.
Meanwhile, the University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon, earns $650,000 to $660,000 a year in a remuneration package, making him the highest-paid public official in the country. His pay package increased by $20,000 from 2012 to 2013. If there is not enough ‘public funding’ to place a freeze on fees or to pay workers at the University an adequate wage then why is there enough to pay Professor McCutcheon’s salary?
How is this kind of salary possibly justified for any public official when between 500,000 and 750,000 people in New Zealand are living in households with incomes below the poverty line? As New Zealanders, we bare the unfortunate statistic of an estimated 270,000 children living in poverty. How does the University of Auckland contribute to the perpetuation of poverty? Cleaners at the University of Auckland are paid a minimum wage, some of whom have worked for the University six days a week for 30 years. Wages are out of step with the cost of living and an institution bound to be the conscience of society cannot defensibly continue paying below subsistence wages.
At the same time, the University of Auckland is set to become the first billion dollar tertiary institution. Stuart McCutcheon has said this has come from ‘increased government grants, increased student tuition fees, and a substantial increase in the size of our research operation.’ Yet when asked if this revenue would freeze fee increases, McCutcheon replied that this is not financially possible because the income per student in real terms declines each year. Although the University is starved of sufficient government funding, the problem is exacerbated by the uneven distribution of funds to capital investment and profit-focused research.
Understandably, students across the country are becoming increasingly frustrated that the very people making hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to tertiary education benefited from a fully funded degree. Paula Bennett, circa 1996, expressed it the best: ‘fees suck and fee increases just piss me off. Damn the Nats who bring cuts to our education system, make us pay for them out of our student loans that will take many people decades to pay off’. Unfortunately, the message has not gotten through to Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce who didn’t pay a dime for his Bachelor of Science.
So what’s the alternative to this austerity? What we know is that New Zealand universities collect about $900 million in domestic tuition fees, requiring students to take out around $1.1 billion in student loan debt. The inevitable consequence of this is the exclusion of more and more people from tertiary education. To solve this growing problem, we support fully-funded, fee-free tertiary education. It would cost approximately half of the $2 billion per year tax cut John Key gave to the top income earners. If countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Denmark can do it, so can we. It shouldn’t be radical to call for dignity for workers, a vibrant student democracy and fully funded education--but it is.
For more information about these issues and our National Student Day of Action Friday, check out our facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/307031712804685/