History of culture and media in Aoteraoa - New Zealand|
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 97 15:00:24 CST
From: email@example.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: New Zealand Students: 'Don't Privatize Education'
New Zealand Students: "Don't Privatize Education"
By Christine Beresford and Patrick Brown,
in the Militant
Vol. 61, no. 38 (3 November 1997)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Thousands of university students
have taken to the streets to protest the rising cost of
tertiary education, and proposals for its further
privatization. The protests, centered in the North Island
cities of Auckland and Wellington, were called by the
official students associations to which virtually all full-
time students belong. They have grown in size and
determination as the students' demands have been ignored by
government and university authorities, and as the police have
responded with force, arresting more than 90 across the
country and at times using batons against demonstrators.
The protests were sparked by the release on September 11
of a "Tertiary Education Review." The release of the document
follows the leaking in early August of a Ministry of
Education briefing, "which suggested voucher-financed
students in privatized and profit-driven institutions,"
according to the September 13 New Zealand Herald.
The Tertiary Education Review, commonly called the "Green
Paper," contains similar proposals to the leaked document,
while modifying the language in which they are expressed. It
proposes that Crown [state]-owned university, polytechnics,
and other tertiary colleges become "Public Tertiary Education
Institutions," based broadly on the Companies Act and
expected to be "accountable." The Christchurch Press noted in
an editorial that "although [the review] does not use the
term education vouchers, they are clearly on its agenda." A
Herald article reported that "under this system students can
spend their subsidy at a crown-owned institution, such as a
university, with a private institution, or use it for
Rob Crozier, the executive director of the Association of
University Staff at Auckland University, said that this
"would see private training establishments financed at the
same level as public institutions."
The report's authors clearly favor courses more closely
tailored to the needs of employers, suggesting that
"purchasers of education" compare the "reputation" of various
courses in the "workforce."
Professor Bryan Gould, the vice chancellor of Waikato
University, referred in an article to the report's proposal
that the Public Tertiary Education Institutions be run by
government-appointed bodies. He stated that the "Green Paper
.. paints a picture of New Zealand universities as subject to
an unattractive combination of market pressures and
The appraisal of the Green Paper's proposals by student
protesters has been blunt - expressed in the chant of
Auckland students: "Privatization stay out of education." New
Zealand University Students Association (NZUSA) president
Michael Gibbs described the report as a thinly veiled
privatization bid. Proposals contained in the paper would
lead to higher student fees, he said, adding that the average
student fee had increased more than 100 per cent in the past
University courses for most students were virtually free
until changes that began under the Labour Party government in
1990. An official scheme of interest-bearing student loans
for course and living costs was established by the National
Party government in 1992. Government funding per tertiary
student fell by 6.7 percent between 1990 and 1995. By the end
of April this year, New Zealand students owed a total of more
than $2 billion under the scheme. Linda East, the fees,
allowances, and loans manager at Canterbury University,
estimated that the average third-year Canterbury student owes
The protests have occurred as the university year is
drawing to a close. This is the period in which universities
set fees for the next year's courses, giving the students'
demonstrations a sharp focus.
On September 25 in the capital city of Wellington, 74
protesters were arrested during a rally of 400 people outside
the parliament buildings, after the speaker of the House
Douglas Kidd instructed police that demonstrators were
trespassing. The cops used batons to force students to
release temporary barricades, battering their hands. Students
Association spokesperson Jacob Briars said that those
arrested had been denied their right to see a lawyer who had
waited at the station for about five hours. Many had been
held overnight, he said.
Protester Rob Smissen told the Militant that "one result
[of the arrests] was that the numbers of students at the next
demonstration doubled." On October 1 up to 1,000 students and
academic staff marched silently through Wellington as part of
a national day of action called by NZUSA.
Students at Auckland University organized actions on the
same days. Some 250 protesters faced a wall of baton-
brandishing cops outside the Ministry of Education
headquarters on September 25. One week later on October 1,
police arrested 13 students in a protest that the youth
termed "storming the castle" - the castle being the registry
building, which houses the university administration. A New
Zealand Herald report described "clashes .. as students and
police battled each other during a fees protest... Windows
were smashed... Some students' hands were stomped on; others
were forced down the fire escapes as police tried to secure
On October 8 the Auckland University Students Association
called on students to protest again. One thousand mobilized
to march along Queen St., near the university and in the
center of the city's shopping area. Pedestrians and motorists
for the most part watched with interest, as the students
chanted "They say cut back, we say fight back!"
When the students sat down briefly in the middle of the
street, cops seized the Students Association's sound truck,
driving it away. Hundreds of angry students confronted the
police on the campus. Some succeeded in occupying sections of
a university office building before police forced them out,
Christine Beresford is a member of the United Food,
Beverage, and General Workers Union in Wellington.
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