[Documents menu]History of culture and media in Aoteraoa - New Zealand
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 97 15:00:24 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.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 industry training."

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 government control."

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 five years.

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 $20,000.

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 the building."

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, arresting six.

Christine Beresford is a member of the United Food, Beverage, and General Workers Union in Wellington. To get an introductory 12-week subscription to the Militant in the U.S., send $10 US to: The Militant, 410 West Street, New York, NY 10014.

For subscription rates to other countries, send e-mail to themilitant@igc.apc.org or write to the above address.

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