The fight across the road is about more than just the closures of the libraries. It’s more than an attack on the Arts. It is resistance against the repeated attacks on education from both the university administration and the government. Six years ago, hundreds of students and unionists blockaded Symonds Street in response to a budget that cut student financial support. On budget day this year, thousands of students did it again to demonstrate that things are not getting any better. The recently established organisation ‘A New University’ formed a five-hour blockade from Wellesley Street to Waterloo Crescent.
“For several weeks we have been calling for the university to respect students, staff and community voices in relation to the proposed library closures. We have pleaded, we have petitioned, we have occupied, and we have been ignored.” A New University is fighting the starving of educational institutions which has resulted from a model that is based on the return of profits. In turn, they are demanding: democratic student and staff control over how the university is run, the sacking of Stuart McCutchen (the Vice-Chancellor of UoA), increased government funding to education, and terminating the closure of the libraries.
“Under nine years of a National Government there were sustained attacks on students and universities,” says Nathalie Jaques, from A New University, “with some of the lowest funding per student in the OECD, exorbitant loan repayment rates well below the poverty line, painfully restricted access to student allowances, and increasing numbers of students living in desperate conditions in unaffordable cities.”
Whilst the current Government has introduced minor reforms to address the severe underfunding of tertiary education, such as first year fee-free study, as well as increasing student allowance and living costs, these are insufficient to support students and staff.
As the Tertiary Education Union estimates a $3.7 billion funding hole in the sector, this year’s budget has failed to increase government subsidies enough to alleviate the funding deficit. “But, we don’t have enough money,” the government cries. To that, A New University responds, “Ditch the Budget Responsibility Rules!” These self-imposed rules stipulate that the government must keep spending below 30 percent of GDP (the total monetary value of all goods and services produced in New Zealand); deliver an operating surplus (money left over in the bank at the end of the financial year); and keep debt under 20 percent. This severely prevents investment in public services.
The government hides behind the Budget Responsibility Rules, and it is time to tear them down.
Universities should be controlled from the bottom up, not the other way around. The blockade stood for all students and staff across the nation. This is not confined to the University of Auckland. Otago University is also resisting such an educational model. Following the censorship of a student magazine Critic by the university administration, Student Voice Otago organised a 170-strong rally. In an open letter prior to the protest, they acknowledged how this silencing is part of a wider problem, that is the undemocratic function of universities and immense education cuts.
Last month was the 50th anniversary of May 1968, where students throughout France occupied campuses and organised daily marches against capitalism. Their efforts sparked the world’s first wildcat strike (organised outside of the union) where 11 million workers led France’s economy to a halt. It is important to remember that all our struggles are connected. In this sense, the blockade was not just for all students. It was for everyone who has fallen victim to a state sector starved of funding.
Interested in joining the fight? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or message the FB page @anewuniversitynz.