UNIVERSITY students in Australia and New Zealand have launched a joint campaign to protest at the higher education policies of their respective governments.
The "Trans-Tasman week of action" involved rallies and protest marches in every Australian capital and in various centres in New Zealand. Students in both countries have become alarmed at the rise in "user-pays" methods of financing higher education.
John Carey, president of the Australia's National Union of Students, said government policy formulation was increasingly affected by international experience and students had to respond in kind.
"The first Trans-Tasman week of action is an extremely positive step towards international unity among students," he said. "The campaign is an important part of the opposition which has already caused numerous universities in Australia to decide not to introduce upfront fees."
NUS was continuing to battle against the introduction of upfront fees and the inequities of the common youth allowance, he said.
The students were backed by academic unions in both countries. An executive meeting of Australia's National Tertiary Education Union strongly endorsed the campaign and said it supported students' opposition to changes in student support and the imposition of fees.
The union also agreed that the New Zealand experience of tertiary education represented a dangerous model for Australia.
Bronwyn Fredericks, president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, who visited Victoria University in Wellington last week at the invitation of New Zealand's postgraduate students, said postgraduates in both countries also backed the campaign.
In Melbourne, more than 100 students occupied the finance department of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for two days. The students demanded that vice chancellor, David Beanland, convene an urgent meeting of the university council to recommit a decision to introduce full fees for some students next year.
Last week, RMIT became the eighth university in Australia to decide it would make a number of full-fee places available to Australian students next year.