Aussie students fight top-up fees

April 2, 2004

Students at universities in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria took action as governing councils considered a federal government option to increase fees by up to 25 per cent.

More than 1,000 people demonstrated at Monash University last week, where 350 students forced their way into the building where the governing council was discussing the fees issue.

Police called for the meeting to be cut short because they could not guarantee security. The council decided to increase fees for most courses by 25 per cent next year and to make more full-fee places for Australian students available.

The next day, students stormed the former vice-chancellor's residence on the main campus to try to force the council to reverse its decision. Five people were injured when students crashed through a plate-glass door.

Students occupying the house demanded to meet Richard Larkins, the vice-chancellor, who entered the building for talks. Professor Larkins told the students the decision would not be reversed and, after warnings that they would be expelled if the occupation continued, the students dispersed.

At Queensland University, a student and staff blockade prevented members of the senate from attending a meeting on the issue.

However, after the senate reconvened in a nearby high-security building and a quorum was established by a hastily arranged telephone hook-up, the meeting voted for an increase.

Students are considering a legal challenge, while the academic union also criticised the legitimacy of the decision because neither staff nor student representatives had been present when it was made.

At Melbourne University's semi-autonomous Victoria College of the Arts, students began a peaceful vigil last week against any fee rise, while protesting students at Flinders University in Adelaide persuaded the university to delay making an immediate decision.

The federal Labor opposition party and student and academic groups attacked the Monash decision. One councillor quit in protest after the meeting, saying the change had been "rammed through" with no discussion of alternative ways of raising money.

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