Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU)

As discussed previously, the Australian student movement (such as it is) and the Australian student left (in particular) is facing a crisis, one created by the Federal Government's passing of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) legislation (sometimes also unflatteringly referred to as Anti-Student Organisation Legislation (ASOL)).

As a result, there's been the usual flurry of emails and position papers, boldly declaring that, despite its passage through the Senate last December, "¡la lucha continĂșa!". (A perspective bolstered, perhaps, by the expectation of a militant response by industrial labour to Howard's new industrial regime: a transparent attempt to smash trade unions, drive down wages, and increase profits). "VSU won’t silence students" NUS President Rose Jackson declared in a press release supporting student participation in anti-war rallies (March 14, 2006). Which is obvious. Less obvious is the manner in which students might take action to either prevent the successful implementation of VSU, or, if not, maintain a viable movement in the absence of a student bureaucracy.

As for the first course of action, this is a "simple" matter of adopting the enemy's mentality and applying a cost benefit analysis to the proposed law. Thus if the costs, measured in both economic and political terms, exceed the benefits, then the Federal Government -- and possibly even the next ALP Government, when that finally arrives (most likely minus 'Bomber' Beazley) -- may well rescind or amend the law to return it to something like its original state. In this respect, French youth have provided Australian students with an excellent model.

University Students: Budding Revolutionaries, Middle Class Twats... or Both?

The AVCC provides the following statistics in relation to the higher education sector:

There are currently 37 public and 3 private universities in Australia. In 2003, there were over 650,000 full-time students (of whom a little less than 30,000 were fee-paying), and over 900,000 continuing and commencing students. 78% of university students elect to defer their HECS/HELP fees (more accurately described as 'the Dawkins tax' after John Dawkins; wealthy bourgeois, ex-student radical and from 1987 to 1991 the Minister for Employment, Education and Training: the person responsible for the re-introduction of university fees). Just less than 14% of students are deemed to be of 'low socio-economic status' (a category left undefined).

But what does it all mean? Stay tuned!