UWS students say cuts will cost the government their vote

Students at the University of Western Sydney have put Prime Minister Julia Gillard on notice over the government’s $2.8 billion in cuts to tertiary education.

Almost 40,000 students at the university vote in key electorates, and they are furious their funding has been sacrificed to help pay for the Gonski reforms.

Student Representative Council president Andrew Whitney said UWS students had discussed strike action and protest votes.

‘‘We have contacted the Tertiary Education Minister (Craig Emerson) and local members in the five campus areas,’’ he said.

‘‘(The university) covers quite a few electorates where it’s said the election will be decided. 

‘‘The latest figures (for enrolments) is about 40,000; that’s a lot of votes and we’re going to try and capitalise on that.’’

Mr Whitney said UWS would be more severely affected by the cuts to student subsidies and allowances than other metropolitan universities.

One of the schemes to be overhauled is start-up scholarships for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

The government will save about $1.2 billion by turning the scholarships into loans.

UWS has the largest percentage of students from low socio-economic backgrounds who are the first in their families to get a tertiary education.

‘‘UWS will be seriously hit by the cuts, about $15 million (a year), if they go ahead,’’ Mr Whitney said. 

‘‘The issue here for us at UWS is the cuts are in schemes that a significant portion of students rely on.

‘‘We don’t agree with the cuts and don’t believe the government should be taking from the education sector to give elsewhere in education.’’

Mr Whitney said the student council had not yet decided whether to join Sydney University students and strike by not going to class when the budget was released on Tuesday.

Federal Parramatta MP Julie Owens said the government had to make tough decisions in hard economic circumstances.

But, she said, funding across all universities had increased by 10 per cent per student since 2007.

‘‘The government would have preferred not to have had to make these savings,’’ Ms Owens said. 

‘‘However, we have an obligation to ensure the sustainability of the budget and to (make sure) schools are funded properly and that the savings are shared across the community.’’

Greenway MP Michelle Rowland, who holds here seat by less than 2 per cent, defended the government’s record on tertiary education. 

‘‘Improving our schools and reforming funding arrangements so that money is targeted, means that more students will get the start in school to go on to university,’’ she said.

‘‘Because of a Labor government, Commonwealth funding for university places increased by more than 50 per cent between 2007 and 2012.’’

Ms Rowland said an estimated 146,000 additional students had been accepted to universities since the government removed the cap on places.

■About 70 per cent of UWS students are from western Sydney;

■Students will lose the 10 per cent discount for paying fees up front;

■The 5 per cent bonus for voluntary repayments of HELP debts will also be axed;

■The government will save $520 million by capping tax deductions for self-education expenses;

■Up to $900 million will be cut from the sector by scrapping efficiency dividends payable to universities.

■Electorates covered by UWS include Parramatta, held by 2.24 per cent; and, Greenway, 1.76 per cent. 

Power vote: Andrew Whitney said he and his 40,000 fellow University of Western Sydney students could decide who wins federal seats in western Sydney. Picture: Gary Warrick.

Power vote: Andrew Whitney said he and his 40,000 fellow University of Western Sydney students could decide who wins federal seats in western Sydney. Picture: Gary Warrick.