As we head into federal budget week, many students and academics are waiting to see what the government has to say about higher education. Education Minister Jason Clare has been flagging this will be an important budget for universities.

But amid concerns about students’ enormous debts and the quality of education they receive, there is another story playing out on Australian campuses. Since last month, students have been protesting against the Gaza war, and calling on their institutions to cut ties with weapons manufacturers that supply arms to Israel. Things have been largely peaceful, but some Jewish students say they do not feel safe, police have flagged concerns about potential violence, and university leaders have sought advice about hate speech.

Deakin University’s Maria O'Sullivan specialises in human rights law. Today she examines the complexities of these campus camps, from the right to protest peacefully, to the need for any responses from authorities to be proportionate. For example, if some students are using provocative terms such as “intifada”, that does not mean the whole protest should necessarily be shut down. As O'Sullivan notes, “In my view, it would be unlawful under human rights law to close down an entire protest simply on the basis that some protesters are using that language.”

Australia is not alone in having to grapple with these questions. Young protesters have set up protest camps at universities around the world. What is it about Gaza that is driving such intense activism among young people, in particular?

Erin O'Brien, an expert in political activism, says one reason is the urgency of the situation at the moment in Rafah, where Israel has ordered tens of thousands of people to leave as it escalates its strikes there. “Activists may be motivated by the sense this is a critical juncture in the conflict where their protest may have a real impact,” O'Brien writes.

Judith Ireland

Education Editor

Can university protest camps be removed? What does the law say?

Maria O'Sullivan, Deakin University

Students have now been protesting on Australian campuses for weeks. But as the camps become more established, so, too, do concerns about student safety.

What is it about Gaza? Wars are raging around the world, so why are young people so passionate about this one?

Erin O'Brien, Griffith University

The situation in Gaza undoubtedly requires urgent international attention and a peaceful resolution. Yet it is not the only armed conflict or humanitarian crisis in the world.

High Court dismisses key challenge to indefinite immigration detention. What does it mean?

Sara Dehm, University of Technology Sydney; Anthea Vogl, University of Technology Sydney

The decision is a missed opportunity to move away from Australia’s practice of indefinite immigration detention.

Budget to pledge billions more in funds and fresh effort to tackle intractable housing crisis

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The budget will respond to the deepening public agitation over Australia’s housing shortages by pouring new money into crisis accommodation for women and children, social housing and infrastructure.

Indigenous women are most affected by domestic violence but have struggled to be heard. It’s time we listened

Marlene Longbottom, James Cook University; Hannah McGlade, Curtin University; Kyllie Cripps, Monash University

First Nations women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than non-Indigenous women. We need to put Indigenous women at the centre of the discussion.

Gender Queer was the last book an Australian council tried to ban. It’s still being appealed in federal court

Penni Russon, Monash University

Australia has a long history of book banning organised by Christian associations and churches. A federal court appeal attempt to ban graphic memoir Gender Queer is still to be considered this year.

More desalination is coming to Australia’s driest states – but super-salty outflows could trash ecosystems and fisheries

Jochen Kaempf, Flinders University

States are once again turning to desalination to secure freshwater supplies. The problem is, they’re often choosing the wrong spot for ecosystems and fisheries

15,000 squares, 500 hours, 19 months: how I used embroidery to make sense of Australia’s catastrophic fires

Tracey Clement, Australian Catholic University

After spending more than 500 hours embroidering in an attempt to come to terms with the bushfires of 2019-2020, I discovered that while no news may be good news, ‘slow news’ is even better.

Too many Australians aren’t getting a flu vaccine. Why, and what can we do about it?

Holly Seale, UNSW Sydney

Expanding the places people can get a flu vaccine could help.

AI-assisted writing is quietly booming in academic journals. Here’s why that’s OK

Julian Koplin, Monash University

ChatGPT and other AI writing tools can make researchers more productive – but quality control is essential.

Where did money come from?

Steven Hail, Torrens University Australia

The theory that money emerged naturally encourages people to believe free markets are natural systems in which governments only interfere. But this thinking is flawed.

Why do some trees lose their leaves and others don’t? The Conversation’s Curious Kids podcast

Eloise Stevens, The Conversation

Botanist Paul Ashton explains the difference between trees that lose their leaves, and those that don’t on The Conversation’s Curious Kids podcast.

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