As of January this year, students studying in ‘Commonwealth Supported Places’ (CSP) will have a limit of 7 years of HECS-HELP loans to support full-time equivalent study. After this limit runs out, they must pay full fees upfront. This includes any additional degrees or postgraduate studies.
Student bodies and university communities are outraged at this change, which will impact already-disadvantaged students most of all. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or those with disabilities who may already take extra time to complete studies, will be punished further.
The time limit also pushes students who may otherwise undertake further study to enter the workforce prematurely, and will impact professions that require longer degrees, like medicine. Incidentally, the medical field is already experiencing a labour shortage.
The measure was originally scrapped in 2012, but was reintroduced into 2020’s ‘Job-ready Graduates’ bill as part of a compromise with Senator Pauline Hanson of One Nation. Other concessions given to Hanson included the reinstatement of a 10% discount for students who pay their fees upfront, and a legal definition of academic freedom.
It’s not the first time One Nation has tried to meddle in tertiary education policy. Three years ago, the wage threshold for repayment of HECS-HELP debt was lowered from $52,000 to $45,800. One Nation pushed for it to drop to less than $30,000, while minimum wage at the time was $37,300 a year. The current HECS payback threshold sits at just a few thousand dollars over minimum wage.
Imagine a student from a lower economic background, perhaps with a learning difficulty, who works hard to get into university and study Ancient History. Let’s say they have to retake a couple of subjects because they work full-time while studying. Let’s say they’re driven enough to take on an extra diploma of languages, and do Honours.
It’s easy to see such a degree take just over 7 years. Such a student would have to pay more than $14,000 upfront for their final year of study, and then be saddled with tens of thousands more to be repaid for decades to come. Alongside with massive fee hikes to humanities courses that already suffer from lower wage prospects, the 7 year HECS limit is bound to cause serious issues for Australia’s most vulnerable students.
The limit is just one measure in the Morrison government’s neglect and active attack of Australia’s universities.
Tune in tomorrow for a break-down of Job-ready Graduates’ drastic tuition fee overhaul.
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