BY NATASHA SCHAPOVA and KARUNA BALASUBRAMANIAN
The Federal Government’s proposed changes to Australia’s higher education system may lead to students from low socio-economic backgrounds dropping out of university, unable to pay their fees without a HECS-HELP loan.
Minister for Education Dan Tehan last week announced students who fail “50 per cent of eight or more units in a Bachelor course” will no longer receive government support, meaning they must pay any future fees up front.
Students suffering from “illness or bereavement” who can demonstrate their circumstances have “adversely affected their academic performance” may still be eligible for support.
However, it is uncertain whether students who juggle study and full-time or part-time work – to make ends meet – will also be able to hold onto their Commonwealth supported places (CSPs), after failing 50 per cent of their units.
Monash University education Associate Professor Chandravadan Shah said these proposed changes ignore students working full-time and part-time, whose employment “can affect how well they do in their subjects”.
These changes – part of the Job-ready Graduates Package – will hinder students’ access to education and may lead them to seek unskilled work instead, Assoc. Prof. Shah said.
“For them to finance their own study later on because they made the wrong choice in the beginning would be very difficult,” he said.
“I think we need to allow young people an opportunity to experiment a little bit before they can settle into a career.”
However, Mr Tehan said these proposed changes were made to increase the transparency of a student’s enrolment and to protect them from accumulating large debts.
"We have found cases where students with the highest levels of debt have been continuously enrolled at multiple providers at the same time, resulting in debts ranging from $220,000 up to $660,000 combined with very low pass rates,” Mr Tehan said in a statement.
Monash University arts/business student Marie Elacion said the changes proposed to the legislation were “ridiculous”.
Ms Elacion started working full-time after being offered a job in her chosen industry.
“I work up to nine hours a day and it’s really difficult to work full-time and manage my coursework at the same time,” Ms Elacion said.
“I was always a high achiever in school but in recent times I have failed in several units and most of the time I have to just push through and spend several sleepless nights studying.”
Ms Elacion said without a HECS-HELP loan, she would only be able to afford one or two units per semester, resulting in the duration of her degree being extended.
“Everybody needs an education and should have the same opportunities no matter what,” she said.
“These barriers only make it harder for people who don’t have the same luxuries as others.”
Social worker Brendon Carroll said the change is yet another blow to students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
“It will make it more difficult for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to pursue university and they’ll be disadvantaged,” Mr Carroll said.
“Students who are thinking about career choice at this stage of their life are stressed enough already so this change just adds another variable to their worries.”
The Job-ready Graduates Package also proposes changes to university fees to promote degrees the federal government deems will produce more “employable” graduates.
Agriculture and maths degrees will incur fee decreases of 62 per cent; with teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, English and languages degrees incurring a decrease of 46 per cent.
While students studying health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering will experience a 20 per cent drop in fees.
Arts, law and business degrees will incur fee increases of up to 113 per cent.
Mr Tehan said the package will strengthen the focus on teaching students the “skills they need to succeed in the jobs of the future” and also allow them to study certain qualifications at a cheaper rate.
The Australian economy has suffered a major hit due to COVID-19 with GDP forecasted to have fallen by seven per cent in the June quarter, with a job loss of more than 709,000.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also stated Victoria’s stage four lockdown will “broadly impact” the economy, but “cannot yet put an amount on it”.