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Issue #1929      August 24, 2020

Editorial

What the hecs?

Tehan’s proposal a big mistake!

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has been spending this year ensuring that universities are becoming completely inaccessible to poor and working class students. No less than two months ago (“Editorial” #1921), Tehan “announced that the Morrison government would double student fees for courses in the arts and humanities, as well as in commerce and law.”

Now, the education minister is announcing that students who fail more than half of their subjects in the first year of a degree will be cut off from the HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP loan scheme.

According to Tehan: “These measures will ensure students can’t take on a study load they won’t complete, leaving them without a qualification but a large debt.” This is an excuse for the federal government to further remove itself from its obligation of providing affordable tertiary education.

Students, especially those arriving straight out of high school, won’t know what study load they can take on until they actually arrive at their university. Each student adjusts at their own pace, as they familiarise themselves with their new learning environment.

Of course, Tehan, like every other LNP politician, is concerned about those who are “rorting” the system: “The lack of transparency of a student’s enrolment has allowed some non-genuine students to enrol and re-enrol at multiple providers at the same time.” What is a “non-genuine” student? What percentage of students can be described as “non-genuine”? Does this percentage hurt the loan scheme enough to warrant these punitive measures? Tehan says that they “On average [...] [pass] just one in every five subjects they have attempted” – why is this the case? Statements like these should not be accepted on face value and should be subjected to intense scrutiny.

Indigenous students stand to be one of the most affected groups. James Blackwell, a proud Wiradjuri man and currently an Indigenous Student Engagement Adviser at the University of Canberra, writing for The Canberra Times writes: “What this round of proposed reforms does is penalise Indigenous students for trying to navigate a higher education system that was not just built without them in mind, but with their exclusion as a goal. […] We take longer on average to complete our degrees, and fail more often doing them […] and the four-year completion rate has never gone above 30 per cent. […] Failure is a necessary part of student growth. We see students every day who have gone from almost flunking out of a degree to being on the path towards graduation.”

Disabled students also stand to lose a lot with the new proposed changes. In order to be eligible for youth allowance, students must take on a minimum of three subjects to remain full-time. However, students with disabilities such as mental health issues taking on three subjects can exceed their capacity. Now, with the new proposal by Tehan, these students have the added pressure of losing their loans if they fail to pass their subjects, putting them in a precarious situation between choosing youth allowance or HECS.

According to news.com.au: “Education providers will have the ability to give special consideration to students whose academic performance was affected by illness or bereavement.” While this may sound like a viable out for disabled students, it hardly can be considered as such. Prior to the new proposal, if students failed for health reasons, they could simply reapply to that specific course. Now, with the new proposal under consideration, this is not the case, and a level of bureaucracy exists where it previously didn’t, adding an addition barrier for those students to chase around with applications, doctor’s certificates, etc. in order to not have their HECS pulled out from under them. In short, it is making those who have suffered and struggled struggle further.

It is imperative that this new proposal be resisted at all costs. Education should be treated as a right, not a privilege. Tehan’s reforms to education are ensuring that an education (and ultimately a job) is only reserved for those most fortunate and only serves to perpetuate inter-generational poverty.

Next article – OP-ED: Not everyone getting a fair chop with JobKeeper

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