OPINION: In the Morrison Government, Students Deserve No Second Chances

In a sequel nobody asked for, the Student Learning Entitlement will return in 2022. This will limit how long you can study in Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) before you either pay the full, exorbitant fees or pray for a FEE-HELP loan.


The Morrison Government’s Job Ready Graduates package is just cartoonishly evil at this point.

In a sequel nobody asked for, the Student Learning Entitlement will return in 2022. This will limit how long you can study in Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) before you either pay the full, exorbitant fees or pray for a FEE-HELP loan, which comes out of the same balance as your HECS loan, but with less flexibility because expenses are higher to begin with. The amount of HELP debt we can incur is currently capped at just over $108,000. Domestic students who fall outside the learning “entitlement” are about to get a taste of how expensive it is when the government sees you as a dollar sign and not a person, an experience already faced by international students.

The National Tertiary Education (NTEU) flagged this threat to our CSP back in 2020, but we were all so overwhelmed with the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that was orchestrated by Morrison, that it largely slid under the radar. This was clearly intentional; nowhere in the title of the bill does it indicate they are doing this. Nevertheless, the nightmare will commence in 2022, and it’s even worse than the NTEU told us.

You can lose this “entitlement” if you have studied eight or more units in a bachelor’s degree or higher and have less than a 50 per cen pass rate. In qualifications ranked lower than a bachelor’s, the number of units drops to four. This needlessly intervenes in matters of academic progress that should remain between the student and the university. FEE-HELP also has a 50 per cent pass rate requirement to remain eligible for the loan, which will apply to university students in 2022.

This move by the Government has been rightfully slammed by various bodies representing tertiary students and staff, including the National Union of Students (NUS), the NTEU, and student unions across the country. Why? Well, consider this: who is most likely to have a low pass rate? People who are already struggling.

I first began an undergraduate degree in 2012, when the previous Student Learning Entitlement was abolished. My first year was fine. I studied overseas during the summer of 2013. However, the experience left me tired and burnt out, and I had not recovered by the time next semester began. I fell apart, somehow limping through 2013 and into 2014 where I largely had to repeat my second year. I was put on academic probation, but I could not get my feet under me or even ask for help. I dropped out before I could be kicked out. It is possible I have an undiagnosed disability, but adult diagnosis is prohibitively expensive.

I put myself on a path that included a few short courses and TAFE diplomas, and was eventually accepted into the Bachelor of Music at the University of Melbourne. I am about to graduate. I am a more steady person now, deeply involved with student life and the student union. I intend to study Honours next year, which should fit just under the Learning Entitlement period, assuming it remains at the seven year figure it was in 2012. However, postgraduate study just got a whole lot more complicated for me.

All because I was an overwhelmed kid who didn’t know how to ask for help until it was too late.

I am also on JobSeeker, because Austudy has their own way to kick people while they’re down: allowable time. If you have aged out of Youth Allowance and have spent more than the time of your first attempted degree plus a year, tough luck. Welcome to humiliating job “provider” meetings and the government’s threatening messages about “mutual obligations”.

So-called “Australia” hates most students, yes, but, more than anything, they hate seeing people they deem unworthy of education accessing it. I went to my first protest to protect education funding while studying my first degree, because conservatives will fight again and again to make education inaccessible to all but the rich. These things happen in cycles.

There are many reasons ‘Student Learning Entitlement 2: Electric Boogaloo’ fell through the outage cracks. The government buried it in other legislation. We are stretched thin putting out other fires from the Job Ready Graduates package. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We don’t like to treat failure with compassion.

Conservatives rely on our exhaustion to act with impunity. We cannot let them bury vulnerable people they think we won’t care about. Older students are frequently ignored, but we matter too.


Image credit: The University of Melbourne.

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