UMSU Statement on Low Course Completion HECS Announcement — 13 August 2020

Hannah Buchan, UMSU President 

Noni Bridger and Charlie Joyce, UMSU Education Public Affairs Officers

This morning, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced another suite of changes to the HECS/HELP system, removing access to the HECS scheme for ‘underperforming’ students. Under this system, a student who fails 50% of 8 more of units will no longer be able to access a Commonwealth supported place. This announcement is an abhorrent attack on some of the most vulnerable students in the tertiary education system.

This is the latest in a series of attacks that directly impact the quality and accessibility of education. The latest legislative bill, that is due to enter parliament next week, will cut funding to higher education by 15% per student. This will create a system that favours the involvement of wealthy and well-connected students and disadvantage students from low SES, minority, and rural and regional backgrounds.

This morning’s announcement contributes to the rank ableism and classism we can expect from this government. Students are not failing subjects by choice – they are failing subjects because of the youth mental health crisis in this country, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than providing adequate funding to help universities support students who are struggling, the government has decided to withdraw the safety net from underneath them. Students who repeatedly fail units need proper care and support, not to be cast out from their degrees. Threatening to rip all government education support from students as a punishment for failing subjects will only exacerbate this crisis and lead to real harm.

Dan Tehan claims his government cares about students getting into unpayable levels of debt. We share his concerns. But throwing students off HECS and demanding they pay unregulated university fees upfront is a bizarre method of ensuring students do not become indebted. If the government wants to incur less debt, they should make education free.

UMSU stands in solidarity with affected students and will be working with national peak bodies to fight back against these damaging reforms.