Image description: A woman stands in front of a wall of books, with her head down, reading a book.
By Emma Mezger
You’d think catastrophic bushfires, a global pandemic, and the recent fee hikes would be enough to see the end of disastrous news for UWA students. Nevertheless, there is another blow coming, with Dan Tehan’s newly announced ‘Graduate Ready’ education legislation, which proposes that university students who fail more than half of their subjects will lose access to government loans and subsidies.
Students who fail more than fifty percent of their classes after taking at least eight units will no longer be able to access HECS-HELP. Instead, they will have to pay the full cost of their course upfront if they wish to continue studying.
These reforms do not recognise that there are many impeding factors to student success. These include, limited access to study; disability; financial or domestic instability; education quality; and the ongoing crisis of mental health in the student body. Students who suffer from lower than average completion rates, such as students with disabilities and Indigenous students, will be disproportionately affected.
Academic performance at UWA and other universities is already monitored by faculty offices, who can intervene with a student’s education if they aren’t progressing sufficiently. Low SES students, students with disabilities, and Indigenous students face enough barriers to accessing higher education. Rather than choosing to lock them out of universities, students who are at academic risk should be provided extra support to identify and monitor their performance, in order to give them the extra help they need.
Currently, six to eight percent of students fail fifty percent of their units in their first year. And while the reforms allude to exemptions under significant circumstances, there are no clear indications of their extent. It is ridiculous to prescribe a shopping list of student exemptions, to an extremely vast spectrum of student experiences. Yet again, the burden of proof falls on students to prove their circumstances, which can often prove expensive, and near impossible. In many cases, for some conditions to be diagnosed, there are significant costs and hoops to jump through to get a diagnosis.
No student should be punished for failing classes. Nor should fear of punishment be used as a motivator to incentivise success. These reforms have the potential to harm the wellbeing of students in a time when students are already experiencing a pandemic.
The Higher Education System in Australia is crumbling, with universities across Australia already experiencing a financial crisis, after the loss of international student revenue due to COVID-19. Despite this, the Federal Government’s refusal to step up, in addition to further cuts in funding, have put our university sector on its knees.
These reforms coincide with major changes to student fees, which will see humanities students pay one-hundred and thirteen percent more for their studies. The HECS overhaul emerging at a time when student contributions are set to rise considerably pre-empt a government safeguard from debts which they are imposing on students. Furthermore, the Government has continuously under-invested resources to prevent underperformance, such as mental health assistance and financial assistance (with Newstart set to decrease below the poverty line).
It’s important that we stand in solidarity with our fellow students and staff to fight for better outcomes. Students deserve access to a high-quality education without the threat of losing their HECS. To raise awareness about these disastrous reforms, as well as fight for a higher quality education for UWA Students, the UWA Student Guild has created a UWA Students Against Cuts campaign. Be sure to like UWA Education Action Network on Facebook and join UWA Education Action Network (EAN) group at the National Day of Action on August the 28th.
Education Council President
UWA Student Guild
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