In February, GSA made a submission to the Senate inquiry into the government’s Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018. We spoke out against the bill, which would lower the income threshold for repaying HELP loans to just $44,999, and impose a cap on the combined amount of HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP that a student can borrow.
At the moment, students can borrow an unlimited amount of HECS-HELP, for study done in a Commonwealth Supported Place, and a limited amount under the FEE-HELP system for full-fee postgraduate places. If the government gets their way there would be a combined cap that applies to all kinds of HELP, that is only very slightly higher than the current FEE-HELP cap.
This effectively means that prospective postgraduate students would go into their courses with less HELP available to them, and therefore fewer options for their study.
Right before Easter the government made an amendment to their bill to try and get it through the Senate: letting students re-borrow up to the new combined cap if they pay off some of their balance. But this minor change doesn’t alter the fact that the government’s plan is just plain bad for students, especially postgraduate students.
If the bill passes, many postgraduate students will either have to pay fees up-front or miss out on further education. The government says that letting students re-borrow up to the cap will solve this, but that ignores the reality of postgraduate study.
More and more postgraduate students are studying full-time, which means they don’t have the incomes to pay their HELP debt while they’re doing their course. Because of that, they’ll still need to either pay fees up-front, delay further education and career progress until they’ve paid back enough of their HELP, or miss out entirely.
The government’s bill puts Australian postgraduate students between a rock and a hard place. Universities are charging sky-high fees for postgraduate courses, and now the government wants to make unfair changes that don’t recognise the increasing need for students to do postgraduate courses to progress in their careers.
We need real reform in postgraduate education, but the government’s plan is just going to make it harder for the people who are dedicating themselves to be Australia’s next generation of professionals.
That’s why GSA is working with the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) on the national Bury the Bill campaign. I’ve been talking to Victorian senators about how important postgraduate study is, and asking them to oppose the government’s short-sighted plan.
Georgia Daly is 2017/2018 President of the University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association.