SUBJECTS: Job-ready Graduates package draft legislation and HELP debts, Year 12 students, ATAR
Gareth Parker: Now, the Education Minister Dan Tehan has today announced changes to university students and financial help. The proposal is that government assistance through HELP loans may well be cut off if students fail half of their courses at university. Minister’s on the line. Dan Tehan, good morning.
Dan Tehan: Morning Gareth. How are you?
Parker: Well, thanks. What’s the proposal here? Why do you want to take this measure? What is it? What’s the reason for it?
Tehan: Well, we don’t want students taking on a study load that they can’t complete, leaving them without a qualification and a large debt. In the worst instance, what we’ve seen was a student who was enrolled in 44 courses, 26 different higher education providers, and amassed a debt of $663,000. Now, that is in no one’s interests. It’s not in the student’s interest, it’s not in the university’s interest, and it’s not in the taxpayer’s interest. So, we want to make sure that there’s a common-sense approach.
Parker: Okay. So, the proposal is that if a student fails half of their units, then, what? The HELP loans are withdrawn? The help funding is withdrawn?
Tehan: That’s right. So, if you fail more than 50 per cent of eight or more units in a bachelor course, then we’ll withdraw the HELP loan. And, we don’t want it to get to that state. What we would prefer is for both the student and the university, after a couple of units of being failed, to talk, assess whether the student has the attributes to continue on, or, whether another course might be a better alternative. So, this is about making sure that the student and the university first make sure that the student has the prerequisite skills and knowledge to do a degree. And, then, if they started and it looks like that they don’t, for them to have a conversation, either putting in place methods to help that student get through their degree, or, look at alternatives.
Parker: Is the funding withdrawn just from the student, or from the student and the university, too?
Tehan: Well, it’s withdrawn from the student. But, that means that, obviously, the university doesn’t get that money, because the student’s HELP loan flows through to the university.
Parker: Right. Okay. So, there’s, basically, the parties are aligned on it. I’m just wondering, and I understand that the example that you’ve given of someone enrolling in 44 units in 26 institutes, I mean, that is an extreme example, obviously.
Parker: Most students who are failing are not going to be in that position. Is there another way to achieve the same outcome? Could you just say, we will only extend a HELP loan to one institution of learning?
Tehan: Well, there are various ways that you can look at it. We’ve decided to go down this path, because we want to give students the alternative that if one particular university offers one particular course, and they start that and they realise that that’s not for them, they could then move to another university to do something that they now think is much more in align with where they want to go. What the research has shown is that nearly six per cent of university students failed every subject in their first year. So, we just want to make sure that when students start a course and they realise that they’re not succeeding, that both the student and university stop and say, okay, well, let’s have a look at this, and let’s see whether there’s a better pathway for them.
Parker: Are they often students who, perhaps, enrol in January, turn up for the first week in March, and then just stop turning up? They just, sort of, withdraw from going and attending and learning, but they never formally withdraw?
Tehan: In some instances, that’s correct. And, that’s just not in the interests of the student, obviously, because while they’re not participating, they’re obviously still getting a HELP debt, which they will have to pay off once they, once they earn roughly $46,000. So, we want to make sure that the students are aware that there is a cost to not engaging once you’ve enrolled in the course, and for them to realise that, and work with their university to either find a way to complete their degree, or, look for an alternative.
Parker: So, that scenario, I understand, and what you’re saying makes sense. But, I just wonder whether there might actually be well-intentioned students who are trying their very hardest, and maybe with extra work they can improve and get their studies back on track, who might be caught up in this.
Tehan: What we’ve done for those instances is that there is a clause in the legislation which says that the university can, in certain circumstances, say to the student, ‘Alright, we know that you’re trying hard. We know if you get extra support that we think that you will be able to complete this degree.’ And, so, therefore, they can give an exemption to those students. So, we’ve tried to make it so that the universities, where they can recognise that a student is trying, and they think, with extra support and help, will get through their degree, can make an exemption for a student.
Parker: Minister, obviously, the whole country is in different situations at the moment with coronavirus. Our situation in Western Australia is very much under control at the moment. Victoria’s is the opposite. How is the nation going to manage the intake of students for the university year next year, given the varying educational conditions that are prevailing for Year 12s at the moment?
Tehan: Well, we had a meeting of all education ministers earlier in the year – state and territory education ministers, Western Australia Education Minister and the Victorian Education Minister, all of them – and, everyone committed to getting all students across the nation an ATAR this year. Now, that will be very different to, from what a student has to do to achieve that in Western Australia at the moment, to what it is in Victoria, but we understand that there are unique circumstances in every state and territory, and that will be taken into account with the ATAR ranking that students are given, remembering that they’re given by each state and territory.
Parker: Okay. Minister, thank you for your time this morning. Appreciate it.
Tehan: Been a pleasure Gareth. Thank you.
Parker: The Minister for Education Dan Tehan.