SUBJECTS: Job-ready Graduates package draft legislation and HELP debts
Russell Woolf: The Federal Government is putting failing university students on notice – fail more than half of your subjects and you could face losing your university placement, and if you’re getting a HECS-HELP or loan, you could lose that as well.
Nadia Mitsopoulos: Now, these changes are part of a wide-reaching overhaul of higher education fees, overseen by Education Minister Dan Tehan, who joins us now. Minister, thank you for your time.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure Nadia. Pleasure Russell.
Mitsopoulos: Can you outline these changes? What is it? What are you actually bringing in? Just explain it.
Tehan: Yeah. So, research has shown that nearly six per cent of university students fail every subject in their first year, and we don’t want students taking on a study load that they can’t complete, leaving them without a qualification and a large debt. So, what we’ve said is, if you fail more than 50 per cent of eight or more units in a bachelor course, then you will lose your FEE-HELP. But, the idea is not to have students to get to that stage. What we want is, when a student fails one or two units, that they would have a discussion with their university. They would either put in place procedures which will help them be able to complete their course, or they would have a discussion around, okay, is there a better course for me to be able to undertake? So, we don’t see students just continuously failing units, racking up a debt, and not getting a qualification. Because, that’s not in the student’s interest, it’s not in the university’s interest, and it’s not in the taxpayer’s interest.
Mitsopoulos: And, so, these are obviously students who are also getting some Government help? Financially?
Tehan: That’s right. That’s right. So, these are students who are getting FEE-HELP from the Government. And, as we know, that FEE-HELP then has to be repaid by the student once they start earning approximately $46,000. So, we don’t want these students accruing this debt, which they’ll then have to pay off once they begin working. And, we want to make sure that they understand that there is a consequence for either just not turning up, or not really taking their studies seriously, because they will have to pay off the result of them failing units down the track.
Woolf: And, so, then, will they be taken out of university, as well?
Tehan: No. What they’ll be able to do is that they will not be able to get the FEE-HELP for that particular course. But, if they decide to do another course, then they would get the FEE-HELP for that. It’s really about making sure that the student and the university understand the importance of students really taking their studies seriously, making sure that they’re getting good outcomes from it. Or, if a course doesn’t fit for that student, if they’re not engaged and they can’t see a future in it, that they make the decision, okay, let’s have a look at what other course I could undertake which I’ve got, you know, a greater interest in, that I see where my future is. So, I’m not just doing something which I’m not interested in, which I’m failing in, and in which, ultimately, is going to leave me facing a debt down the track.
Mitsopoulos: Now, we have seen some evidence in the past of, sort of, student enrolments being not genuine. Is that the concern, as well? That people, you know, are studying courses, as you said, are not interested in, or, they’re not genuine students?
Tehan: That’s right. And, so, in one instance, for instance, we saw a student who enrolled in 44 courses, had 26 different higher education providers, and amassed a debt of $663,000. Now, that, that’s an outlier. But, obviously, we don’t want to see students in that type of situation.
Mitsopoulos: Well, the problem you’re going to have is there’s debt that students, that these people will probably not pay off.
Tehan: Absolutely. And, we want to do our best to make sure that we’re not accruing that type of debt. Because, in that instance, obviously, that, the taxpayer will be the ones that, that’ll end up paying that, rather than the student, and we don’t want to see that into the future.
Woolf: Dan Tehan is our guest, the Federal Education Minister. Maybe you’re at uni and you’re hearing what the Minister has to say, and I wonder how you feel about it – 1-300-222-720, if you would like to have a chat to us. Minister, we had a text message from Robin, who’s down in Bunbury. She thinks this is going to unfairly, disproportionately disadvantage rural students. Do you have a thought on that?
Tehan: No, look, the idea is, it’s there to help and support students, especially rural students. So, for instance, if you had to move to undertake your study, there might be various challenges that you’re facing. And, if you did fail, for instance, your first two subjects, then the university would engage with you and try to understand what is happening, why you’re failing. And, it might be they say, well, maybe go to a part-time load, so that you can put more time into it. Or, it might be, for instance, that you’re worried about what’s going on back home – there might be an illness or something like that – you know, in that instance, the university can say to the student, you know, there are compelling reasons why you failed those first two subjects, so we’re going to put in place better measures to try and help and support you as you take on further studies. So, it’s all about making sure we get that engagement between students and universities. So, in particular, for those students who have to move from rural areas, that they’re getting the support that they need, so they’re not amassing the debt and failing. They’re getting the support to get them through their degree.
Woolf: Minister, we appreciate you spending the time with us. Thanks for having a chat today.
Tehan: Been a pleasure. Thanks a lot.
Woolf: Dan Tehan there, Federal Education Minister.