Student Bodies Calling Out for HELP!
UNE joins the public outcry against the proposed changes to the HECS-HELP repayment threshold.
Last December, the government released the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO). The MYEFO is essentially a lesser form of the annual budget and mostly exists to show where the economy is heading as well as to highlight the priorities of the government in their spending. One element of December’s MYEFO that had students and universities across Australia up in arms was the proposed changes to the repayment threshold of the Higher Education Loan Program (commonly known as HECS-HELP).
Currently, the repayment threshold for your HECS debt is $55,873, meaning that you don’t need to pay back any of the loan until you earn over $55,874 annually. Once this figure is reached, you begin to pay back your debt through your taxes. This figure has been the subject of intense public debate and scrutiny throughout history, however the MYEFO proposed a decrease of the threshold to $44,999. This proposal, along with a proposed cap on lifetime student loans of $104,000 ($150,000 for medicine, dentistry, or veterinary courses), was established in the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018. This is current before the Senate; having been moved for a second reading as of the 28th of March.
The reaction to this Bill has been largely negative throughout universities, as one would expect. The Council of Australian Postgraduate Association (CAPA) and the National Union of Students (NUS) have started a campaign against this legislation, dubbed “Bury the Bill”, protesting the attempts to make tertiary education less accessible for low-income Australians. This campaign encourages students to contact their Senators and express their opposition to the proposed legislation and seek their support in continuing to keep tertiary education accessible for all.
This campaign has seen a large amount of support from university students. Numerous student associations across Australia have publicly expressed their support for the Bury the Bill campaign and have publicly opposed the government’s proposed reforms. Already pledged are the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, and Newcastle University just to name a few.
UNE is no exception to this. The University of New England Student Association (UNESA) has also released a statement publicly opposing the threshold decrease as well as pledging to stand with and support CAPA and NUS in their efforts to Bury the Bill. In a statement released by UNESA, president Koady Williams encouraged UNE students to speak out against the policy, stating that “it could be seen as punishing people for seeking higher education” and expressing concern at the potential consequences if it was passed, as “the threshold is barely above the poverty line”.
Needless to say, a lot of people have a lot at stake in this situation, and if the legislation does indeed pass through the Senate, the consequences for university students could be disastrous; especially for those living at or just above the poverty line. Students with families or dependants to support will also face further hardship under this proposal and it could potentially discourage Australians from enrolling at university. It seems like a lot of unnecessary risk for such a minuscule outcome (in budgetary terms) considering the government will only save approximately $2 million if the threshold were to be lowered.
If you would like to contact a Senator to express your thoughts on this legislation, follow this link below.