HECS-HELP plan would hurt regional students even more

Tertiary education costs are often in the spotlight: how much they could rise, when people should have to pay them, whether there should be any to begin with … even if they should be clawed back if the student dies.

In the past week, a forecast of how much uni costs could rise in a decade has been juxtaposed with a proposal to change how students can borrow and pay them back.

An education funds management group says the total cost of going to uni – not only fees but also rent, food, textbooks and the rest – could go up 29 per cent in 10 years.

This could make a computer science degree almost $34,000 more expensive, a teaching degree some $43,000 more, and a vet science degree about $60,000 dearer.

Meanwhile, the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment Bill would not only limit most students to $104,440 in HECS-HELP loans but also require them to start repayments when they begin earning just $45,000 a year.

Attacks on all fronts, according to University of New England Student Association (UNESA) president Koady Williams.

UNESA and other student unions across the nation have started petitions to “bury the bill”, Mr Williams saying it borders on “punishing people for seeking higher education”.

On the lower repayment threshold – which would kick in $10,000 per annum sooner – Mr Williams says it’s “barely above the poverty line”, especially for young new graduates who will likely have the higher cost of living in a city to begin their career.

On the loan cap, he says it could discourage people from seeking further education.

It’s a view supported by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, which said earlier this year “the government should be prioritising an educated workforce for tomorrow”.

Today’s workforce entrants will probably retrain a few times in their lives, and our rural young people are already at a disadvantage before these proposed loan caps and lowered thresholds: living away from home, keeping up with often gruelling study and work placement demands that preclude a part-time job, and sometimes not getting a lot of help from Youth Allowance or parents.

One of our reporters describes working three casual jobs in two different towns to put herself through uni – but claims she was “lucky” to have been able to, as her degree had manageable face-to-face hours.

One thing is certain: it’s not getting any easier for country kids to go to uni.

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