Prove your humanity

Semester two is well and truly underway, so we think it’s a good time to re-cap the changes to HECS-HELP that recently came into play and tell you about some other aspects of paying for university that you might not know about.

On 1 July this year, the federal government changed how we pay our uni fees. Don’t worry, HELP isn’t going anywhere, but now you will need to start paying it back at a lower income.

As of July, anybody earning over $45,881 a year will have to start paying their loans back, this is down from the previous starting point, which was $52,000 a year. According to The Guardian, this is a drop of more than 11 per cent, and the largest reduction in the threshold in more than 20 years.

Additionally, the government has also set a cap on how much money you can borrow to support your studies. While this came into effect on 1 January this year, it slipped under the radar of most major media outlets; so let’s talk about it.

According to Study Assist, a government website with information about study loans, a $100,000 limit has been imposed on all Commonwealth supported students. This cap doesn’t just apply to HECS-HELP, but also FEE-HELP, VET FEE-HELP and VET student loans.

Basically, it applies to any loan you can take out to pay for your studies. The limit is not renewable; once you have reached it you can’t borrow more until you pay back a portion of the loan.

According to Study Assist, these changes are needed to make sure future governments can continue to provide student loans. Currently, there is more than $50 billion dollars’ worth of loans outstanding, with past students borrowing more money than they can ever pay back.

This sounds fair enough; at first glance $100,000 looks like a lot of money, however, it really depends on what you’re studying.

According to a 2018 report released by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, thousands of students could be negatively affected by the cap, which has since been enforced.

While the new limit to student loans has slipped under the radar of the news cycle since its introduction in January, this doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. According to Nigel Palmer, who led the above 2018 report, students in popular fields such as law, business and finance could easily tip over $100,000 in borrowed money.

The report also states that postgraduate students are particularly disadvantaged, with as many as 30,000 students currently studying set to exceed the cap.

Many students often continue onto post-graduate studies, with no break to enter the workforce. For these students, there is no opportunity for them to repay some of their debts in order to borrow again for further qualifications.

This new system for student loans appears to be set up unfairly in order to save the government money, and restricts the financial freedom of university students.

During early discussions of the cap, Education Minister Simon Birmingham argued it was a necessary evil to stop those taking advantage of ‘tax-payer funded loans’. The Government contends that it isn’t fair for people to expect unlimited time and support to study without putting work and money back in to the economy.

With over $50 billion in outstanding debts, supporters of the cap said this was a vital change that would contribute to the economy, and that paying back loans could result in more money being available for funding higher education, which was frozen for two years until recently.

In August the government lifted the freeze on funding and promised to increase contributions from 2020 to universities which meet a series of performance measures, including how well their graduates perform in employment outcomes, student success, student experience and enrolment of Indigenous, disadvantaged and rural students.

Arguably this is a positive step: the performance measures have been met with public debate, but the government argues they are providing incentive for universities to perform. Ultimately, lifting the freeze on funding can only be seen as a move in the right direction.