OPINION: What's to become of our university students?

“YOU can never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I read that classic quote from To Kill A Mockingbird at high school about 10 years ago, and it is still relevant for myself – and everyone – today.

After I completed year 12, I accepted a three-year cadetship at my local newspaper in Alice Springs.

This meant that I never went to university and I have never had a real understanding of the workloads and pressures associated with university.

That was until I started an online course and became a university student in March.

My full-time work and part-time study is different to a student doing a full-time degree, but I have developed a great respect of those trying to complete a full-time degree and keep a roof over their head with casual and part-time work.

Although the only impact of a university degree is less time to watch Netflix on weeknights and catch up with friends on weekends, at least I have a steady income and it is not as financially risky as studying full-time and finding work around study.

In the federal budget, it was announced the HECS-HELP debt repayment threshold would drop from $55,000 to $42,000 – and everyone should be worried about what it means for current and future university students.

HECS was introduced by Labor in 1989 so that students can pay tuition when they eventually earn a decent wage; and a $42,000 salary is not a decent wage.  

With house and rent prices going up and other costs of living increasing, making people start paying off their university debts earlier is going to make it more difficult for students and recent graduates to save money.

I understand people have to eventually pay off their university debt, and they should, but to start collecting debt when people are on a very low income seems like an unfair way of rewarding someone who has committed to study so they can make a better contribution to the Australian economy.

It just would have been nice if our politicians jumped into the skin of a university student and got to see things from a student’s perspective before dropping the threshold.

  • Warren Thomson is a journalist with Fairfax Media in north-west Sydney. 
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