News //

Labor to reverse honours fee hikes, reduce rural med student debt

The changes to grandfathering will affect students who commenced their degrees before January 2021.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare introduced two amendments to the Higher Education Support Act in the House of Representatives yesterday aimed at fixing the grandfathering system in the Job-ready Graduates scheme and rewarding medical professionals for practising in rural and regional areas.

The first amendment addresses an issue with the grandfathering of fee increases under the Job-ready Graduates reforms in 2020, which saw students who enrolled in Honours courses hit with higher fees, as it was viewed as a degree transfer. Students who commenced their courses prior to the reforms are generally exempt from fee increases in their degrees. 

The exemption will now apply to any student who started a Bachelor-level source before 1 January 2021 and is undertaking a unit in an ongoing course or honours course. Students whose honours courses were hit with a fee increase will retrospectively have their fees grandfathered, and will receive a refund or re-credit on any fees paid or deferred to HELP.

The amendment also means that students who are forced to change degrees due to their institution discontinuing their courses will also be exempt from the fee increases.

“It’s not fair that students face higher student contribution rates because of decisions taken by their university and which are out of their control,” Clare said in parliament.

“The Job-ready Graduates scheme will be reviewed as part of the Universities Accord which will commence soon, but it’s important that these measures are introduced now so that these students are not treated unfairly.”

USyd SRC President Lauren Lancaster told Honi that the Job-ready Graduates scheme as a whole should be repealed.

“It’s nice that they’re grandfathering for a few generations of Honours students, but there are generations of students to come who will be paying at a higher rate.

“Insofar as this shows that they can tinker with the Job-ready Graduates Bill, they should actually be starting to wholesale reverse it,” Lancaster said.

The second amendment introduces provision to HESA that would allow for partial or complete reductions to HECS debt, and waivers of HECS indexation, for health practitioners completing work in rural and remote areas. 

The reductions to debt will be scaled depending on whether students are working in a remote or a rural area, and the length of time they spend there.

The measure aims to encourage nurses and medical practitioners to begin work in regional and rural areas in order to improve access to healthcare in those areas.

In a tweet, Clare described the change as “a great incentive for young doctors and nurse practitioners to live and work and build their careers in rural and remote communities.”

The government says the changes are expected to help roughly 850 practitioners each year.