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Medicine student left in debt after USyd ‘secretly’ axes rural pathways program

Tom Joyner reports.

A medicine student enrolled in a rural pathways scheme when it was axed by the University of Sydney has been left with $8,000 redundant HECS debt in a case described as “gross maladministration” by a NSW tribunal.

The pathways program, which guaranteed entry of up to 10 rural students from Southern Cross University who met certain eligibility criteria to Sydney Medical School, was shut down in November 2012 with no announcement or advance warning to students already enrolled.

In a judgment handed down in December, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found that the University of Sydney had acted with “scant regard” to Annabelle Kreutzer, 24, who enrolled in the program in 2012 when she was 20.

“Both universities displayed gross maladministration and a lack of good faith and procedural fairness when they cancelled the pathways program,” the judgment read. “The cancelling was carried out secretly and students were not informed of the termination.”

Kreutzer was already two semesters into her study at Southern Cross University in Lismore when she discovered in February 2013 all mention of the program had disappeared from both universities’ websites.

After making enquiries with Sydney Medical School, she was told the rural pathways program was no longer running and the University of Sydney no longer had any obligations under its agreement.

“I’m two years behind and an extra year of HECS, and it was quite a stressful time sorting out what’s going on,” she said. “We were doing everything we could, but it’s very difficult when you’re a student trying to talk to a uni which obviously has much more power.”

An ongoing legal battle between the University of Sydney and Kreutzer’s father, Philipp Kreutzer, has seen the case brought to the NSW Ombudsman for mediation. In March 2015, he wrote to the University claiming $375,000 in damages accrued by his daughter.

A spokesperson for the University of Sydney denied Annabelle Kreutzer had been given unfair treatment.

“Since the end of the ‘Rural Pathways Program’ in November 2012, the University has made what it believes to be genuine and good faith attempts to address the concerns raised by Ms Annabelle Kreutzer, and her father, Mr Philipp Kreutzer,” an emailed statement read.

A representative of Sydney Medical School further denied the University had mistreated Ms Kreutzer in an email to Mr Kreutzer in March 2013.

“The University notes that you have asserted that you have suffered detriment as a consequence of expiry of the path- ways program between Sydney and Southern Cross. The University does not share your view,” the email read.

In the termination document for the pathways program, seen by Honi Soit, both Southern Cross University and the University of Sydney mutually agreed to disregard a clause in the original agreement that would see them “cooperate fully to make appropriate arrangements for students currently enrolled in the rural pathway program to complete their course of study”.

The University spokesperson said they “[hoped] to reach an agreeable outcome for both parties as part of this conciliation”.