A student progress problem is a heavy handed policy


Excluding students from one institution may lead them to trying at another

Angel Calderon in CMM this week highlights an important issue which I had expected to feature in the “levelling up” panel discussion at last week’s Universities Australia conference – i.e. the Job-ready Graduates reforms aimed at reducing the number of students who incur significant HECS debts but do not complete.

In 2020, Andrew Norton described these reforms as “too heavy handed”. He explained their complexities thus “say a student fails to complete four of eight subjects in first year. They keep their entitlement. But if the student then fails to complete three of four subjects in the first semester of second year their running total is seven failures to complete twelve subjects taken” and they lose access to Commonwealth support. For students undertaking sub-Bachelor courses their failure rate “starts calculating from four subjects.”

As Angel Calderon warns, the ‘student progress rate’ is currently falling, i.e. more students are likely to have Commonwealth support withdrawn. And on top of that, anecdotal advice indicates there is another significant flaw in the reforms.

Students are failing enough subjects that they cannot continue their course with their existing university … and so they are starting again at another university. Not only does this mean the reforms fail to achieve their aim, but students need to leave the university where they have built relationships and established themselves, to be able to keep accessing government funding for their studies.

Have these reforms created a hidden, circulating, cohort of vulnerable students desperately needing more support and unable to gain it at the institution of their choice?

In a separate issue from last week’s UA conference – Megan Davis was right to call out the political nature of the university sector’s decision not to collectively support the Voice.

It was disconcerting to hear university leaders who spoke at the conference, all taking the time to recognise and pay respects to traditional owners, yet most apparently do not wish to publicly support a change to provide this kind of respect and recognition in the Constitution.

As Ross Wissing, Andrew Saniga and Robert Freestone wrote in 2021, Australian universities are on unceded land. The time is now for the university sector to fully grasp this critical issue and to lead the debate. Australia is decades behind other Commonwealth countries in its recognition of First Nations people.

A promising step (in the interests of encouraging free speech) would be for UA to make the video of Prof. Davis’ speech freely available on their website.

Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector



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