Failing uni students to lose HECS-HELP access

University students who fail more than half their subjects face losing government financial support under a proposal unveiled today by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan:

Tehan says it’s about ensuring students can’t take on a study load they won’t complete, leaving them with a large bill and no qualification.

However, the students’ union claims it’s a “punitive” measure:

“We’re looking at a crisis of mental health in students right now where they are not reporting to their university that they’re depressed or they have anxiety. Those are the things that really punish students. We have students with disabilities that cannot access proper support… We have students who face discrimination on campuses who feel they cannot go to class who are really going to get hurt by this package…

“I don’t think that incentivising through fear brings the best results or puts students in a job ready mindset. It will just put more pressure on students, which will just lead to further issues with mental health, which we are already suffering with…”

How are these reforms in any way unreasonable, especially given there are explicit provisions for “special circumstances”?

If a student is failing multiple units, they should clearly not be at university. In this regard, the 50% fail rate is incredibly generous. It should be closer to 20%.

If someone is failing more than half their units, they have obviously bitten off more than they can chew and should pull the pin on their studies, rather than wasting more time and taxpayer’s money on a lost cause.

That said, these reforms seem more about political messaging given they make little practical difference. They look like an attempt to show that the government is all for ‘high standards’ and no more ‘dumbed down education’.

It would also be nice to see universities get on the front foot and raise the standards of entry so these types of situations cannot occur. But that would go against their ‘bums on seats’, ‘degree factory’ model of earning rather than learning.

Leith van Onselen


  1. GunnamattaMEMBER

    I have to confess that I didnt get the furore/commentary this seemed to get in press and social media this morning.

    I thought you lost out if you didnt pass half your subjects already. I am sure that was the case back in the days of TEAS – if you didnt have half marks they pulled the student allowance.

    I do find myself wondering how many students have been failing more than half and going back to do it over again.

    • As long as there are provisions for extenuating circumstances its not too unreasonable. If you far enough along in the semester you cant just drop out without it being marked as a fail grade. If you have a family bereavement that impacts your studies then they should have to take this into account.

      In my case when I studied It was at the end of the last recession and there was no part time work around. Only jobs I could get were also at the same time as most lectures because of the focus the Uni had on helping part time students. They ran most of the classes between 11am and 9pm, most of my shifts were between 4pm and 10pm.. I ended up missing lots of lectures and fell behind regularly, failing lots of classes.

      Though I would question the intelligence of sending a student out into a high unemployment environment where they are going to end up on welfare instead of having them educated, even if its somewhat slower than most would find acceptable.

    • Jumping jack flash

      I thought universities cut you off after a certain amount of fails or suggest an easier degree?

      Haven’t failed any uni subjects so not sure.

  2. SoCalSurfCreeperMEMBER

    Seems reasonable but this is a sideshow. Not a very good one. Maybe 4/10 on the Trump sideshow scale. Whichever intern on Tehan’s staff dreamed up this turkey should lose their access to hecs/help.

  3. Hahahahaha!

    More downward pressure on standards.

    In the eternal words of Cornholio, “I need degree for my bunghole”

    • chuckmuscleMEMBER

      Spot on myne. As if uni’s wont just lower standards!!! FFS this is obvious.

      Why not make the uni’s responsible for student debt that has not been repaid after 5 years following graduation? That way courses will be priced properly (according to demand/expected salaries determined by a market (hopefully)) and standards will lift so as not to attract future liabilities on the universities balance sheet.

  4. When I went through uni by my estimation at least half the women at uni were really only doing a degree in Mrs.
    Uni grades and Hecs debts only matter if they are unsuccessful in achieving their Mrs goals.
    Similarly when I went to Uni the goal of Uni’s was continuing education for the top 10% to 15% of High school students, today unis aspire to educate (or at least get paid to entertain) anyone with a pulse.
    I suspect all the problems that you allude to would be instantly fixed if Uni’s returned to their traditional roles.

    • Display NameMEMBER

      Year 10 when I was at school was 145 people (For some reason I remember these numbers)
      About 48 started year 11, 43 finished 12.. Finishing year was 1980.
      About 6 of the people from year 12 went straight to uni. More went subsequently I believe. So < 5% initially and we all had early acceptance I believe.

      • Yeah that’s about the same numbers that I remember something like 150 in year 10 with maybe 50 finishing their HSC. about half of those completing their HSC went on to uni but I suspect that the percentage was higher than at the local public high school, because I went to a private school.

        • Jumping jack flash

          It changed shortly after i completed my first undergraduate in 1999. I still had to compete for a place in the course i wanted to do after completing the HSC. Some time after that there wasn’t a concept of “places”.

  5. Its coz those grifters who keep failing their classes are taking place of more deserving international students who not only can find a way of passing their exams despite not being able to read or speak English or in some cases not even attend classes but can also do it while simultaneously holding down 5 minimum wage part time essential service jobs

    • NoodlesRomanovMEMBER

      From what I saw doing a masters degree over ten years ago, when it came to assignments, anything short of sh1tting on a piece of paper will get you a pass.

  6. If you can’t PP your way to degree in some of these unis you probably shouldn’t be there.

  7. Hmmmmm what will the unemployment rate be if they stop hiding unemployed people in uni?

    The job shops love pulling strings with unis to get people into tertiary preparation programs, they get someone off the dole and onto student payments for a semester at least, collect their bonus and move onto the next sucker. The unis love it too, prep programs are far too simple but come with an almost guaranteed entry to a degree. Nearly all these people (uni staff, jobshops) know that it’s a short term solution for the individual who almost always goes back on the dole but they get to clip the ticket on the way through.

    Some of my uni tutor friends that work in the prep programs say the only way they cope/justify it to themselves is that they usually get a few people each batch that have genuinely missed a chance in the past and actually make it all the way to graduation and decent jobs.

    • Jumping jack flash

      They’ll pull a Howard and stick all the long term unemployed onto the disability pension and then pork barrel it like there’s no tomorrow so they stay there

  8. My issue is not with folks that are failing. What about the folks that keep passing, and keep doing useless degrees that rack up a HELP debt with no intention of ever really working.

    The answer is to make the institution underwrite the debt. If not collected within 5 years, the university pays half. And they pay the rest after 10 years and they can chase up the student themselves.

  9. At the university I work at, if students fail 50% of their subjects they are prevented from enrolling in anymore subjects. They then have to pass a study skills course, and meet with an academic and explain their issues and why they should be allowed to re-enrol. If they don’t provide reasonable explanations we don’t allow them to continue in their degree.

  10. I do wonder if the opposite would have been better: Get 95%+ and get reduced fees?
    You know, give people an incentive rather than disincentive.

  11. This is a bullsh#t publicity stunt as all Australian universities have progress rules for domestic students that require them to pass 50% of units or they get booted out.

    • Its completely a stunt as you say. The education minister is a joke. We have youth unemployment climbing, final year high school students studies impacted. University students that do placements and/or require work experience to complete degrees impacted. Many universities pivoting to offer online programs. There is a big need for quality debate and policy for all things education. All he can muster is a plan to import foreign students during the travel ban to keep the $$ coming and now this stunt. He’s next to useless at a time the education sector really needs vision and leadership to reform itself.

  12. Tell that to firms that assisted me through many of my studies – failed anything and had to repay immediately (and probably get sacked as well). Was an added driver to study hard.