SCU students (from left): Michael Grippo, of Lismore, Jason Gough, of Tuntable Creek, and Gillian O'Brien of Yamba.
SCU students (from left): Michael Grippo, of Lismore, Jason Gough, of Tuntable Creek, and Gillian O'Brien of Yamba. The Northern Star

HECS debt is just one reason for uni unrest

'IRRATIONAL, inconsistent and complex' is how Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard described HECS in a discussion paper released last week.

And while debt wasn't the centre of discussion at Southern Cross University following exams last Friday - the word HECS provoked a passionate response from students, who admitted to suffering financial hardship as a result of the system.

Jason Gough is a second-year nursing student at SCU and will graduate with a HECS debt of about $13,000.

He believes students should be given more income support during their studies, especially at times they have to carry out full-time hospital placements that they do not get paid for.

"Next year we'll have to work full-time at hospitals during the semester and we won't get any assistance. I have a wife and kids, so I don't know how they expect us to survive," he said.

According to Ms Gillard's discussion paper, while there are student loans available, not all students have access to these loans and limits apply depending on the courses being taken.

Michael Grippo is also in his second year of a nursing degree and said that buying textbooks, which often cost in excess of $100, should be subsidised to help out students.

"The books should be subsidised in the first year at least," he said.

"I mean, government keeps complaining that there aren't enough nurses, but they don't make it easy for people to get the qualifications.

"Also, putting two per cent interest on HECS loans is pathetic and the Federal Government shouldn't be making money from us because we're studying."

Following up Ms Gillard's discussion paper will be a detailed report on HECS, to be released by a higher education review later this year.

It will investigate matters including the ability of the higher education sector to cater for workforce demands and the adequacy of university funding arrangements.

While the wishes of SCU student Jessie Henderson, who believes university education should be free, may not be met, an overhaul of the HECS system may result.


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