University students across the country have expressed outrage at proposed legislation which would stop young Australians from accessing HECS funding if they fail too many subjects.

Molly Willmott, National President of the National Union of Students, today said that Education Minister Dan Tehan‘s proposal will “force students into a lifetime of debt and punish those who struggle” in their studies.

The proposed legislation calls for future HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP support to be cut off to anyone who fails more than 50% of their existing course load.

While Tehan says universities will be allowed to waive that measure for students who can prove illness or bereavement impacted their studies, Willmott says the proposal ignores many of the reasons why students may fail their classes.

“Limited access to study, financial instability, education quality, disability, and the ongoing crisis of mental health in the student body are just some of the impediments to student success,” she said.

Shovan Bhattarai, Education Officer at the University of New South Wales Student Representative Council, said the decision was a “massive attack on working class students” and an attempt to “further entrench universities as institutions of the rich.”

That position was backed by Hannah Buchan, President of the University of Melbourne Student Union, who added that any move to bar students from HECS would only make life worse for many Australians during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Threatening to rip all government education support from students as a punishment for failing subjects will only exacerbate this crisis and lead to real harm,” she said.

Advocacy group End Rape On Campus said the proposed policy could impact survivors who struggle to maintain their studies after experiencing sexual violence.

The proposal has also been criticised by Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek and Greens spokesperson for Education, NSW Senator Mehreen Faruqi.

“We should be resourcing universities to help struggling students, not denying those students government support to finish their studies,” Faruqi said.

The plan forms part of a broader reform package, which is also slated to boost the cost of some humanities degrees.

Parliament will return for its next sitting week on August 24.

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