Failing University Students to be Cut Off from HELP Loans
The government is cracking down on failing university students by making them ineligible for a HELP debt if they fail 50% of their first year subjects. That gives students four chances to meet the academic expectations of a university education before being penalised.
The overhaul comes in response to snowballing HELP debts that aren’t being repaid.
“These measures will ensure students can’t take on a study load they won’t complete, leaving them without a qualification but a large debt,” Education Minister Dan Tehan said.
While the measures are targeting extreme cases of over-enrollment, it’s a move that could see 2500 students affected every year.
A large Australian study exposed that in four major study areas – education, civil engineering, nursing and commerce – between 23% and 52% of students failed at least one unit of their degree.
Tehan also said: “Research has shown that nearly 6% of university students fail every subject in their first year.”
Why are Failure Rates so High in Universities?
In Australia, we hold an ingrained societal bias that a university qualification holds more value than a VET or TAFE qualification. Because of this, many students enrol in higher education degrees anticipating better career prospects and higher pay.
While this perception is far from the truth in many instances, it has seen the higher education industry grow exponentially in recent years, while vocational education has gone unfavoured.
This leads to concerns that lower-ATAR students are being encouraged to enrol in university, despite the likelihood of them performing better in vocational education and obtaining better job prospects. These students can easily become disengaged.
Disengagement in higher education is characterised by several intrinsic and extrinsic factors:
- psychological factors
- low motivation
- inadequate preparation for higher education
- unmet or unrealistic expectations
- competing demands
- institutional structure and processes
- teaching quality and online teaching and learning
The academic nature of tertiary study isn’t suited to everyone. Skills Minister, Michaelia Cash, drew the stark comparison between university and skill-based qualifications, saying: “University is for learning, VET is for earning”.
This doesn’t mean VET students don’t learn. Senator Cash’s statement directly implies VET is for learning practical skills which prepare students to enter the job market and immediately start earning. University, on the other hand, is often pursued by those passionate about exploring the deeper knowledge and theory of an industry, or as a pathway to further, specialised study.
University is an environment made to teach transferable skills, preparing students for many opportunities, rather than the very specific and specialised training of a vocational education.
For students who aren’t interested in academia or formalised learning, but feel pressured to obtain a university degree – whether because of parental influence, peer influence or societal influence – they’re likely to fall into a spiral of disengagement, leading to subject fails and potential dropouts.
What Causes University Students to Fail
It’s not laziness that causes tertiary education students to fail, rather a multitude of factors, including:
- study habits and attitudes
- life circumstances such as health
- employment and family responsibilities
- institutional factors such as policies, procedures and the curriculum.
Unfortunately, failing one university subject more often than not snowballs into multiple failures, either in the same subject or another subject in the same course. This occurs about 58% of the time.
Who is TAFE Better For?
For students already unsure about whether university would be the right fit, these new measures make the prospect of entering higher education even more daunting.
With every first-year university student being given four fail strikes before losing their HELP access, the pressure to do well is amplified. Not only can this be detrimental to mental health, it’s also not conducive to a positive learning environment for those already doubting their academic abilities.
There are many benefits to pursuing vocational education over higher education, especially for people who value practical learning and real-world skills.
TAFE is Better for People Who:
Want higher chances of entering the job market immediately
Vocational education graduates have an employment rate that is 10% higher than university graduates.
This is because, while university focuses on academic theory, a vocational education engages students with industry leaders and arms them with training before they graduate. Getting industry-specialised training through VET or TAFE breaks the cycle of: “I can’t get experience without a job, but I can’t get a job without experience,” a phenomenon which plagues university graduates.
78% of VET students find employment after graduating, compared to 69% of university graduates. In fact, two out of three university grads say their degree didn’t prepare them to find a job in their field.
Want a better salary
In quite a few instances, a vocational education can set graduates up with a better salary than university graduates.
According to research from Grattan Institute, “Vocational diplomas in construction, engineering, and commerce typically lead to higher lifetime incomes than many low-ATAR university graduates are likely to earn, especially those with degrees in popular fields such as science and humanities.”
On average, VET graduates have a slightly higher median salary of $56,000 than bachelor degree graduates ($54,000).
Want to upskill quickly and flexibly
VET and TAFE courses are short, inexpensive and made to be flexible around work and other commitments. This makes these courses a perfect option for workers looking to upskill to either increase their career prospects, or avoid being left behind by industry changes like digital disruption.
The practical nature of these qualifications also means students can apply newfound skills to their jobs as they learn them. NCVER also stated in their 2019 VET Student Outcomes Report that 18% of students already employed were “employed at a higher skill level after training”.
As a society, we need to shed ideals around the “prestige” of a university degree, and welcome the many individual and wider economic benefits of vocational education.
If you’re seeking real-world skills leading to a rewarding career, TAFE and VET are excellent pathways. There are qualifications for every passion, and every skill level.
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