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blue milk also writes for The Guardian and Fairfax publications. You can read more about her at her own blog, blue milk.

12 Responses

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  1. Jo
    Jo at |

    This is such an excellent piece! (Yours, blue milk, I still have to read the original piece.) It really surprises me sometimes at uni how different perspective and situation is to that of the majority of my friends, many of whom are supported by their parents, or still live at home, or have lived in the city all their lives, or haven’t even had a part time job. And I’m still relatively privileged in that I’m white and my parents have degrees and I don’t have a disability.

    Arghh, and it makes me so mad when other people I know go on and on about how utterly unfair it is that Aboriginal students get more Abstudy (and payments for higher degrees and stuff) than non-Aboriginal students. Grrrrr.

  2. Jo
    Jo at |

    And now that I have read the article, I would like to express how profoundly grateful I am for the centrelink money I get and the fact that I was able to get Australian citizenship and thus deferable HECS fees. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. Moz From Chch
    Moz From Chch at |

    From the privileged end, it astonished me to discover just how much harder it was for poorer kids to stay at uni. Everything was harder, from the small things like not having anyone pick them up from the bus depot when they went home for the “holidays” (when even rich white kids like me worked our butts off), through to the really obvious things like financial support running the other way – kids at uni having to support their families financially because they were relatively rich thanks to student loans.

    Which is another big thing – I’m well off enough that money (and other support) flows from older to younger generations barring exceptional circumstances. A lot of poorer kids need to be successful and quickly so they can support their siblings, parents and grandparents.

    One of the more interesting bits of social capital is just having enough engagement with the university system to know that some degrees pay better than others, and that there are “hobby degrees” that rarely lead to careers that pay enough to make someone middle class (let alone support a family as middle class). Arts, music, theatre…. you name it. People doing well with those degrees tend to have a lot of social capital before they start.

    And then there are narrow pyramid careers like photography and architecture that seem all professional and upper class, but only 1% of the graduates make decent money and the rest struggle, often in intermittent work. Just encouraging students to think about the bottom 50% of graduates can be very revealing – a mediocre accounting or engineering graduate is likely to be comfortably off where a mediocre arts or science grad is going to be working as “other”…

  4. Purrdence
    Purrdence at |

    If it weren’t for HECS I’d never be able to have been able to afford to go to uni.

  5. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    HECS was huge for me too, Purrdence. It (or whatever it’s called now) is also the only way my daughter is going to be able to do the course that she wants to do. The same will probably be true for my son once he finishes his Transition to Work disability support program.

  6. Jo
    Jo at |

    I wish deferrable HECS were available to Australian Permanent Residents as well, though. After having to pay three grand up front for my first semester, I tried to arrange getting citizenship very quickly, which fortunately worked. I can imagine there are people who aren’t so lucky.

  7. orlando
    orlando at |

    This is all a huge issue for Aboriginal students, in particular. An Aboriginal kid with an ambition, ability or talent of any kind is highly likely to need to move away from family centres and support networks to pursue it. I’m sure I don’t have to remind everyone what a history there is of that kind of separation working out really, really badly. A scholarship would only be a very small beginning towards making achievement under such stressful circumstances likely.

  8. Andrew
    Andrew at |

    Oh! good post.Not Only education is a political issue but also a dirty education is a political issue.That’s main cause poverty & corruption.

  9. Chris
    Chris at |

    Jo – Once you have permanent residency you can get citizenship though can’t you? And since we allow dual citizenship now I don’t think its too big a request to ask of people in order to qualify for HECS.

    I do think there should however be an equivalent scheme for TAFE courses though. There’s just as much reason to have a deferred loan scheme for trades training as there is for university degrees.

    The downside to the introduction of HECS has been that many of the company funded university scholarships seem to have disappeared and that burden has shifted from private to public funding.

  10. Mary
    Mary at | *

    Chris: there is a delay between getting permanent residency and being eligible for citizenship. It depends on the grounds for citizenship but includes things like: 4 years continuous residency in Australia including at least 12 months on a PR visa; and absences from Australia totaling no more than 90 days in the 12 months before applying. Look for form 1300t at if you are interested.

    Further, while we allow dual citizenship, some countries do not even when their citizenship was obtained by birth, or first: they strip their citizenship when a citizen voluntarily takes another one. I know several German citizens who remain Australian permanent residents for this reason: they would like to be Australian citizens but are unwilling to forgo their right of return to Germany. Spain is similar, I think. (I’ve also known a few eligible people who don’t want to be Australian citizens for other reasons: most often, they object to compulsory electoral enrollment.)

    So, the short answer is that by no means all permanent residents are eligible to become citizens by the anticipated start of their degree, and there are some reasons why you may be eligible to and not wish to.

    ETA: “qualify for HECS” isn’t exactly right. Permanent residents qualify for it: they get the same significantly reduced tuition rates that citizens pay, ie HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme, with the contribution being the government paying the university for a chunk of their tuition). International students pay all that tuition themselves, international fees are a lot higher. It’s that permanent residents don’t qualify for HECS-HELP, ie the loan of the remainder to be paid back later. Only citizens qualify for that. Nor do permanent residents get the 10% discount on the domestic tuition fees that citizens get if they elect to pay upfront rather than take the loan.

  11. Chris
    Chris at |

    So, the short answer is that by no means all permanent residents are eligible to become citizens by the anticipated start of their degree, and there are some reasons why you may be eligible to and not wish to.

    As you explain permanent residents are already quite heavily subsidised by the government. And the HECS loans impose a burden on the government. There’s perhaps some edge conditions for people newly arrived in the country. But for those who haven’t bothered or don’t want to get citizenship I don’t think its unreasonable to restrict access to the loan scheme – its a financial trade off that they can make.

    If people really are concerned about returning to the country they came from it brings into question the financial return that the government may get from subsidising their education. Since if they do their degree and then return to their home country not only will they have received a subsidised education, but they will also not have to pay back the HECS loan – and the country is likely to get little benefit from the skills they have acquired.

  12. shonias
    shonias at | *

    Love this post. It’s SO important, and so poorly understood.

    In my teacher training last year, we discussed cultural capital (knowledge) vs social capital. In my tutorial, lots of people could not see how social capital could possibly be worth more than cultural capital (mostly younger people, but definitely all people in possession of a great deal of social capital). I also don’t think they were convinced by either the arguments in our tutorial or the course itself. So from my tutorial class alone, I can tell you there’s at least a half dozen more PE, English & Maths teachers out there who have no concept of the value of social capital, and therefore the cost of not having it. Given its importance in education, I can’t help feeling that it deserves more than half a tutorial in February within a teaching degree.

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