“My life is mortgaged to the university”

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Wendy Harper is a 22-year-old working class student from The Basin, who is studying first year humanities at Latrobe University.

“One of the impacts of the education cuts is day students being forced to take classes in the evening, because the University is no longer prepared to fund both a day and evening class. Full-time students are less likely to have their own transport. These cuts mean we are forced on to campus at night.

Two of my tutorials were amalgamated, and we had a change of tutor midway through the semester, which was destabilising. Both these situations were caused by funding cuts.

I get $186 per fortnight as a student living away from home. Bills keep going up, but Austudy doesn’t. I guess the government rationale is that it is preparing us for the future as unemployed workers! The criteria for who can access Austudy is amazingly unfair. Because your parent has an income, they only give you a certain amount, but they don’t take into consideration that you may not have lived at home for years or, as in the case of my mother, she is paying off a mortgage, she is a single parent and she is debt. Austudy takes assets into account, but it is obvious that they expect you to sell everything off and live in an empty room! I couldn’t afford a textbook, and so I had to sell off some of my furniture to pay for books. I got $35. The book turned out to be $40 anyway!

I looked up my HECS debt every now and then. Then I forget about it, because it is so traumatic. I’m in debt to the government for ages and, as the crisis deepens, I worry they may change the system midstream and demand full payment at any time. You can’t live overseas without paying off you HECS debt first.

We’re trapped in a system. You may get close to paying HECS off, and then lose your job. The debt will then go up because of interest. I feel like my life is mortgaged to the university! The amount of money they get is increasing, but at the same time the quality of service is decreasing. But we are supposed to feel lucky, because there are so many qualified potential students who can’t get a university place at all!

This year the editors of the student newspaper were feminists. Because they wouldn’t hide their sexuality, a lot of people saw that as an excuse to attack them. They did a fabulous job. The paper was leftwing. But last election, a rightwing group called ‘Balance’ got elected. Who wants ‘balance?’ I don’t want to read any neo-Nazi propaganda in my student newspaper!”

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