Medical Students / JMOsNews / Opinion

Amanda Vanstone, SMH: Uni students get a free ride for too long with their HECS debt

We pander to the snobbish middle-class at the expense of other school-leavers.
We like to fancy ourselves as being a great nation of egalitarians. Yet when you look closely, we do not always pass the test. Nobody sensible believes that equality of opportunity should mean equality of outcome. But we do like to think that we treat people equally. That we are ”fair”.
Despite our self-image as a fair and egalitarian country, we nonetheless happily treat school-leavers who go to university much more generously than we do all the other school-leavers. This generous treatment only panders to and enhances the snobbish, middle-class, inflated sense of being better that so many tertiary-educated people seem to display.
We all enjoy the benefits of a well-educated society, which is why we should keep seeking to raise the standard. But let’s not forget that those who benefit the most are those that get the better education. University graduates generally get better jobs, have higher incomes, enjoy better health and spend less time in jail.

Amanda Vanstone argues that tertiary graduates should start paying their HECS debt back sooner, before the current income threshold of $45,000 noting that university graduates are already among the most privileged people in society and need no more generosity.

See the full opinion piece at the SMH website here: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/uni-students-get-a-free-ride-for-too-long-with-their-hecs-debt-20110320-1c24r.html

Be sure to read the comments section too!
    <blockquote>Be sure to read the comments section too!</blockquote><br />
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    Yes, definitely, they quickly address the flip side of the coin!
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Something about this article made me throw up a little inside - I think it was the confidence with which Vanstone levied her thoughts coupled with the complete lack of thoughtful consideration. Honestly, education not having any public benefit? This woman needs to get her head on straight.<br />
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Another thing: perhaps if she pulled herself out of the past and actually interviewed a real trade apprentice she might find they have a far greater sense of self-worth than she imagines. Her comments on that only serve to demonstrate her perception of the trade industry.
    The funny thing is she attended university when it was free!
      I don't know, is it that unreasonable? Would it be that bad if we had to start paying our HECs debt back when we hit $30, 000 pa ? Rather then $45,000 Really?<br />
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      I think it is important to remember that although we are poor right now. We are not of low socioeconomic status. If I rocked up at a health clinic, despite the fact that my ability to pay is very miniscule at the moment, they wouldn't think 'uneducated', they wouldn't think 'screen for STIs'. This will last about 3 more years, then automatically jump a few steps up. <br />
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      That said its not a very good idea to combine future and the present as they're not the same. Yes I will have money in the future, however, that doesn't change the fact that I don't have money right now. I am not in a position to pay upfront. I am one of five, and my parents were never going to be able to put us all through upfront university fees. That barrier, is inequitable. Which is why we have the current system. <br />
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      I also think its odd that she's comparing overseas adventures to life in Australia. Compared to the poverty you encounter overseas, most Australians are quite wealthy. However this wealth does not transfer back home. I can easily afford a 3 course meal in Cambodia as it tends to cost ~$10. You CANNOT buy a 3 course meal in Australia for that price. Not to mention you often save up for months for 2 weeks overseas. The spending mentality is very different.<br />
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      edit: also she has very little idea what some students struggle by on. She was able to travel as a uni student. This is an opportunity which some people simply cannot afford. A ticket to Europe ~2000, that money does not come out of thin air.
        <blockquote>I don't know, is it that unreasonable? Would it be that bad if we had to start paying our HECs debt back when we hit $30, 000 pa ? Rather then $45,000 Really?<br />
        <br />
        I think it is important to remember that although we are poor right now. We are not of low socioeconomic status. If I rocked up at a health clinic, despite the fact that my ability to pay is very miniscule at the moment, they wouldn't think 'uneducated', they wouldn't think 'screen for STIs'. This will last about 3 more years, then automatically jump a few steps up. <br />
        <br />
        That said its not a very good idea to combine future and the present as they're not the same. Yes I will have money in the future, however, that doesn't change the fact that I don't have money right now. I am not in a position to pay upfront. I am one of five, and my parents were never going to be able to put us all through upfront university fees. That barrier, is inequitable. Which is why we have the current system. <br />
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        I also think its odd that she's comparing overseas adventures to life in Australia. Compared to the poverty you encounter overseas, most Australians are quite wealthy. However this wealth does not transfer back home. I can easily afford a 3 course meal in Cambodia as it tends to cost ~$10. You CANNOT buy a 3 course meal in Australia for that price. Not to mention you often save up for months for 2 weeks overseas. The spending mentality is very different.<br />
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        edit: also she has very little idea what some students struggle by on. She was able to travel as a uni student. This is an opportunity which some people simply cannot afford. A ticket to Europe ~2000, that money does not come out of thin air.</blockquote><br />
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        This is alright for us as medical students with secure guaranteed employment upon graduation with a salary well above $45,000 but it's pretty rubbish for the student considering whether or not to study Arts or Communication who will likely need to continue to work hard and in less desirable jobs for a while before they reach the heights of middle-class snobbery that Vanstone refers to. Going to uni and incurring a debt of thousands of dollars that you need to pay back while working behind the bar doesn't sound like a particularly appealing prospect to me.
          I think one of the silliest things for a journalist to do these days is to piss off uni students or student intending to soon be uni students.<br />
          I think the $45000 margin is good. Just think, say for example someone graduated with a BSc and got a job in a major city, and the threshold was 30000 or even 25000. Rent in cities is rather expensive at times and I think that the last thing they would want to have to do is pay off a loan and manage to still live on 25000 dollars a year.<br />
          Like someone else mentioned she went to uni when it was free so she probably has no idea.<br />
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          EDIT: And in regards to mentioning the overseas trip, when I go to uni I am intending on trying to do exchange because I would really like to travel but don't have the money in the meantime. It is probably going to be almost impossible for me to do that with how much it will cost.<br />
          And she notes too that we dont need this massive loan, which I really have to argue against. For me personally, if HECS didn't exist regardless of the threshold I would not be going to uni because I simply would not be able to pay for it. I already have to find between 10k and 17k a year for accommodation at uni so it is bad enough.
          <blockquote>This is alright for us as medical students with secure guaranteed employment upon graduation with a salary well above $45,000 but it's pretty rubbish for the student considering whether or not to study Arts or Communication who will likely need to continue to work hard and in less desirable jobs for a while before they reach the heights of middle-class snobbery that Vanstone refers to. Going to uni and incurring a debt of thousands of dollars that you need to pay back while working behind the bar doesn't sound like a particularly appealing prospect to me.</blockquote><br />
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          I don't know how difficult it is to live on $30, 000 pa, while I hardly imagine it would be a walk in the park. I cannot really comment on that. I currently live on $15, 000- $18, 000, its a fairly frugal existance. Also perhaps it MAY be in our interests to get rid of this debt earlier rather then later. <br />
          <br />
          A lot of people spend their entire lives on wages below $45, 000
          <blockquote>I don't know how difficult it is to live on $30, 000 pa, while I hardly imagine it would be a walk in the park. I cannot really comment on that. I currently live on $15, 000- $18, 000, its a fairly frugal existance. Also perhaps it MAY be in our interests to get rid of this debt earlier rather then later. <br />
          <br />
          A lot of people spend their entire lives on wages below $45, 000</blockquote><br />
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          Sure, but what's to be gained by this policy? It's just going to further shift the aim of university toward professional employment and away from cash-strapped departments like the arts faculty because no one will want to enter into a degree that is likely to cripple them financially on graduation. The prospect of debt should not be a limiting factor in entering into university. Debt should be what happens when you have stable, reliable employment.
          I suppose it depends somewhat on what rate of repayment they'd be proposing upon if they dropped the threshold upon which repayments kick in. If the rates are kept sufficiently low at low thresholds, it's reasonable to suggest people would not necessarily be "crippled" by repayments.
          I feel like if you're earning less than $45,000 a year then there isn't all that much room to move. Even if it's not going to cripple you, when I think of my friends studying non-vocational degrees, it would be a significant deterrent.
          <blockquote>I feel like if you're earning less than $45,000 a year then there isn't all that much room to move. Even if it's not going to cripple you, when I think of my friends studying non-vocational degrees, it would be a significant deterrent.</blockquote><br />
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          I wasn't an intern that long ago, and my base wage was approximately $44K (yes, things have improved lately for interns, haven't they?). I didn't even notice my HECS repayment leaving my wallet, because I was earning far more than I ever had, and I was living well within my means. That's the crux of it: how much you earn versus how much you owe. It's when things tip towards debt that you could be crippled by having to pay off at a slightly lower threshold.
          <blockquote>This is alright for us as medical students with secure guaranteed employment upon graduation with a salary well above $45,000 but it's pretty rubbish for the student considering whether or not to study Arts or Communication who will likely need to continue to work hard and in less desirable jobs for a while before they reach the heights of middle-class snobbery that Vanstone refers to. Going to uni and incurring a debt of thousands of dollars that you need to pay back while working behind the bar doesn't sound like a particularly appealing prospect to me.</blockquote><br />
          I don't disagree but I think that's a somewhat unfair comparison to point out, considering that people doing Arts, for example, for the most part, are paying a lot less for their education than we do for ours. Their debt can easily be around a third of ours. Not to mention those going to TAFEs, in which case you're probably looking at less than a quarter of what we pay (and some of them get very good salaries).
          <blockquote>I don't disagree but I think that's a somewhat unfair comparison to point out, considering that people doing Arts, for example, for the most part, are paying a lot less for their education than we do for ours. Their debt can easily be around a third of ours. Not to mention those going to TAFEs, in which case you're probably looking at less than a quarter of what we pay (and some of them get very good salaries).</blockquote><br />
          <br />
          Emphasis on the word <span style="font-weight:bold;">some</span>.
          <blockquote>Emphasis on the word <span style="font-weight:bold;">some</span>.</blockquote><br />
          <br />
          Same deal with med, or any career. SOME get good salaries.
          <blockquote>Same deal with med, or any career. SOME get good salaries.</blockquote><br />
          <br />
          The difference with med and other careers being that most medical graduates get decent salaries whereas not all other graduates even get salaries at all; arguably there's a much higher employment rate for medical graduates than for business, arts, biological and health sciences and so forth. Yes, we pay more but we also have a much better likelihood of a good outcome in which the money we invested will be returned, comparatively. It's like an investment - you're willing to put more money in if you have a better chance of getting it, and more, back in the end.
          <blockquote>most medical graduates get decent salaries</blockquote><br />
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          I tend to disagree with that, though I'm probably comparing it to the amount of work needed.
          The amount of work needed to become a medical graduate? It isn't actually all that difficult unless you want to achieve 6s or 7s.
          You don't get paid for finishing medical school. You get paid for doing a job - which is when all the work begins. ;)
          [OFFTOPIC]LOL i bet if we counted how many times people use " ;) " Chinaski would be No. 1[/OFFTOPIC]
          <blockquote>[OFFTOPIC]LOL i bet if we counted how many times people use " ;) " Chinaski would be No. 1[/OFFTOPIC]</blockquote><br />
          <br />
          [offtopic]If you have any other suggestions to prevent people from getting huffy over comments that were meant in a light-hearted manner, I'm all ears. Meanwhile, I think you'd earn a prize for repeatedly commenting on the way I post. Perhaps time to seek out a hobby or something...?[/offtopic]
          <blockquote>[offtopic]If you have any other suggestions to prevent people from getting huffy over comments that were meant in a light-hearted manner, I'm all ears.[/offtopic]</blockquote><br />
          <br />
          [OFFTOPIC]No way, we love you for who you are ;)[/OFFTOPIC]
          I don't really understand why people are comparing students of different degrees and earning capacities. You have to pay back your HECs debt regardless (unless you die). Really whether you are paying it back earlier or later doesn't really count for much. Unless someone can argue sufficiently that a graduate has much better use for the additional cash then they do at a later date. (e.g. I have savings which I COULD put towards my HECs but it is my belief the funds are better served going towards travel and emergencies at this point) Then I don't see the disadvantage in lowering the barrier for which we have to pay back HECs.
        <blockquote>I don't know, is it that unreasonable? Would it be that bad if we had to start paying our HECs debt back when we hit $30, 000 pa ? Rather then $45,000 Really?<br />
        .</blockquote><br />
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        I was discussing this with some college friends last night and no,I don't think it is entirely unreasonable. In true Vanstone style the piece is blunt and somewhat inflammatory and her overseas anecdotes serve little purpose in backing up her argument but I think too much time is being given to these elements and not the core proposal. <br />
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        I'd wager that people on $30,000pa want and indeed need to keep as much of their earning as possible but some of the knee jerk reactions I've heard sound as though people think she wants us all to pay full fee, upfront. She doesn't.<br />
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        <blockquote>Some would argue she has gone tooo long without exercise? What a ridiculous argument...</blockquote><br />
        Did you mean that "Some would argue she has gone tooo long without exercise?" is a ridiculous argument or that hers is?<br />
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        <blockquote>make us pay and you will significantly increase the skills shortage in australia</blockquote><br />
        <br />
        We pay anyway. I think this quote from the article addresses this well <blockquote>I have no quibble with the investment we make in higher education or in students. I just think that, to be fair, they should have to start paying it back sooner.</blockquote><br />
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        Also,<br />
        <blockquote>not like we need people to cure cancer or anything....?</blockquote><br />
        I'm unconvinced that lowering the threshold for HECS repayments will lead to a decrease in cancer researchers.
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Some would argue she has gone tooo long without exercise? What a ridiculous argument...make us pay and you will significantly increase the skills shortage in australia....not like we need people to cure cancer or anything....?
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I find it ironic that Vanstone didn't say anything like this when she was education minister. Hypocrisy much?<br />
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<blockquote>"Who cares what Vanstone thinks? She was an awful polticiian and these are just the musings of a spoilt, unempathetic howard flunky." ~ Josh, Melbourne.</blockquote><br />
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I agree with this completely.
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As an aside, my family (3 adults [parents and older sibling] and me) lived on $30k (single breadwinner) + maybe an extra $5-10k (centrelink) for a long, long time. We got by fairly well imo. Overseas trips were rare, but I had good food, clothes, a computer with the internet. We had a mortgage on house and car but brilliant frugal tactics by my parents meant that we paid off the mortgage in a few years and had enough to move. This was probably helped by the fact that we lived out in sydney's west and thus had cheaper housing - but I don't think living on $30k as a single person would be too hard, even in sydney. I do agree with the statement that it depends on the rate of repayment, if it's less than a 10th of your salary, that's not really a big deal.
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My boyfriend is on almost exactly 44K/year but rent is 1/3 of that. When you factor in other living expenses, money is relatively tight (for him). I realise that as medical students most people will become doctors, but the reality is that it can be very difficult depending on how much it costs to live in certain places. HECS would only be an additional $50/week, but still, that's $50 in his pocket...
    Yes, it depends on your standards to a certain extent. Many people find it impossible to think of existing on a certain salary with a debt because they can't imagine cutting corners on their lifestyle. The thought of moving into a cheaper suburb, or going without certain things (eg holidays, car, latest gadgets etc) is unthinkable. There are med students rotating through our unit who claim to be pov, but who wear current season mid-range designer clothes, have iPhones (etc), who travel overseas and who drive pretty impressive cars. Sometimes I wonder what they imagine it is like to be well off and comparatively fortunate!
      I think it takes time to degrade what you expect you should have. That's one of the things I value about moving out. Things like my Mum saying "this is not your dream desk, this is a deak which you will study at for your degree". I wasn't expected to, and quickly downgraded my idea that I should live like my parents do. Originally I wanted to buy an android phone until someone literally sat me down and described the benefits of choosing a $40 nokia phone, on a prepaid $20 a month. It suits my purposes very well right now, and I have a lot of leftover to divert into other things.
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She's clearly a hypocritical Communist :p she went to Uni when it was fully funded by the Government so why is she complaining? Shouldn't she then have to pay back all her fees as well? The reason that the Government has this long term HECS program is so that we don't end up like the US where only the wealthy (perhaps a generalization, but it's definitely easier for the rich over there) go to Uni. She's correct in stating that there are several socio-economic factors that often contribute to an individual's chances of getting into Uni but the HECS debt essentially makes it easier for most people to go to Uni. I'm not convinced of her point that Uni students end up being considerably richer than non-uni students. Perhaps for some medicine and dental students this is the case, but I know plenty of well to do tradies who earn much more money that some people who have trained as lawyers, engineers. I'm not even going to get into Arts students. The HECS system is as fair a system as you will get, unless the Government wants to fully fund University places, in which case I won't complain :p
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