Australian Universities Push For Hecs-Like Loan Scheme For Non-Degree Short Courses | Australian universities

Australian universities are pushing for the introduction of a Hecs-like loan scheme to cover “micro-degrees” to encourage people to upgrade through short courses.

In its pre-budget submission, Universities Australia suggests that loans for short courses in areas such as bushfire preparedness or digital health could prepare Australians for future crises, while also helping the academic sector to recover. years of lost income due to the pandemic.

This is one of 12 recommendations Universities Australia made to the federal government ahead of Tuesday’s federal budget.

The supreme body said the higher education loan program (Help), formerly known as Hecs, should be expanded to cover “micro-degrees” – which are certifications that are not degrees. or formal qualifications, but are always assessed and provide additional or additional information. learning.

Universities Australia said there is currently a financial barrier, especially for working Australians, to enrolling in these courses.

“The existing financial incentives in Australia do not support workers facing time constraints for training or workers transitioning to new occupations. Prospective students who are short on time… currently have to pay up front for the micro-degrees not awarded.

“To remove these financial barriers, the government should consider extending eligibility for the higher education loan program to unassigned micro-degrees… This improves the affordability of education and training by removing the need. initial payment of course fees. “

The bushfire exposure assessment at the University of Melbourne (which costs $ 1,490) and the Fundamentals of Digital Health in Hospitals at Deakin University (which costs $ 1,909) are examples two micro-accreditations that would be covered by the proposal.

AU Chief Executive Catriona Jackson told Guardian Australia that the innovation and diversity of these micro-accreditations made them “attractive to students”.

Public universities were excluded from Jobkeeper during the pandemic, after the government made a series of changes to the program’s rules, and more than 17,000 people are estimated to have lost their jobs.

And controversial higher education reforms, known as ready-to-go graduates, have reduced overall funding to universities.

In their budget submission, universities said it had “never been clearer” during the bushfire and Covid crises that government funding for research and experts was vital.

In its submission, the supreme body also argued that the “reduction in funding per student place” as a result of higher education reforms “puts additional pressure on the university sector already under very significant pressure. amid the closure of Australia’s international borders ”.

The AU is also calling on the government to “increase long-term investments in university research” and to provide “adequate support for state and territory plans to bring international students back to Australia”.

Earlier, the national chairman of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Errol Phuah, told Guardian Australia that states and the Commonwealth “blame each other, no one takes real responsibility” for bringing students back.

The government has given universities an additional $ 1 billion in research funding in 2020 to deal with the pandemic, but UA has called on the government to increase its investment in “long-term” research.

Universities are also asking the government for more direct support to help them commercialize research, open demand-driven venues for all Indigenous students (whereas currently this only applies to regional and remote Indigenous students) , and the continuation of flexibility measures for student visas. introduced during the pandemic.

The submission notes “a very small selection of examples” of how universities helped Australia during the bushfire and Covid-19 crises of 2020, including the University of South Australia and the ‘Flinders University helping produce locally made masks and bushfire detection modeling created by Australian National University.

“The availability of experts on the subjects needed to fight a pandemic is no accident,” they said in their submission. “This is the result of a long-term investment by government and universities in all research disciplines. “