15% discount to HELP debts for years affected by COVID-19

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COVID-19 is the once in a lifetime event no one could ever have predicted.

Our generation, throughout COVID-19 have faced massive job losses, or had cut hours, or are on casual contracts with no job security or access to government funding. We are losing employment, skills, opportunities and emerging into a recession labour market.

Young people are expected to face a loss of cumulative income of $32,000 over the next 10 years. We are expected to lose $30,000 in our retirement funds and lose $22,000 in borrower capacity for our first homes. Yet I am facing the burden of a $51,000 loan to the government as I enter into the workforce. 

We have been subject to paying full fees for a university course taught online. Despite the best efforts of staff, it’s just not the same. We’ve had our whole world turned upside down to protect those who were gifted the opportunity to sail through university for nothing. 

We are watching lectures on computers and laptops we’ve purchased ourselves which are entitled to no tax deductions. We are paying rent and bills for colleges or rooms so that we can live in the city for universities that we can’t physically attend. We pay for high speed internet to try to maintain connection through Zoom tutorials. We have been denied access to the universities, and libraries at the height of the pandemic, and forced to share learning spaces with family members, housemates, and kids. 

So much of both State and Federal economic relief has focused on every other demographic except university students. Rather, we have be dealt the worst hand of all - proposed increases in fees for courses studied by many of the people who have made the law.

We feel forgotten. We feel robbed. We feel anxious. 

Almost a quarter of people who’ve felt mental distress this year were aged 18 to 24. The lack of certainty that COVID-19 has created has only bolstered pre-existing fears of not securing employment after university and chances are that so many of us will be negatively affected by future job security as a result of the COVID-19 recession. 

The Federal Budget has just been announced and while there are many aspects that will support young Australians both mentally and financially, there has been nothing announced to address the large debts we all face upon graduation. I propose that for the years 2020 and 2021, university students receive a discount of 15% from HELP debts. 

Discounts to HELP debts are not a new phenomenon. Up until the 1st of January 2017, students who voluntarily repaid more than $500 towards their HECS-HELP debts received a bonus 5% contribution by the government towards their debts and those who elected to partly pay more than $500 upfront to their universities could receive a discount of 10%.

With the HELP repayment threshold continually creeping further down, many of us will be repaying significant amounts of our debts in our first year of post-university employment. Gross national debt in the road to recovery is predicted to surpass $1 trillion which is already an immense economic burden that our generation will shoulder for many years to come. Our HELP debts do not need to exacerbate this. 

With 1000 signatures I hope to deliver this to Hon. Dan Tehan MP for Wannan and Minister for Education to request a 15% discount to HELP debts for the years impacted by COVID-19.