Content Warning: institutional betrayal, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The Morrison government has proposed another education policy that unduly impacts students. ScoMo, is there no end to your policy that treats education as an economic transaction instead of one which fosters the learning and growth of Australian youth? The proposal of the ‘exclusion-for-failure’ policy (as termed by fellow columnist Eammon Gummley) reveals that we cannot hope too much.
The exclusion-for-failure policy will legislate to exclude students who have failed half of their subjects in first year from the HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP government education loan systems. Such a policy is aimed to reduce a debt cycle that is footed by taxpayers. It also serves to satisfy the notion that taxpayer money should contribute to a public good. Failing students, instead of being the boon to society as one would hope from a youth population gaining tertiary education, paint a rather dire picture of frivolous youths squandering their opportunities alongside taxpayer money. Not a sight that the Morrison government wants to be seen endorsing.
One key point made in opposition to this policy is that it will unfairly impact students with valid reasons for failing their courses. Crucial to consider nonetheless is that the legislation itself explicitly details the individual university’s ability to give out exemptions. This caveat is supposed to account for students being affected by mental health, disability or other adverse factors to their studies. However, in bestowing the power of the university to define what constitutes an ‘adverse factor’ and its merit in justifying a ‘fair failure’, the government places undue and perhaps, naive faith in university institutions. When it comes to listening to students and being understanding of their issues, universities are better known within the student body to be dismissive or to superficially pursue action instead of instigating systematic and cultural betterment.
If the Government policy provides no process for its standardisation across universities, nor a Code of Conduct in the assessment of a ‘fair failure’, then it does little to protect students against institutional failure and betrayal. That in itself, is the key issue. There is no transparency in this policy that details how students will be assessed on their ability to gain exemption from a failure. The government has pawned off this process to individual universities. Yet without a government sanctioned standard, there is little to hold the university accountable to treating students in a fair, empathetic and inclusive manner.
The point was raised that as ANU wishes to keep its students, there is hope that the institution will tighten Access & Inclusion to be more accessible to students applying for special considerations and possibly, exemptions from failure. I wish we could confidently place such faith in the institution. However, three years of inaction on sexual assault and sexual harassment policy, the lack of student mental health services despite long waiting lists and using students in colleges as cash cows to pay off Kambri throws into serious doubt whose interests the ANU chooses to protect. Even when it comes at the expense of student anger and in some cases, decisions to leave the ANU, our university has done little to increase transparency of its practices or listen to student demands.
The truth with policies like this is that it is always students who pay the price for institutional failure and betrayal. In this case, quite literally so.
You can read the other side of the argument here.