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I left school at 15. I didn’t finish Year 10. There were a number of reasons for that. My family weren’t prepared to support me in an education. From around the age of 11 I was told no one was going to support me at university or teacher’s college. It was a blue collar background where education wasn’t valued. By the time I was 15 home life was dysfunctional and I opted out. But  I never gave up on getting an education.

Later I went to NZ and I did night school and correspondence courses and got that Year 10 certificate. Then I did the NZ version of the university entrance studies with three babies at home by correspondence. I was accredited! I even applied for teacher’s college.

After my marriage broke up, I ended up back in Australia, a single mother with three kids earning a low wage. That urge to better myself was still there. I worked in a stockbroking firm and was paid badly. I hated being looked down on because I didn’t have a piece of paper. I hated being poor and just managing to get by in life. I wanted better for my children. Would you believe even then I had opposition from family and friends to going to university?

At the time, there were government supports available. I went on the sole parent pension and received an addition $30 for studying. There was affordable childcare. I went to TAFE to do my Higher School Certificate as my NZ certificate wasn’t enough. I worked hard over 12 months and then just when it was coming together, the Labor government brought in HECS. My first year of university was under the new scheme. If I’d applied myself earlier I could have taken advantage of Whitlam’s free education. I was devastated. Everything I had been working towards seemed in jeopardy but I wasn’t ready to give up my dream so I did get a degree in Economics from the University of Sydney with a major in accounting. Unfortunately for me when I completed my studies there was a recession and very little opportunities for graduates, particularly mature age ones. I was 32 years old.

I got a job in the public service. Eventually, I paid off my HECS, at the time it was $10,000 and the CPI index rate was about 8 per cent. It was hard work. I had three children to support. When they take your HECS repayment there is no concession if you have kids. It’s just a flat rate based on income. I remember the relief of paying it off.

For me, education opened up new opportunities. I was able to break the poverty cycle. I climbed out of the black pit of despair. I pulled my children up with me. I recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing. It’s all paid off now (and was rather cheap!). When I was that young 15 year old, I had no expectations of anything. Just existing. Having a free or accessible education is one element to get people studying. Other supports are needed to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds access education. Like me there is opposition and responsibilities to support your wider family. Those with backgrounds without educated relatives or who have relatives who don’t value an education, it’s not only the study and getting yourself there, it’s overcoming the opposition.

I remember a couple of friends at university. They came from expensive private schools and their parents paid their HECS upfront and got a discount. I remember feeling the injustice of that on a number of levels. They were expected to get a degree as it was natural for them to. Their parents gave them an allowance and paid their HECS, student union fees and textbooks. When you come from an disadvantaged background, you get none of that. You have to justify to others that you have a dream to get somewhere, that you want to study.

These days I’m still flabbergasted about the opposition I faced in getting an education. It changed my life. It changed my children’s life. It lifted my self-esteem immensely and my graduation day is still one of the best moments of my life and one I am so proud of.

The introduction of HECS nearly pushed me out of education. Because I couldn’t let go of the dream I took a risk. The fact that you had to earn money before it was paid back was probably the key aspect of the scheme for me. Paying it back was hard.

These days it costs a lot more for students. Degrees don’t cost $10,000 but $50,000. My kids all have some form of HECS debt. I know the current level HECS fees has made me think twice about doing another degree and changing my career path. It costs too much. I did a Masters but I probably wouldn’t do more. I can’t afford it.

Don’t be fooled that the cost of education doesn’t affect the decisions of the poor to seek a degree or even a technical qualification. It does. I hope that people fight the deregulation of fees and the cutting of funding to universities.

Education benefits society. Every day we use services provided by people who have been educated. The quality of the services is reliant on our education. Innovation is reliant on education. The wellbeing of many is dependent on others being able to access education.

Don’t do it! Don’t make it harder for ordinary people like me to get an education. Education is important for everyone.

 

 

 

 

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