By Brittney Rigby, Managing Editor
In a presentation entitled “Law Student Questions” distributed by the Law Faculty Student Representatives last week, it was revealed that, once trimesters begin in 2019, UNSW will offer a “free bridging loan” in the form of a $500 bookshop voucher to stand in for Centrelink’s Start-up Loan in Trimester 2.
The Centrelink Start-up Loan of $1,035 (formerly the Start-up Scholarship) is offered to eligible students twice a year, at the beginning of each semester. The purpose of the Loan is to assist students in the upfront cost of study at the beginning of each teaching period.
With the implementation of trimesters, students have raised concerns about affording these upfront costs under the new model, considering there will be no Start-up Loan to line up with trimester 2.
In the presentation posted to the UNSW Law Society Discussion Forum Facebook page, UNSW responded to question, “What will happen with the Start-up Loan” with the following:
“UNSW will offer an interest free bridging loan to eligible students who apply. This will be available from the beginning of June until they receive the second scheduled start-up payment from July 1. The UNSW loan facility will be provided to eligible applicants in the form of a debit card for use at the UNSW Bookshop. The bridging loan will be for up to $500. Students will need to repay the loan before enrolling in Term 3. “
However, the response has sparked criticism of both the loan scheme and the Law Faculty Student Representative’s approach in releasing the answers provided by the UNSW2025 Strategy Office.
Sean Bowes, an Arts/Law student, wrote on the Facebook post that he was “concerned that many of [the claims] have been taken straight from management, without any fact-checking.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Faculty Reps to present unverified claims as fact,” he said.
The Faculty Representatives responded to these concerns on Facebook.
“The point is we want to encourage continual questioning by all students. There is a continuing project and there is more info to come,” stated George Fermanis.
“The info we provide ensures everyone can freely participate in finding the gaps … not just the loud and vocal.”
Students have also expressed concern that the UNSW Bookshop loan itself is flawed.
“They’re giving people gift cards to a book store. [It’s] a clandestine cashless welfare system,” said Toby Walmsley, an Advanced Maths/Arts student.
“The vouchers will mean that low SES students will lose access to one of the best money saving methods to get textbooks: secondhand.”
The loan will also not be of assistance to students who use textbook-renting services such as Zookal and Jekkle.
Cameron Cripps-Kennedy, a UNSW Art & Design student, also explained that the UNSW loan won’t help students who don’t require textbooks.
“No one will be able to purchase any of the required materials for Art & Design or Built Environment courses,” she said.
Cripps-Kennedy explained that students can spend anywhere from $200 to $2,000 on average on materials for these courses.
“This includes materials ranging from professional printing for Graphic Media, to buying copper instead of the more expensive sterling silver for Jewellery and balsa wood for models for Architecture,” she said.
“None of these materials can be bought at the Bookshop or even Artscene, the dedicated shop on Art & Design[‘s campus].”
Jeni Rohwer, a Fine Arts/Arts student, agrees.
“This is my fourth year at UNSW and I’ve spent $20 at the bookshop over that whole time,” she said.
The SRC explains that the loan is a step taken by the University in response to student pressure, but agrees that it is not enough.
“[We] will be arguing to veer the proposed interest-free loan away from vouchers and towards an actual loan to enable students who need that money to use it in the best way possible for them,” said Education Officer, Dylan Lloyd.
“We are in the process of organising information sessions for every faculty to take place over the next few months, in collaboration with Club, Society and Faculty Board leaders.”
Whilst the Centrelink Start-up Loan only begins to be repaid once you reach a certain income threshold (most likely post-graduation), the UNSW loan for Trimester 2 will need to be repaid before enrolling in Trimester 3.
Cameron Cripps-Kennedy is also concerned about a situation in which a student receives the UNSW loan for Trimester 2 but is unable to complete Trimester 3.
“How would you be if due to illness, or anything really, you couldn’t enroll in the third term, had your second Start-up denied [because of this] and still owed UNSW $500,” she said.
“This really needs to be included in Buzzfeed’s next installment of ‘Are you being sucker punched by fake news?’”
You can access the presentation in full at this link: Law Student Questions 20170407