Australian women who undertake maternity leave may end up paying an additional 30% in student loan interest, under proposed education reform.
Although the change has yet to be passed by the Senate, it is just one of a number of overhauls suggested by the coalition government, led by Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. If the reforms are met with support, universities could be free to charge whatever they wish in fees, whilst cutting the number of bursaries and subsidised courses available. However, it is the potential long-term impact on female graduates that has been met with the most concern throughout the Australian political system.
Analysing the potential changes, Australia’s Green party has discovered that whilst a male nurse could take around 33 years to pay off the debt incurred by higher education, a woman in the same career, but with children, would take 39 years to settle the same amount of borrowing. In addition to this, men and women training as teachers in Australia would face very different future financial paths. For men, the training would incur interest of $16,800 over a 19 year period, whilst a woman who has taken a year off following the birth of a baby, would have $23,000 in interest payable over 23 years. Critics say the additional years and increased interest are indicative of an overall inequality between men and women pursuing the same professional career choices.
Spokeswoman for the Greens, Lee Rhiannon, described the plans as “sexist … cruel and brutal” before adding: “The Abbott plan for higher education carries a heavy financial burden for women, which will push many women to reconsider their career and family choices. Women who take time off work to have children will carry one of the largest burdens under the coalition’s higher education plans.”