Mark Pietsch was ecstatic when he became the first person from his family accepted into university.
But it’s only because the mature-aged student with a disability has a scholarship, that he can continue studying at the University of Wollongong.
“If I was relying on the department [Department of Human Services and Social Services] I wouldn’t be here,” Mr Pietsch said.
’They are actually making it quite hard for people with disabilities to access Austudy. Those not eligible for Austudy are forgotten.
“I’m quite lucky, I’ve been able to manage my studies and health issues but I’m sure there are plenty of students out there who see these as massive barriers and drop out of university.
“What message does this send to those with disabilities fighting to avoid lifetime welfare dependency?”
A major heel injury, spine issues and chronic pain make full-time study and work impossible for Mr Pietsch.
The 27-year-old worked in the fitness industry before the heel injury saw him put on about 70 kilograms in 12 months.
.....the university squeezes on average another $800-$1600 per student extra out of the taxpayers’ wallet. Meanwhile students are compromising their grades and mental health balancing higher than expected study loads with work.Mark Pietsch
He then worked as a youth worker and teacher before completing a Diploma of Community Services.
Now studying psychology and social sciences at UOW, Mr Pietsch said students with disabilities were falling through the cracks.
“As it stands they [government] have set quite a high bar for the Disability Support Pension and it is generally an assumption that people on the DSP are not looking for work or not looking to study,” he said.
“At the moment every uni and institution has the ability to choose what they define as full-time study and they obviously set that quite high so they can get extra unit enrolments and make more money.
“This allows the university to squeeze on average another $800-$1600 per student extra out of the taxpayers’ wallet. Meanwhile students are compromising their grades and mental health balancing higher than expected study loads with work.”
Mr Pietsch said those unable to meet hours are in the “crosshairs of Centrelink’s robo-debt data matching scheme”.
“The system doesn’t work off the actual hours that a student studies or is able to study. They actually estimate study hours based on the number of assessments,” he said.
“If you don’t meet these so-called benchmarks, it automatically raises your debt.
“I’ve had a $2100 debt raised against me even though I followed the department’s guidelines, which says my capacity is between eight and 14 hours study per week – yet they still expect people to maintain full-time study.
“The Austudy system should be expanded to cater for students with disabilities and mature age students.
“Education is Australia’s third largest export at $28 billion annully, though support for students is terrible.”