Thinking back to my first undergraduate year in 1995, I have vivid memories of Keating as Prime Minister and Janeway stranding her crew in the Delta Quadrant. My first undergraduate year went by in a share-house blur as I started out with one of the ‘double degree’ offerings at the University of Tasmania in Science and Law, while I temporarily deferred the radically alternative option I’d been offered in a Creative Arts degree at the University of Wollongong.
Paying upfront was never an option, but after taking on the HECS debt from the first year, and leaving the lab coat and/or future wig behind, I figured adding an Arts degree wouldn’t hurt too much, after all I wasn’t technically paying for it. To the 19-year-old me earning a serious income was a long way off and so I made choices that continue to financially haunt my family today. I piled on extra credit points and summer session units without any regard for my future indentured self and the invisible debt I was accumulating. It was a great time though, and I was zipping through two degrees, none of which would have been possible without support from my parents and partner.
It payed off in one sense with good grades and a sympathetic employer during my honors year that helped to secure a PhD scholarship, and again I put off thoughts of future earning in favour of more learning, but each year meant more and more interest accumulating. So graduation and the floppy hat wasn’t nearly as life changing as the newborn who beat me to the finish line and suddenly what work I could get also meant a big chunk of change out of pocket (via the HECS debt).
What really bites now is that despite the fortnightly absence of a good proportion of my wage, the individual deductions don’t occur until the end of the financial year. The system profits from the interest on its cut which is not deducted from the total. The interest steadily piles on and it will be a few years yet before the financial drain is over. I’ve never been interested in property, but I do occasionally think of the holidays we might have taken, or the loosening of belts during the leaner times. Do I regret the choices I made? Never, but would I give my younger self some serious advice? Hell yes.