I loved my Nan. Her cheekiness. Her grumpiness. Her lifelong devotion to the footy. Her stoicism. Her nifty craftiness.
When COVID job loss and the subsequent financial ruin forced me out of Victoria (my home for 35+ years) and back to the state where I was born, spending more time with her was one of the things I most looked forward to.
Little did I know that it was not to be. And that her loss would impact in ways I’d never imagine …
“I need to defer,” I sobbed into the phone. “My Nan died. I need to help with the funeral … her flat … those sorts of things.”
On the other end of the phone was someone from Open Universities. He was a kind man who offered his sympathies and gently advised me that I could only defer once during my degree.
I told him that I understood. I’d grown familiar with the workings of my online study since I began my first unit in 2019. By the time I found myself on the phone requesting a break I’d completed four units with high distinction results in each.
I wanted to study because circumstances had meant that I couldn’t or didn’t (I’m not sure which!) when I was younger. I’d had a baby at 18 and didn’t think I was clever enough to go to university. I didn’t have a network around me that made it seem feasible and besides, I wanted to be with my baby.
Two more kids and the pressure to earn enough to pay the rent, to be responsible, meant I didn’t really think about it again. Not until I was much older, edging into my fifties in fact, did I dare to imagine that I could pursue the education I had always wanted.
So I find myself currently undertaking a degree in creative writing. That might seem useless to some, but I am a self-taught, published non-fiction writer. I was keen to study because I wanted to learn more about the craft. I’ve written seven books already, but I have been keen to branch out into commercial fiction writing and better support myself as I grow older. (Society needs stories, after all!)
I began with one basic unit in 2019 and then enrolled in and completed several others through 2020. I loved learning and my results motivated me to take the plunge and enrol in a full degree. I was four units in, I reasoned, why not make the most of this momentum?
And then Nan died and I was on the phone to request a time out to help bury her.
I spent what should have been my study period grieving, helping make the arrangements one must make when a close family member dies. I helped my mum and older brother sort through her things and clean her public housing unit. I spent time with family who were lucky enough to be able to fly from interstate to attend her funeral. I made photo collages from old photos of Nan and designed a beautiful Order of Service edged in flowers to help memorialise her. I sat on the edge of Mum’s bed as she told stories about growing up with Nan. I cried. I cried A LOT.
I began studying again in March – the very next study period – exhausted, sad but determined to push on.
And then in April I got an email to let me know that because I had enrolled in my degree to commence in December 2020 but had then deferred, I was not eligible to have my fees applied at the 2020 rate.
Yes, I had completed four subjects that counted towards that degree before December 2020. But because I had been unable to study in December which was when my degree officially started, my fees would not be ‘grandfathered’ and I would be charged at the 2021 rate.
Did either Open Universities or my uni let me know about this when I deferred on compassionate grounds? Nope. I wish they had. I would have struggled on, had I known.
What does this mean for me exactly? It means a lot It means that the units that cost $850 in 2020 now cost $1812 In 2021. It means I will now be charged around $1000 more for each unit. More than double.
I have 18 units to finish – so at this increased fee that means my degree looks like costing an extra $18 000. An extra $18 000 all because I was unable to study between December 2020 (when my Nan died) and February 2021. An extra $18 000 because nobody let me know.
The increased fees are due to the federal government hiking up the prices of humanities degrees like the one I am enrolled in in the middle of last year. (More on that here.)
Did I raise the unfairness of this with the institutions? I did.
After consideration the university decided that they could not charge me the 2020 fee. I would need to pay the 2021 fee. My degree fee had now more than doubled.
“Based on the criteria that a student must maintain an enrolment for at least one subject within a Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP) degree in 2020, you do not meet the requirements,” an email from Open Universities I received today stated.
So where to from here? I have no idea. Apparently I can appeal again, but I am not sure how to go about that successfully if they have already knocked me back.
In the mean time I’m doing what Nan would do – pushing on, drinking a lot of tea and crossly throwing balls of wool at the telly when the Prime Minister or Treasurer come on.