My Nan died and now my university degree costs $18K more

August 2, 2021

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.



  • Reply Renae August 3, 2021 at 2:49 PM

    Oh this is just complete rubbish! Further to Fiona’s comment about contacting TEQSA, you could also try the Higher Education Ombudsman. There’s links on this page for each state. https://www.studyassist.gov.au/support-while-you-study/higher-education-student-complaints Maybe try them before making a second appeal. I hope you get a positive outcome xx

  • Reply Steph August 3, 2021 at 5:31 AM

    Used to be that ‘you can’t fight city hall’ – these days it’s absolutely a case of ‘you can’t fight tertiary institutions’. My boy went through all sorts of dramas so I feel your pain; but the truly frustrating part is not getting satisfactory explanations for arbitrary decisions. Big hugs Pip – too whelming. ??

  • Reply Karen August 2, 2021 at 10:36 PM

    So sorry about your Nan’s passing. Please make the space to grieve, the other stuff will fall in line.

  • Reply Tania August 2, 2021 at 10:02 PM

    So sorry to hear this! I would ask as many people as possible in your supportive network to refer you to someone who can give you legal advice. Surely they would have been required to explain the increase in fees? Can you withdraw and apply elsewhere and get RPL for the subjects you have done?

    • Reply Tania August 2, 2021 at 10:04 PM

      Legal advice especially for the second appeal.

  • Reply Kate Nancarrow August 2, 2021 at 9:26 PM

    I’m speechless- but I couldn’t not say something. However feeble! This is NOT peachy, peachy Pip. Not one bit. It’s the peach pits. And that’s a peachy version of what I’d rather spew forth! Arghhhhhh. Everybody I know is battling some sort of governmental agency and flailing. My head is banging a brick wall over much needed childcare subsidy and they even admit they are wrong but can’t fix it!?!?!? ? so much. Keep that good healthy ritual going. Maintain the rage. But gently!

  • Reply louandpaulw@gmail.com August 2, 2021 at 9:26 PM

    Oh shitnPip…am so angry – as I’m sure you are……..Surely there’s something you could do…..have you phoned the student union? Seems so unjust……especially as they didn’t tell you when you deferred. They can’t just spring this on you!!! I would be emailing Leon Compton on ABC 936!

  • Reply Justine August 2, 2021 at 7:54 PM

    I hate this government so very much – and hate what successive liberal governments have done to our tertiary education system. There is nothing fair or equitable about any of it.
    I am sorry ?

    • Reply Justine August 2, 2021 at 7:55 PM

      Hmmm, not sure where the ? Came from!

  • Reply Jodie August 2, 2021 at 7:33 PM

    Pip this sucks!! I’m so sorry, that’s a huge difference and I hope you try and win your 2nd appeal!

  • Reply Fiona August 2, 2021 at 6:31 PM

    I’m really sorry to hear about this, that absolutely sucks that you weren’t advised of the fee change before you deferred. I used to work for a student Union and issues like yours are exactly the kinds of things we dealt with before voluntary student unionism dismantled our organizations, which makes me super angry because all kinds of students need representation for all kinds of reasons! I don’t know if you have tried these people, or if they are indeed the kind of organization that can help: https://www.teqsa.gov.au/complaints – but maybe they will know someone who can. Failing that, perhaps the National Union of Students (NUS) can help? Sending very best wishes for your appeal.

  • Reply kate August 2, 2021 at 4:39 PM

    Oh Pip this is awful, I’m so sorry for you and f@#$ing angry too.
    I can’t even write all my thoughts and feelings here about the injustices.
    cheers Kate

  • Reply Taritta August 2, 2021 at 4:36 PM

    Oh Pip I feel you and I hear you. I have an online course, that I am unable to complete due to my mental health and I am carer of 2 children who too are in fragile mental health states but will still owe over $1000 to the online learning platform. On top of that Scotty has decided that he gave me too much money back during covid so is taking some back $5000 in total. My business partnership was a shit show so that income is gone and my youngest turned 8 (how very dare she) and so Scotty now says I have to look for a job (as if I dont bloody want to ) and because I am no longer passing ‘GO’ I dont get to collect $200 extra apparently. Ah the invisibility of motherhood. If you every want to write a best seller this would be it ‘The invisiblity of Motherhood’ . Oh and just on a cheeky note if you ever have a spare copy of ‘When Life is Not Peachy’ lying around I would really appreciate reading this as life is defs not peachy for me atm and you know Scotty is stealing my money. Warmest hugs and best regards Taritta

    • Reply Pip August 2, 2021 at 5:30 PM

      Send me your address on my email, poppet. I am so sorry things are non-peachy. Let’s not even talk about superannuation … hahahahahah omg. Love to you. xxx

  • Reply Gill August 2, 2021 at 4:22 PM

    I really hope one of your very clever followers has skills and experience in the right place to help you to successfully appeal. This current government’s attack of the arts is unacceptable.

  • Reply Kerry August 2, 2021 at 4:12 PM

    What a joke. Definitely keep appealing.

  • Reply Edie August 2, 2021 at 4:03 PM

    Gahhhhhhhhhh. Shiteful. Much love ??

  • Reply Reannon August 2, 2021 at 3:13 PM

    Oh Pip, all I can say is f#ck, f#ck, f#ckity fuck!!! Learning should not be this expensive!!!!

  • Reply Fiina McAlpine August 2, 2021 at 3:13 PM

    Outrageous! Open Universities have a responsibility in this situation to have been fully transparent with you about the ramifications of deferring. I am so.sorry you have had this additional stress added to an already full plate whilst grieving. Another example of the current government not valuing Arts & Humanities. X

  • Reply Jeanette+Cross August 2, 2021 at 2:54 PM

    Sorry to read your news Pip. What a nightmare re the university fees. Sending best wishes.

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