A number of students at Charles Sturt University (CSU) were involuntarily unenrolled from their degrees on Tuesday in a surprise move from the University.
The policy affected 66 students in Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) who were unable to pay their tuition fees by the census deadline on 5 August.
Students and staff were caught off guard by the “drastic” policy, which saw students unenrolled from their units of study merely two business days after the census deadline had passed.
“A lot of students received this email and the phones ran hot in Student Central. Students who received this cold hard news were crying down the phone line to unprepared and unaware staff,” said former Student Senate President Luisa Foliaki in an email seen by Hon.
“They didn’t notify students, they didn’t notify the staff working with students. Unbeknownst to us, if you don’t pay the full fee by the census date, you are unenrolled,” Foliaki told Hon.
According to a CSU spokesperson, the policy was enacted in accordance with the University’s governance, the Commonwealth Government requirements for CSP students and Higher Education Support Act 2003. All of these regulations permit the University to cancel a student’s enrollment if they are behind on their fees.
But Foliaki said that this is the first time students were locked out of their degrees entirely on such short notice.
“Last session, if you had issues with paying your fees on time, you were given the opportunity to get your act together and remain in your course,” she said.
“Usually, you get the email on Monday [following the census deadline] with the option to repay your fees in full, but there was none of that.”
The CSU spokesperson said that the policy and requirement of payment was “repeatedly communicated” with students prior to the census deadline. But according to Foliaki, students only received their Commonwealth Assistance Notice on 29 July one week before the deadline, and one email reminder last Tuesday, three days before the census date.
As one of the students affected by the policy, Foliaki also lost her position as Student Senate President on Tuesday.
“Normally, I would be the first person to advocate for students and staff affected on behalf of the Student Senate. But now I have no power to support students,” Foliaki said.
“I don’t think they are [the University] realize how massively this impacts students. If you’re a student on campus, you’re young, you’re very far from home, your income is now potentially at risk, your access to Centrelink is also at risk… You literally don’t have any support,” she got
In a statement to Honstudent activist and National Union of Students (NUS) Education Officer Luc Velez said: “This is a demonstration of an appalling lack of empathy and understanding coming from university management at Charles Sturt University.
“Students have hectic lives – not because we are lazy or disorganized, but because the exploitative world we find ourselves in calls for the constant juggle of work, study and crises,” Velez said.
“It’s so important that our university policy is flexible enough to reflect the realities of students’ lives. As a bare minimum, if flexibility is not possible, universities need to have crystal clear communication with students on these policies so students can do their best to accommodate ahead of time,” he said.
When asked how the University was remedying the issue, the spokesperson said that “communication with students is ongoing”.
The unenrollments come in the wake of several problems at CSU in recent years, including declining student enrollments and governance issues. In 2019, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) renewed the CSU’s registration for just four years (instead of the standard seven years), on a number of conditions.
It also follows the University’s recent admission of withholding millions of dollars in staff wages over a period of six years.