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Tribunal: Member Mark Hyman

In 2016, the applicant, Mr Ullah was enrolled in two units at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and received assistance under the FEE-HELP scheme to pay for his course fees. Mr Ullah was not able to complete his two units of study and in May 2017, he applied to USQ to have his FEE-HELP debt re-credited, but was denied. In July 2017, Mr Ullah requested a review of that decision, but the university did not change their decision to deny his request. In September 2017, the applicant applied to the AAT for review of the USQ’s review decision.

Mr Ullah claimed that there were ‘special circumstances’[1] that applied and as such his FEE-HELP debt should have been remitted. The FEE-HELP debt could be re-credited if Mr Ullah was affected by circumstances outside his control. Mr Ullah also must not have suffered the full impact of those circumstances until after the last date he could drop out of the course without penalty (census date) and it must have been impracticable for him to complete the requirements of the course.  

The courses that Mr Ullah enrolled in commenced in July 2016 with a census date of 5 August 2016. Mr Ullah claimed that there were special circumstances beyond his control because his wife was suffering a high risk pregnancy and he had to take her back to Pakistan as they did not have support in Australia. It was found that Mr Ullah’s wife was diagnosed with her condition in February 2016 and therefore, he was aware of the risks before he enrolled for the two units. The AAT found that Mr Ullah’s wife’s health issues did not change significantly after the census date and so there was no evidence that it had an impact on his ability to study.

Mr Ullah’s daughter also suffered a serious health challenge shortly after her birth in October 2016 and was hospitalised. The AAT was satisfied that his daughter’s bad health was outside Mr Ullah’s control, because it did not occur due to his action or inaction, and he was not responsible for it. The occurrence of his daughter’s health condition was also plainly after the census date. However, at the time of his daughter’s birth, Mr Ullah had already made an online withdrawal from his two units of study. He had withdrawn from the subjects in September 2016 when he realised that he was going to do badly. Therefore, the decision to withdraw came before Mr Ullah’s daughter’s ill health rather than after it and her ill health could not contribute to the claim for special circumstances.

The AAT affirmed the decision that Mr Ullah did not satisfy the special circumstances test and that his FEE-HELP could not be re-credited.  

Read the full written decision on AustLII.



[1] Section 104.30 of Higher Education Act 2003