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Hundreds of thousands more Australians of talent and ability have had the life-changing opportunity of a university education, due to the legacy of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Australians absorbed the sad news of Mr Hawke’s death yesterday - three decades after he enacted a bold policy that would vastly expand access to university.

Universities Australia’s Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said his Government’s decisions to expand universities and enact the Higher Education Contribution Scheme were a defining legacy.

“Those changes opened the doors of opportunity to hundreds of thousands more Australians of modest means who would not otherwise have had the chance to go to university,” she said.

“It took what was an exclusive higher education system and democratised it – making it accessible for everyday Australians in vastly larger numbers.”

Under Education Minister John Dawkins, the Hawke Government turned Australia’s Colleges of Advanced Education into universities, funding the expansion by creating the HECS loans scheme.

Detailed design work on a scheme of deferred, income-contingent student loans was championed by Professor Bruce Chapman.

The Australian scheme has since been adapted by many other countries as a vehicle to expand education opportunity and avoid the deterrent effect of upfront student fees.

The number of Australian undergraduate students rose from 355,674 in 1989 to 805,344 in 2017.

“Australian universities are thankful for Mr Hawke’s profound legacy for our students and extend our deepest condolences to Mr Hawke’s family as they mourn,” Ms Jackson said.

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