Universities Australia strongly believes that the availability of income-contingent loans makes participation in higher education affordable.
The Higher Education Contribution Scheme (or HECS) was introduced in 1989 and was later expanded and renamed the Higher Education Loan Program (or HELP). Several types of HELP loans are available catering for different circumstances:
- HECS-HELP: for domestic, Commonwealth-supported students
- FEE-HELP: for domestic, non Commonwealth-supported students
- OS-HELP: to assist domestic students undertaking study overseas
- SA-HELP: to cover the cost of the Student Services and Amenities Fee.
Around 18% of all HELP debt will remain unpaid, through graduates failing to earn sufficient income for a long-enough period, or through emigration before repayment. Although the HELP loans are being made to increasing numbers of students through the demand-driven system, forward projections indicate that overall repayments will remain high.
By providing an affordable way of supporting higher education opportunity, HELP loans are an essential feature of Australian higher education and vital to increased participation by low-SES students.
Universities Australia considers that effective levels of income support are necessary to enable the wider participation and eventual success for many students.
The Commonwealth Government provides a number of income support funding streams, most notably
- Youth Allowance: for independent younger students with low incomes
- Austudy: for older students with low incomes
- ABSTUDY: for Indigenous students
These three programs provide valuable support for many students, but Universities Australia’s various surveys of student finances have shown that too many students are dependent on other means of income to the extent that the quality of their studies is threatened.
Wherever possible, income support should be expanded in scope and payment rate.