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Cost of university

Can you imagine going to uni for free and being paid a living allowance while you study? This was the system in Australia in the late 1970s and early 80s. Today, a degree will set you back at least $11,000. Can you afford it?

Submitted 11/10/2005 By Christina Views 48381 Comments 9 Updated 5/4/2009

Photographer : iwouldstay

What changes have been made to uni fees?

In January 2005, the Australian government changed university fee structures. The main things that happened were:
  • fees increased for all degrees except teaching and nursing
  • the loan scheme structured into three new schemes
  • universities got more control over setting their fees
  • full fee-paying places increased from 25 per cent to 50 per cent per course (Commonwealth supported places must be filled first).

How much does a degree cost?

The most expensive part of studying is the tuition fees. University tuition fees and the methods for paying them differ according to the type of place you have at university. There are two types.

Commonwealth supported place

The Australian Government contributes some of the cost while you pay the ‘student contribution’. The student contribution is set by the university up to a maximum limit; in 2009 this ranged from $4162 to $8677 per year. The amount differs by course—for example nursing and teaching are national priorities so they have the lowest fees.

Full fee-paying place

These places are not subsidised by the Commonwealth Government. There is no upper fee limit but universities cannot charge less than the amount for the Commonwealth supported place.

How do you pay for a uni degree?

All Australian uni students take out a government loan for their tuition fees. You then choose to:
  • pay the loan at the beginning of the study year before the census date
  • defer payment until your income is above the minimum threshold level
  • make some voluntary payments and defer the rest.

What are the loan conditions?

The conditions of the loan scheme depend on what type of place you have.

Commonwealth supported place

The loan scheme is called HECS-HELP. There is no interest but the fees go up each year according to inflation. You get a 20 per cent discount on fees if you pay them before the census date and a 10 per cent bonus amount on any voluntary contribution over $500 after the census date. The loan amount is limited to the equivalent of seven years full-time study.

Full fee-paying place

The loan scheme is called FEE-HELP. There is a loan fee of 20 per cent. You get 10 per cent bonus amount on any voluntary contribution over $500. The limit is $50,000 in your lifetime.

What other types of financial support are available?

  • Scholarships (government and non-government)
  • Overseas study loans (OS-HELP). Limit is $5,000. There is a 10 per cent bonus amount on any voluntary contribution over $500. The loan fee is 20 per cent, only one loan can be taken out in a six month period. There is a limit of two OS-HELP loans in lifetime
  • Commonwealth learning scholarships

Is it easier to get accepted into full fee-paying places?

Yes. Entry cut-off scores reflect supply and demand—not the academic level required to do a course. Because there is less demand for full fee-paying places (since these places cost more and incur a 20 per cent loan fee) the entry score is lower.

Will you still be able to afford to study?

There is no doubt that university education in Australia is becoming increasingly expensive. You will have a large debt at the completion of your studies irrespective of what type of uni place you have—the debt will simply be higher for full fee-paying students.

Full-fee places, having lower entry scores, will provide more people with the opportunity to attend uni. But at the same time, a lot of universities are charging over $100,000 for a degree and the FEE-HELP loan limit is $50,000. So these places may be out of reach for a number of Australians.


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How do I know this?

Department of Education, Science and Training 2003, Distribution of New Higher Education Places

Going to Uni, Department of Education, Science and Training,

Macklin, J 2005, ‘$100,000 degrees boom under Howard’, Media release, 3 August,

Macklin, J 2005, ‘High fees force Australian students to juggle work and study’, Media release, 28 July,

Macklin, J 2005, ‘Declining wages and higher fees a turn off for graduate’, Media release, 27 July,

Macklin, J 2005, ‘20,000 miss out on uni—Howard's policy of wasting talent’, Media release, 10 June,

Nelson, B 2004, ‘Labor’s fee-payers policy shuts out thousands’, Media release, 26 March,

Discuss Now

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RebeccaS 27-Mar-2008

I agree with education should be inclusive and not exclusive. Costs to uni keep increasing, which means less and less individuals are able to afford the education they deserve. The government should do anything possible to supply more funds--the future of the country depends on the young and educated minds of today.



Student85 23-Jan-2008

As a single parent, not "living at home", without a car, and a minimal social life...

I find university to be my only answer, I can pay it back once I've finished and got a decent job ... i don't even need to pay it all back at once.

Okay I've got upfront costs like text books, but there are scholarships out there and charity organisations who want to help those who are serious.

Right now I earn approximately $15, 000 per year when I graduate my starting income will be closs to $55,000 per year ... $40,000 MORE than I'm used to. $40,000 EXTRA that I won't even know what to do with.

I wish I could work & study at the same time, but the fact is I have a child at home which is a 24 hour job, I don't have any free babysitters at exam time and I still have to hand in assessments regardless of whether my child was up sick all night, or if I had to take her down to the hospital.

Students living at home complaining of getting a couple of hundred dollars a fortnight just for studying? Come on, what do you need that money for anyway? To pay your rent? Your bills? Your groceries? Or is it spent on a social life and things not so necessary???

When I pay back my HECS Loan I won't even notice it. I don't drive because it's bad for the environment and it's cheaper and easier to go on public transport. I don't have to keep my eyes on the road, I can read over my notes etc while on my way to and from school.

I don't NEED a social life because I'm more interested in getting a professional education than trying to impress others and getting drunk and the likes of other Uni students I have met.

People stop complaining, there are ways and means. If you want something bad enough make it happen. I know Uni students who don't "live at hom", don't get an allowance from mommy or daddy, and aren't eligible to receive benefits from the government these people are international students who work their arses off doing all sorts of jobs whilst studying!

Get over it!



funnelweb 01-May-2007

Many people misunderstand the FEE-HELP reforms (previously HECS). Although fees on average increased (many decreased, many did not move) in economic terms, given that no repayments were required until the individual earns over $35k (indexed annually and increased from previously $22k) and the time allowed to repay extended, in real terms students are better off! And the $100k course from what i am told is a myth, there is NO undergraduate course costing that much, an MBA isn't even that much.

If you look at the full costs associated with buying books, equipment, union fees, travel etc of a full fee medicine degree it might come close, but the loan is interest free and if it takes you 30yrs to pay so be it, if you leave the country and don't come back nothing is repaid. A cap is important to stop people being professional students and never actually working! Given that a typical course is about $15,000, that's plenty of courses! Gives you an incentive not to fail too right? Either way, our system is still among the world's best.

Too many people though think Uni is the be-all and end-all. In fact, in Australia, many of the top business people do not have degrees, and occupations such as plumbers, electricians and builders earn more than your average lawyers, accountants, teachers or nurses where degrees are required.



jimjim 18-Apr-2007

I dont think a free university system would be the best idea. But the way that it is now is rediculous, only the rich would be able to afford this.
We need a system in which people would be able to go to uni, on an affordable basis. We should get much more government support.

I agree with alot of what mike said.




an0thergirl 11-Feb-2007

"I don't believe uni should be free. If it was, you would have every man and his dog trying to get into uni, and not really getting the most out of it - because it's free."

  • Im very torn. This comment apparently holds true as was evident during the (mighty) Gough Whitlam era. I love to indulge in the idealism of free education. It would be wonderful because every person should have the opportunity to study, expand their mind, their horizons and actively strive to become the best person they can be.

However, the reality is that tertiary education is an expensive business. I have much respect for every university lecturer I have been blessed with. University students are privileged to be able to learn under such learned and intelligent people. This to me is priceless but in monetary values, quite expensive. I do understand that 'in the great scheme of things' a university debt equivalent to the cost of a very nice imported car may be marginal, but having such a debt hanging over the head of a young person, like an anvil waiting to plummet to a crushing, messy conclusion, is not completely necessary.

Now. It may be true that 'every man and his dog' will have a go. Why the hell shouldn’t they! They might have a go, fail first year and know it was not mean to be. At least that will eliminate the 'what if' factor for a percentage of men and dogs.

I believe we, as students are paying too much and that such a large hecs debt is a cause of much undue stress. They government should pat us on the back for investing our potential in this country’s institutions. In the long run, we will be paying it back as values assets of the community anyway.

University education should be inclusive, not exclusive.

"Not only that, but we only pay about 1/3 of the full cost of our education - that's next to nothing."

  • Two years of university and you obviously haven’t been doing any maths! 1/3 is 33.3% and that is not 'next to nothing'. (This wasn’t an actual point, I just couldn’t let it slide).