Funding of higher education places

Types of students and places

Domestic students are Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens or holders of an Australian permanent visa. All other students are considered international students.

Higher education providers may offer domestic students either a ‘Commonwealth supported place’ or a ‘fee paying place’. In South Australia and the Northern Territory most domestic undergraduate students will be Commonwealth supported students. Commonwealth supported places are not available to international students.

Only some postgraduate courses are Commonwealth supported for domestic students. Most are offered on a fee-paying basis. You can check whether the postgraduate course you’re interested in is Commonwealth supported or fee paying in  Explore, or contact the university concerned for more information.

Commonwealth supported students

Commonwealth supported places are subsidised by the Australian Government. This means the Government contributes part of the cost of higher education for Commonwealth supported students. Students contribute the remainder through their ‘student contribution’.

Each higher education provider sets its own student contributions for each unit of study, within a range set by the Australian Government. Student contributions may therefore vary between higher education providers and courses. For more up-to-date information, check the institutions’ websites.

Student contribution table for commencing Commonwealth supported students
Band Student contribution in 2017 (per EFTSL)
Band 1
(humanities, behavioural science, social studies, clinical psychology, foreign languages, visual and performing arts, education, nursing)
$0 to $6,349
Band 2
(mathematics, statistics, science, computing, built environment, other health, Allied health, engineering, surveying, agriculture)3
$0 to $9,050
Band 3
(law, dentistry, medicine, veterinary science, accounting, administration, economics, commerce)
$0 to $10,596

Course costs will depend on the individual subjects chosen. These maximum student contributions were for full-time students for a full year. The maximum is indexed each year according to movements in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

For more information on student contributions visit the Study Assist website.

Fee-paying students

The Australian Government does not contribute to course costs for fee-paying students; these students pay a ‘tuition fee’.

Each higher education provider sets its own tuition fees for each course, so the tuition fees will vary between providers and courses. The Government sets a minimum for tuition fees. For domestic students, tuition fees will be equal to or more than the student contributions paid by Commonwealth supported students in the same course.

Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)

Australian citizens, New Zealand Special Category Visa (SCV) holders who meet long-term residency requirements, and holders of an Australian permanent humanitarian visa may pay their student contribution or tuition fee up front or they may request a Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) loan. Holders of other Australian permanent visas and New Zealand citizens who either do not meet the NZ SCV residency requirements for HELP loans or do not hold Australian citizenship, may have access to a Commonwealth supported place, but are not able to access HELP and must pay their student contribution up front.

There are several types of HELP loans. The HELP loans we’ll explain here are:

  • HECS-HELP for eligible Commonwealth supported students to pay their student contribution
  • FEE-HELP for eligible fee-paying students to pay their tuition fees
  • SA-HELP for eligible Commonwealth supported students to pay their student services and amenities fee
  • VET Student Loans for eligible students studying higher level (diploma and above) vocational education and training (VET) qualifications to pay their tuition fees.

Students wanting to access a HELP loan will need to provide their Tax File Number to their higher education provider by the census date.

HECS-HELP for eligible Commonwealth supported students

Australian citizens, New Zealand SCV holders, and holders of an Australian permanent humanitarian visa in a Commonwealth supported place may:

  • pay all of their student contribution up front, or 
  • receive a HECS-HELP loan for the full student contribution, or 
  • pay some of the student contribution up front and receive a HECS-HELP loan for the remainder of the student contribution.

If a student receives a HECS-HELP loan, then the government pays the loan amount directly to the higher education provider on the student’s behalf and a HECS-HELP debt is recorded for the student with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). There are no fees charged on HECS-HELP loans. 

HECS-HELP benefit

The HECS-HELP benefit encourages maths, statistics, science, education, nursing, midwifery and early childhood education graduates who meet certain conditions to take up employment in related occupations.
If you are eligible for the HECS-HELP benefit you may receive a reduction in your compulsory HELP repayments or a reduction in your HELP debt.

For more information visit the Study Assist website or the ATO website or phone 13 2861.

FEE-HELP for eligible fee-paying students

Australian citizens, New Zealand SCV holders who meet the long-term residency criteria, and holders of an Australian permanent humanitarian visa (resident in Australia for the duration of their study) in a fee-paying place may:

  • pay the full tuition fee up front, or
  • receive a FEE-HELP loan for the full tuition fee, or
  • pay some of the tuition fee up front and receive a FEE-HELP loan for the remainder of the tuition fee.

If a student receives a FEE-HELP loan, then the government pays the loan amount directly to the provider on the student’s behalf and a FEE-HELP debt is recorded for the student with the ATO.

SA-HELP for eligible Commonwealth supported students

The student services and amenities fee is for the provision of non-academic student services and amenities, such as sporting and recreational activities, employment and career advice, child care, financial advice and food services.

SA-HELP assists eligible students to pay for all or part of the student services and amenities fee. 

VET Student Loans for eligible fee-paying students

As of January 1 2017 VET Student Loans replaced the VET FEE-HELP scheme which ceased for new students on December 31 2016.

To be eligible for the VET Student Loans, students must meet all of the following criteria:

  • an Australian citizen, or
  • a qualifying New Zealand citizen (see information about NZ citizen), or
  • a permanent humanitarian visa holder, who is usually resident in Australia.

Please note, VET Student Loans are only available for approved courses at the diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate and graduate diploma level that are specified on the courses and loan caps determination.

For more information about approved course providers, approved courses, caps, and what it means to be academically suited to your course, please visit the Study Assist website or the ATO website or phone 13 2861.

For more information regarding eligibility requirements for South Australian State Government subsidised training visit the WorkReady website or call the Infoline on 1800 506 266.

Accumulated HELP debt

Any unpaid HELP debts you incur become part of your ‘accumulated HELP debt’. Your accumulated HELP debt also includes any unpaid debts you incurred before 2005, such as Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) and Postgraduate Education Loan Scheme (PELS) debts.

All HELP debts are indexed each year according to movements in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to maintain their real value, but are otherwise interest free.

Repaying a HELP loan

If you have a HELP debt you must make compulsory repayments through income tax assessments once your income reaches the minimum repayment threshold which is $54,868 for the 2017-18 income year.

The amount of any compulsory repayment to be made depends on your income each income year. You can also make voluntary repayments direct to the ATO to reduce your HELP debt. 

For more information on the repayment of HELP loans, visit the Study Assist website or the ATO website or phone 13 2861.

Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN)

Every student receiving Commonwealth higher education assistance (through a Commonwealth supported place, a HELP loan, or a Commonwealth Scholarship) has a Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN). This number stays with the student throughout their student life, allowing eligibility for Commonwealth support to be facilitated and monitored.

When you apply for admission to a course through SATAC, as part of the Conditions of Application you give your consent to having your personal details provided electronically to the ATO and the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) who is responsible for allocating CHESSNs. If you are successful in being offered a Commonwealth supported place, the institution concerned will advise you of your CHESSN at the time of enrolment.

Further information

For more information visit the Study Assist website or phone the enquiry line on 1800 020 108 (toll free).

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