Financing of Australian higher education has undergone dramatic change since the early 1970s. Although the Australian Government provided regular funding for universities from the late 1950s, in 1974 it assumed full responsibility for funding higher education -abolishing tuition fees with the intention of making university accessible to all Australians who had the ability and who wished to participate in higher education.
Since the late 1980s, there has been a move towards greater private contributions, particularly student fees. In 1989, the Australian Government introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) which included a loans scheme to help students finance their contributions . This enabled universities to remain accessible to students by delaying their payments until they could afford to pay off their loans. In 2002, the Australian Government introduced a scheme similar to HECS for postgraduate students -the Postgraduate Education Loan Scheme (PELS).
Funding for higher education comes from various sources. This article examines the three main sources – Australian Government funding, student fees and charges, and HECS. While the proportion of total revenue raised through HECS is relatively small, HECS payments are a significant component of students’ university costs, with many students carrying a HECS debt for several years after leaving university. This article also focuses on characteristics of university students based on their HECS liability status, and the level of accumulated HECS debt.