The broad structure of the Australian education system includes primary school, secondary school, senior secondary school and tertiary education. The primary school includes students aged 6 or 7 years; the secondary school includes students aged 7-10 years; the senior secondary school includes students aging from 11 to 12 years. Tertiary education includes vocational education and training (VET) and higher education. The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is considered as the national framework that covers qualifications required in post-compulsory education. It encompasses 10 links and levels school, higher education and vocational qualifications that are incorporated into a single national system, which makes the shift from one level of study to another study level and between the institutions easier and more convenient. As per the Commonwealth Constitution, the State and the Territory Governments are primarily accountable for education in Australia. The secondary and primary schools in Australia are either privately funded or operate with government supported funds. They are also responsible for major funding of VET and administration and for legislation relevant to the establishment of higher education courses (O’Connell and Torii 2016).
Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs)
According to the Higher Education Support Act 2003, the term ‘Commonwealth supported student’ denotes a student who is enrolled in a Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs). A CSP is a subsidized higher education place where the Australian Government funds a part of the student’s place (Gale and Parker 2013). Due to this subsidy the student only pays student contribution amount that is required for their study courses. At present, some private higher education providers and public universities receive approval from the government to offer CSPs to students. Any student who does not have an enrolment in CSP is considered as non-subsidized student who is eligible to pay his course fees fully (Tilak 2015). In the higher education sector, the Australian government does not subsidize a fee-paying place and students are required to pay their tuition fees for their respective study units.
There are certain advantages associated with CSPs, as it is comparatively much cheaper than a fee-paying space, which implies that students eligible for the same can adjourn their contribution amount to a HECS-HELP loan and are not required to make any open payment. However, in order to be eligible for a CSP program, a student must be a citizen of Australia and must undertake at least one of his study units in Australia that contributes to their study course. Further, there is a fine distinction between HECS-HELP and CSP in that HECS-HELP is a type of loan that is applicable to eligible students enabling them to pay their contribution amount whereas CSP is the subsidized higher education place (O’Connell and Torii 2016).
Types of education Loans
The various forms of loans that are available in the education sector of the country include HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, OS-HELP, SA-HELP, and VET FEE-HELP. Higher education requires intensive study for several years to achieve a recognized high-level qualification (Noonan et al. 2015). The higher education sector in Australia offers broad diversified programs that enable the students to achieve high internationally recognized qualifications. The Australian Government is responsible for providing public funding to the higher education sector and is governed by the Higher Education support Act, 2003.
Australia’s Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) provides loans to students who are studying higher education courses that are approved courses. The scheme permits students to adjourn tuition expenses until their taxable income reaches at level when their repayment commences. The Higher Education Support Act 2003 regulates the provisions stipulated in HELP educational program. This HELP program was renamed as Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) as one of the outcomes of the major reforms that were made in the higher education in 2003. The reforms were made by the legislation Higher Education Support Act 2003. HECS was absorbed into HELP due to which the scheme is now referred to as HECS-HELP.
This form of loan assists to students who are eligible for CSPs and pay their student contribution amounts and the contribution amount of the student must be appropriate for a Commonwealth-supported place. An eligible student has no financial limit to the amount of HECS-HELP to which he or she can access (Norton and Cherastidtham 2016). According to Division 41 of the Act, the Commonwealth is conferred with the power to make grants to the HEP.
As per the subparagraph 41-25(b)(i) of the Act, the Other Grants Guidelines (Research) 2012 do not state conditions that are applicable to a grant, the grant is made on conditions that are either decided by the delegate of the Minister or the Minister itself. The HELP must comply with the ‘Information Privacy Principles’ as stipulated under Privacy Act while dealing with any personal information that is required for the purpose of Conditions of Grant.
This form of loan scheme is eligible for postgraduate and undergraduate students who are enrolled in CSPs and wish to study overseas. This form of loan assists student with variety of expenses such as accommodation and airfares. An Australian citizen or a New Zealand Citizen Category Visa (SCV) holder is eligible for applying an OS-HELP loan. However, the students have limited access to the OS-HELP loans as they are eligible to appropriate the benefits fo this loan only twice over their lifetime (Pilcher and Torii 2017).
According to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and the OS-HELP Guidelines, the student provider usually determines the actual amount of an OS-HELP loan. According to 1.1 of the Higher Education Support 2003, the OS-HELP guidelines set out procedures and principles that would enable the education providers to determine whether students are selected for receipt of OS-HELP assistance as per subsection 118-15(1) of the Act.
This form of loan is eligible for students pursuing higher education that are enrolled in a fee-paying place and would require using a FEE-HELP loan to pay their tuition fees. A student who is eligible for a FEE-HELP loan must have complied with the citizenship and residency requirements. These students are usually studying through private providers or are undertaking postgraduate courses; however, the students do not have any Commonwealth supported place.
Further, in regards to the limit on FEE-HELP debt, there is a limit for lifetime of the student, which includes VET FEE-HELP, FEE-HELP and VET Student loans debts. The FEE-HELP balance is the combination amount of any VET FEE-HELP, FEE-HELP or VET Student Loans that the student can have access to before reaching the FEE-HELP limit. Since the students are accountable for keeping a note of their FEE-HELP balance, they are required to notify their education provider when there is no sufficient balance left cover their tuition fees (Dall'Alba and Sidhu 2015).
This form of loan is eligible for students pursuing higher education and is enrolled at an education provider. This form of loan enables the education provider to pay for the students their amenities fee and other relevant services (Stanford 2016). The amenity and service fees denote the fee that the students are charged with and such fee is not related to academic units of the students. According to the Student Services, Representation, Amenities and Advocacy Guidelines that are stipulated under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, the education providers are required to consult with the students groups and students regarding the use of the fees of the students. The students are allowed to borrow the SA-HELP loans along with the other HELP loans or may borrow the SA-HELP loan only.
Vocational Education and Training (VET)
The primary objective of VET is to provide the students with practical experiences and skills to enable them to perform their tasks safely and effectively across various employment fields. The Courses are provided by Government-funded TAFE institutes, private RTOs, adult and community education centers (Noonan 2016). It can commence in secondary school and several VET students are assured of their admission into university after successful completion of their VET qualification. The VET course programs are similar to the higher education sectors and school, as it is a combination of public and private organizations that provide VET Programs in all States and territories.
VET FEE- HELP
The type of education loan that is provided to students enrolled in higher-level VET courses to pay their fees is the VET Student Loan that was replaced with VET FEE-HELP from Jan 1 2017. This form of loan provides financial assistance to students who are eligible to pursue Diploma, Graduate Certificate, Advanced Diploma and Graduate Diploma courses that are associated with the employment consequences and industry needs. The provisions in the VET Student Loans Act 2016 regulate VET Student Loans.
VET Student Loans
This loan enables students enroll for higher-level VET courses to make payment of their fees and replaced the VET FEE-HELP since Jan 1, 2017. VET Student Loans are available up to a capped amount for each of the student’s course and education providers are allowed to charge above the cap for any course in which the students are capable to pay the difference in amount. The VET Student loans and HELP provide interest-free loans, however, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) charges the outstanding amount annually (Fowler 2017).
The Australian government supports various programs that strive to improve and reward the reputation and quality of higher education and comply with the review of AQF and Provider Category Standards in Australia such as the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). According to section, 203 of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 require the Minister to initiate a review on the implications of the TEQSA Act on higher education sector prior to January 2016.
From the above discussion, it can be inferred that the various higher education reform package strengthens its commitment to a higher education system that ensures students receive adequate support to pursue their higher education. The loan programs further ensure equitable accessibility for the under-represented groups who would otherwise be deprived of pursuing higher education, thus, the education loan system enables the students to fulfill the needs of the community and industry (Mitchell 2015). Such education loan programs make significant contribution to the other areas of government policy, especially, in regional development, productivity, employment, training and skills.
The education loan system must ensure that the student loans are reformed to make the affordability and sustainability of the students better. The education loan system ensures better responsiveness to students and that the needs of the future workforce are fulfilled. The education providers are subjected to surveillance with respect to performance, transparency and accountability while delivering higher education. Since the present system faces challenges pertaining to transparency in its operations, failing to meet the requirements of the students.
Dall'Alba, G. and Sidhu, R., 2015. Australian undergraduate students on the move: Experiencing outbound mobility. Studies in Higher Education, 40(4), pp.721-744.
Fowler, C., 2017. The Boundaries and Connections between the VET and Higher Education Sectors:" Confused, Contested and Collaborative." Occasional Paper. National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
Gale, T. and Parker, S., 2013. Widening participation in Australia in higher education.
Higher Education Support Act 2003
Mitchell, J., 2015. Reform at the speed of scandal. Campus Review (Paddington, NSW), 25(3), p.18.
Noonan, P., 2016. Response to Commonwealth Government’s Discussion Paper: Redesigning VET FEE?HELP.
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Student Loans Act 2016
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011
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