Essentials: what it costs and getting financial help

No-one should miss out on further education because of the cost. There are many ways to get financial help – including government loans, student income support, scholarships and part-time work.

As part of the 2014–15 Budget, the Australian Government proposed a range of changes that will affect the fees that universities can charge, and the way that students will repay debt accumulated under the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). These changes are subject to the passage of legislation. Stay up to date with the latest information by consulting the Australian Government’s Study Assist website.

The idea of your children going on to further education after high school is exciting – you know a good education will help them to build the career and lifestyle they want. It can also be overwhelming as you learn about ATARs, education options, entry requirements, applications, the costs of study and all the other things that need to be thought through.

Students can get help with fees and the costs of living while they study. The three most common ways are through government loans, student income support and scholarships. 

Please note that this is general advice and is correct at the time of writing. However, government assistance and scholarships can change over time, so if you find what you need here, then it is recommended you get further details from the Study Assist website or your child’s chosen institution.

Government HELP loans in action

Here are a few typical examples of yearly costs and income for students.

Marty, 20, studying for a Bachelor of Social Work:

  • Marty’s fees for one year of fulltime study are $5,800.
  • He has a Commonwealth-supported place so he just needs to pay the student contribution part of his fees. This comes to $1,500 and he applied for HECS-HELP to pay this.
  • As he was approved for HECS-HELP assistance, Marty doesn’t have to pay any fees while he studies.
  • He lives at home and helps to pay for his student services and amenities fee ($250), course textbooks and other living expenses through weekend work in a café.

Billy, apprentice mechanic at TAFE:

  • Billy's fees for one year of part-time study as a first-year apprentice mechanic are $793.
  • Because he has Aboriginal heritage and is studying at TAFE, he is exempt from paying fees.
  • Billy also receives an ABSTUDY allowance through Centrelink to help with his living and other expenses.

Liz, 25, studying for a Diploma of Marketing at TAFE:

  • Liz’s fees are $1,450 per year of fulltime study.
  • Liz applied for a VET FEE-HELP loan and also SA-HELP.
  • She also qualifies for the Youth Allowance and Rental Support Allowance through Centrelink because she lives away from home.
  • Liz hasn’t had to pay any course fees from her own funds and also gets help from the government with her living costs while she studies.

When do the HELP loans have to be repaid?

Students start repaying their HELP debt through the taxation system once their income is above a certain amount – called the compulsory repayment threshold. Repayments come out of their wages once they start earning above that amount, even if they are still studying.

The compulsory repayment threshold is adjusted each year. The compulsory income repayment threshold for the 2014–15 financial year is $53,345.

How much will the HELP repayments be?

HELP repayments are calculated from the yearly earnings declared on the student's income tax return. 

The amount to be repaid is a percentage of income across the year and the payments are taken out automatically with other taxes as they are paid throughout the year. The repayment percentage will increase as income increases – the higher the income the higher repayment will be. The ATO calculates the compulsory repayment for the year and includes it on the income tax notice of assessment.

Examples of HELP loan repayments

Tom, Diploma in Legal Studies graduate:

  • Tom has just graduated.
  • He earns $54,000 a year.
  • He pays 4%, or $2,160, per year of his salary towards his VET-HELP loan of $4,800.
  • Based on this wage, it will take Tom just over two years to repay his loan.

Sally, Bachelor of Laws graduate:

  • Sally graduated last year with a law degree and is now earning $65,000.
  • She pays $3,250 in HECS-HELP repayments per year.
  • That means that 5% of her salary goes towards her loan of $30,000.
  • It will take Sally between seven and nine years to pay off her loan, depending on whether her salary increases in that time.

Income support and scholarships

Student income support

In addition to loans for course fees, the government provides a range of benefits to further support eligible students with living costs while they study.

These support benefits are means-tested – the income of the student’s parents and/or the student will be taken into account when assessing eligibility.

  • Youth Allowance is a means-tested payment for fulltime students and apprentices who are generally aged 16 to 24 years old.
  • Austudy is a payment made to fulltime students and apprentices who are aged 25 years and older.
  • ABSTUDY is a living allowance payment plus a range of supplementary benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students aged 16 years or older.

Start-up and Relocation Scholarships

Higher education students receiving income support may also be eligible to receive the Relocation Scholarship. This is an annual payment for eligible people on Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY who have to live away from the family home to study. This payment helps students to set themselves up in their new location.

A Start-up Scholarship is also available for students who receive the Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY. It consists of $1,025 for every six months of eligible study undertaken. 

Most Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses at TAFE do not meet the requirements for these scholarships. However, if a TAFE is registered as a higher education provider and it delivers a higher education course – for example, an associate degree or bachelor degree – then students taking those types of courses are more likely to be approved for the scholarships.

Start-up and Relocation scholarships examples

Rosie, event management student:

  • Rosie is from Broken Hill and is studying event management at university.
  • In 2015, her course fees of $5,800 have been paid by HECS-HELP.
  • Her student services and amenities fees have been paid by SA-HELP.
  • She gets Youth Allowance payments of $426.80 per fortnight.
  • She also gets $2,050 for a Start-up Scholarship for the year and more than $4,000 as a first-year Relocation Scholarship because she has moved away from home to study.

Josup, business student:

  • Josup is from Bathurst and is studying for a Diploma of Business at TAFE in Bathurst.
  • In 2015, his course fees of $1,400 are paid by a VET-FEE HELP loan.
  • He qualifies for an Austudy allowance of $426.80 a fortnight.
  • He also gets a Start-up Scholarship of $2,050 this year because he is in his second year of study.

Other kinds of scholarships

There are a large number of scholarships for higher education students. Many are available to students in their second and third years of study, so make sure you keep a look out for these opportunities through your child's institution’s website.

Education provider scholarships

Most education providers, especially universities, fund a variety of scholarships. Many of these are awarded for academic merit or other special skills such as music or sport. Other scholarships are awarded on an equity basis, taking into account financial disadvantage.

  • Academic scholarships: awarded to students based on academic excellence as demonstrated by the ATAR or results from previous tertiary study.
  • Equity Scholarships: awarded on an equity basis and available to students who belong to groups that are recognised as experiencing difficulty accessing education due to a wide range of financial and other disadvantages.

Do some research or have your child contact his or her institution to find out what is on offer.