Farrago talks higher ed: Acting VC’s response to Budget

Monday, 19 May, 2014


Words by Michelle See-Tho


Acting VC Margaret Sheil sent out an email to all students last week in response to the Budget.

Among other things, it stressed that fee deregulation will not actually affect enrolled students: “Currently enrolled students are not directly affected by the proposal to uncap fees”. This is the case unless those students continue studying until 2020.

It also acknowledged there will be long-term affects on present and future students. Students who enrol from 2016 onwards will face fee deregulation, as outlined in the Budget.

The email emphasised the fact that students do not have to pay upfront fees, because of the HELP system. Nor do they have to pay any fees until their income reaches a certain threshold.


You can read the body of the email below:

Dear Student,

The Commonwealth Budget delivered on Tuesday marks a significant moment for the higher education sector and the University of Melbourne. In particular, many students will have noted the Abbott Government’s decision to uncap student fees.

Currently enrolled students are not directly affected by the proposal to uncap fees, nor does it change the arrangements already in place for international students. However the uncapping of fees will have long-term effects on all Australian universities, and on future students. Such a significant change will undoubtedly spark further debate in weeks and months ahead, as the detailed implementation of these reforms is worked through.

I would like to acknowledge this important moment by reinforcing the message sent to all students and staff by Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis some two weeks before the Budget, about changes in higher education.

The University is very pleased that the Higher Education Loans Program (HELP) has been largely maintained. The income contingent loan scheme HELP, previously called HECS-HELP, is an Australian-designed policy which has been in place since the late 1980s, and has now been imitated by a number of countries.

At its heart is the equitable principle that no student, regardless of background, is obliged to repay their student debt until their earnings pass above an annual income threshold when, by definition, they are more able to pay.

The changes announced for HELP mean all domestic students will continue to benefit from deferred loans, though these will be subject to different conditions.  The amended loans program will charge an interest rate based on the Government’s cost of borrowing (up to a rate of 6 per cent) rather than the consumer price index.  There will be no lifetime cap on the amount borrowed, which means the full cost of a course can be deferred through HELP. The final details of the new policy are yet to be fully released by the Government.

In coming weeks the University will closely analyse the new rules and implications of the uncapping of fees. In this process we will be mindful of students’ best interests, and the need to support outstanding quality education and research at Melbourne for the long term.

As the Vice-Chancellor has said, Melbourne is a public-spirited university committed to excellence in research, teaching and learning, and engagement. In the best of all possible worlds, that mission would be proudly and unstintingly supported by the nation. 

Our reality, alas, makes for harder choices.

A more detailed discussion of the fees question can be found at VC Open Line.

Margaret Sheil

Acting Vice-Chancellor