Words by Patrick Clearwater
Even in these troubled times, the accretion of acronyms and abbreviations used to describe higher education funding remains a guarantee. It all comes down to how the Commonwealth funds students attending HEPs (a HEP being a ‘Higher Education Provider’).
The Commonwealth Grant Scheme (feat. CGS, CSP, HECS)
The method the federal government uses to get money into universities (in return for those universities getting knowledge into your head) is called the CGS: Commonwealth Grants Scheme.
Under the CGS, universities receive a certain amount of money per student enrolled in a Commonwealth supported place: a CSP. (Owing to history and this abbreviation-soup, you often hear Commonwealth supported places colloquially referred to as HECS places or, redundantly, CSP places). The Commonwealth Grant Scheme covers domestic students in most undergraduate degrees, and some coursework Masters degrees.
As part of a Commonwealth supported place, you have to pay the student contribution. When student contributions were introduced, the system was called HECS (the Higher Education Contribution System), and the name stuck—by virtue of being highly pronounceable.
The Higher Education Loan Program (feat. HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, SA-HELP, OS-HELP, SSAF)
In 2006, the loan was renamed HELP, for the Higher Education Loan Program (acronyms spelling out friendly words were popular at the time).
HELP is split into four different parts:
- HECS-HELP: including what were formerly called HECS debts. This scheme provides loans for the student contribution amounts of CSPs.
- FEE-HELP: covers full fee paying courses for domestic students—mostly professional coursework Masters degrees. (By this point, the government had given up on the acronyms, but “FEE” is in all capitals so you waste 45 minutes researching what it might stand for when writing articles).
- OS-HELP: OverSeas HELP, a loan for domestic students completing part of their course overseas (the only type of HELP loan you see the cash for). It’s mostly for exchange or study abroad students.
- SA-HELP: a loan to cover the SSAF (Student Services and Amenities Fee).
Of course, the difference between these is mostly academic: they all get paid back the same way and all are subject to the same terms. The ever-popular ‘HECS’ lives on in HECS-HELP. Indeed, almost everyone refers to their HECS debt rather than their HELP debt.
The Research Training Scheme (feat. RTS, APA, MRS and a yet-unnamed HELP)
Domestic PhD and (most) Masters by research students are usually covered by the RTS: the Research Training Scheme. This is a big block of money provided to the university to, as you would expect, train researchers. The university uses it to cover what you would otherwise be charged in tuition fees.
The RTS money (which you won’t see) is distinguished from the two most common PhD scholarships: the APA (Australian Postgraduate Award) and the MRS (Melbourne Research Scholarship). If you’re lucky enough to get one of these, you will see the money from it. Unlike the RTS grant, which goes to the University, APAs, MRSes and similar grants are designed to allow you to (in theory) live.
But don’t get too comfortable—it’s not all smooth sailing. One of the less-reported changes in the 2014-15 Budget is the introduction of CSP-style student contributions for RTS places. Like their undergraduate brethren, these will be deferrable under a HELP loan that doesn’t yet have a name. Student contributions to RTS places will be capped—from 2016, you’re looking at a contribution of up to either $3,900 (for “high-cost” courses: science, engineering, medicine and related areas) or $1,700 (“low-cost” courses).