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Can you put postgraduate study on HECS-HELP?

James Davis

Careers Commentator
It often isn’t cheap to study a postgraduate course. Fortunately, there are more ways than one to get funded.

The question of whether or not to commence postgraduate study can be complicated. Will there be a return on investment? Is there a cheaper alternative? Why am I doing this; will this align with my personal goals as well as professional? Tangled up in this is the inevitability of financial concerns. Some courses can be exceptionally expensive; the renowned MBA that we’ve written about before can range in price all the way up to $120,000 when it comes to an executive program, with high end standard MBA programs clocking in at an average $51,000 total. This of course doesn’t take into account student services, amenities fees or accomodation costs if deciding to live on campus. However, in this case the cost is justified by the alleged improvement in earning potential. Higher starting salaries combined with significantly higher lifetime earnings make it an attractive prospect because the returns on this qualification are expected to far exceed the cost.

So what about postgraduate programs that may not necessarily have higher employment prospects? Although here at PostgradAustralia we recognise and love the pursuit of knowledge in all its forms, we also understand the economic necessities everyday students and graduates face. Fortunately, domestic postgraduates can access HECS-HELP funding for their studies, which has no further interest rate on top of annual indexation, even for postgraduate study. These loans are repayable at differing rates decided by salary thresholds listed below. Note that all except the $45,800 - $51,956 tier, which is speculation based upon coming legislation, are from the ATO website:

Salary Threshold Repayment Rate Average Annual Repayments
$45,800 - $51,956 1.0% $488.78
$51,957 - $57,729 2.0% $1,096.86
$57,730 – $64,306 4.0% $2,440.72
$64,307 – $70,881 4.5% $3,041.73
$70,882 – $74,607 5.0% $3,637.22
$74,608 – $80,197 5.5% $4,257.14
$80,198 – $86,855 6.0% $5,011.59
$86,856 – $91,425 6.5% $5,794.13
$91,426 – $100,613 7.0% $6,721.36
$100,614 – $107,213 7.5% $7,793.51
$107,214 + 8.0% $8,577.12 +

What can you infer from this? Simply put, if you’re not earning enough, you won’t have to pay. It’s this simple doctrine that allows students in fields with fewer employment prospects slightly more ease of mind, allowing them to make educational decisions based more upon interest and not solely on future economic gain. However, there are other considerations postgraduate students ought to be wary of.

Another consideration is that HECS-HELP debt from a previous bachelor’s degree or higher education is counted toward a debt ceiling from which students can’t draw any more funding. This varies slightly between courses. The following figures are directly from the Australian government, under “how much can I borrow?”:

  • Students in veterinary science, medicine or dentistry courses can receive loans of up to $127,992 across all their tertiary studies. This limit will be increased to $150,000 in 2019.
  • Students in all other disciplines can receive loans of up to $102,392. This will be increased to $104,440 in 2019.

Students in veterinary science, medicine or dentistry have a significant funding advantage on account of how expensive and long their courses are. However, they aren’t exempt from needing to be careful regarding how much they borrow. Pulling out of a subject after the census date or failing a subject all incur more debt, which in turn requires the student to take the course again, costing even more.

Indecision or changing degree programs can cause debt to mount up quickly. It’s partly for this reason that PostgradAustralia exists; we want to help students make higher education decisions that suit them.

It’s also possible for domestic students to apply for FEE-HELP, which helps cover student services and amenities fees. Any student in a commonwealth supported place at an Australian university is eligible. Although students of undergraduate courses are charged a 25% loan fee, postgraduate students aren’t! This makes is a uniquely potent funding opportunity for domestic postgrads.

So what can international students do seeing as they can’t access these loans? The best way would be to acquire a scholarship, of which there are many. Our very own PostgradAustralia Scholarship is one such as this; it’s an annual funding opportunity available to both domestic and international students, with no biases toward any particular subject area, nationality, GPA or socio-economic status. There are even nationality-specific scholarships available to students all over the world, including but certainly not limited to:

The sheer volume of these provides ample opportunity to get accepted. If you’re worried about the application and selection process, we’ve written a comprehensive guide to postgraduate scholarships that’ll help you to succeed.

In the meantime, domestic students can still take advantage of this program in addition to FEE-HELP throughout their postgraduate course without having to worry too much about incurring crippling debt with insurmountable interest rates. Given how valuable knowledge is throughout a lifetime, we’d say that’s a deal worth taking.