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Job-ready Graduates Package – higher education reforms

19 October 2020

Job-ready Graduates Package

On 19 October 2020, the Job-ready Graduates Package passed in parliament. This means from 1 January 2021, there will be some changes to Australia’s higher education system. The package will create up to 30,000 new university places and 50,000 new short course places in 2021, and provide additional support for students in regional and remote Australia.

The changes will deliver more job-ready graduates in the disciplines and regions where they are needed most and help drive the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package will ensure better university funding arrangements, a better integrated tertiary system, targeted investments in national priorities, improved transparency and accountability, and more opportunities for regional, remote and Indigenous students.

As a student, the following changes are more likely to affect you.

For more information on the changes, read the Job-ready Graduates Frequently Asked Questions for students or visit www.dese.gov.au/job-ready.

Frequently asked questions - for students

Current university students

I’m already studying a degree in the areas where fees are due to increase. Will I need to pay the new rate?

If you are enrolled in a degree where fees are due to increase, the changes will not affect you.

If you are a continuing student (enrolled before 1 January 2021) who is studying units in disciplines with increased student contribution amounts, you will continue paying the same amount as you would have prior to these reforms for any units that would otherwise have an increased student contribution.

I am already studying engineering — do I get to pay the new lower student contribution?

Students enrolled in units that will be subject to a lower student contribution amount from 2021 will pay the new lower student contribution, regardless of when they commenced their course.

I’m changing courses. Will I pay the new rates?

Students who did not complete the original course before 31 December 2020 and change to a different course in 2021 will pay the new rates.

Students enrolling from 2021

What are the new national priorities?

The Job-ready Graduates Package encourages students to consider studying for the jobs of the future, including teaching, nursing, STEM, IT, allied health, and languages. 

Who will benefit from the Job-ready Graduates Package?

The changes will deliver more job-ready graduates in the disciplines and regions where they are needed most and help drive the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package will create up to 30,000 new university places and 50,000 new short course places by 2021 and provide additional support for students in regional and remote Australia. The changes will be implemented from 1 January 2021.

How will the Australian Government support me if I choose a degree in the national priorities compared to other disciplines?

Students studying courses in national priority areas will see significant reductions in their student contributions. For science, engineering, health, and architecture, the reduction will be nearly 20 per cent. For education and nursing, the contributions will reduce by almost half. For mathematics, contributions will reduce by more than half.

Commencing students studying units in arts, law, economics, creative arts and communications will see increases in student contributions for those units.

However, continuing students will contribute the same amounts for these units as they would have before this policy was implemented. These new student contribution amounts will also apply to those education and nursing students who had their contributions grandfathered from 2010. These reductions in student contributions recognise the significant public benefits associated with these fields of study.

Read more about the changes to student contributions.

I’m finishing Year 12 this year, and now the degree I want to study is much more expensive. What should I do?

If you are an eligible domestic university student, you can still defer your student contributions through a HECS-HELP loan. Employment outcomes for different fields of study are published on the ComparED website, and the Course Seeker website can help you search and compare your options to find the course that’s right for you.

More university places in the areas that need it

What does this mean for students?

This funding will ensure more university places are available to prospective students in regional and high-population-growth areas of major cities. In particular, it provides substantial growth in funding for regional university campuses, with the intention that the participation and attainment rates of regional students will increase relative to metropolitan Australia.

I live in a metropolitan area, but I want to study online at Charles Sturt University. Will I be eligible for one of these new places?

Yes. The funding relates to the campus location, not the location of the student.

Do I have to move to the country to go to university?

No. Four in five students will study on metropolitan campuses. In addition, many regional universities have substantial online study opportunities.

A guaranteed place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from regional Australia

What does this policy mean for students?

All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who live in regional and remote Australia are guaranteed a bachelor-level Commonwealth supported place at an Australian public university of their choice, where they are accepted into their chosen course of study.

I am an Indigenous student from a regional or remote area. Am I guaranteed a university place?

No. You still need to meet the course entry requirements as determined by the university. To find out more about entry requirements please see the Course Seeker website.

Do Indigenous students need to enrol at a regional or remote campus to be eligible for a demand driven place?

No. Demand driven Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) are available to all Indigenous students with a first enrolment address in a regional or remote location, regardless of whether they choose to study at a regional or metropolitan institution.

How much funding will students receive under this measure?

This measure will not provide funding directly to students. It will provide a Commonwealth subsidy to universities for every Indigenous student from a regional or remote area enrolled in a bachelor level course.

Eligible students will still need to pay a student contribution amount towards the cost of their tuition. The amount of the student contribution will vary depending on the course. Eligible students will continue to have access to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) to defer their fees. Access to HELP means that eligible students are not prevented from participating in higher education if they cannot pay their fees upfront and only begin to make repayments once they earn above the minimum repayment threshold.

Temporary exemption of the FEE-HELP loan fee

What does this policy mean for students?

The loan fee exemption for FEE‑HELP has been extended. First announced under the Higher Education Relief Package, the exemption seeks to encourage students to commence or continue study. The exemption will apply for all units of study with a census date on or between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2021 and will be applied automatically.

Reducing the FEE-HELP loan fee to 20 per cent

What does this policy mean for students?

The loan fee reduction will reduce the total debt amount incurred by students accessing FEE-HELP for undergraduate courses at non-university higher education providers or Table A universities. This will help to reduce the financial barriers students face in commencing or continuing higher education.

Do I have to do anything to have my loan fee reduced?

No. The reduction in your loan fee will be applied automatically.

Will the FEE‑HELP loan fees I have already had applied to my loans be reduced or exempted?

The loan fee reduction from 25 per cent to 20 per cent will apply to units of study with a census date on or after 1 July 2021.

Re-introduction of the HECS- HELP up-front payment discount

What does this policy mean for students?

The HECS-HELP up-front payment discount means students will pay less for their studies if they make an eligible up-front payment. The policy also means the options available to students to pay for their student contribution amounts will improve. The discount provides an incentive for more students to pay for their student contribution amounts up front, either fully or partially, which will decrease their student debt.

Am I eligible for the HECS‑HELP discount?

To receive the HECS‑HELP discount, you must be eligible for HECS‑HELP assistance. Your higher education provider will assess your HECS‑HELP eligibility. The up-front discount applies to up-front payments of $500 or more.

How does the HECS‑HELP discount work if I pay for my entire student contribution amount with an up-front payment?

The discount means that if you pay 90 per cent of your student contribution amount as an up-front payment your entire student contribution amount will be paid, as the Government will pay the other 10 per cent directly to your provider.

How does the HECS‑HELP discount work if I pay only part of my student contribution up front?

You can receive the HECS‑HELP discount for up-front student contribution payments of $500 or more if you are eligible for HECS‑HELP assistance. You will receive a discount of 10 per cent on the up-front payment you make. You may choose to pay some of your student contributions up front and defer the rest with a HECS‑HELP loan. For example, if you make an up-front payment of $500, the Government will pay one‑ninth of $500 to your provider on top of your up-front payment of $500. You can then pay for the remainder of your student contribution amount with a HECS‑HELP loan.

How do I make an up-front payment to benefit from the HECS‑HELP discount?

Up-front payments must be made on or before the census date or your higher education provider’s earlier administrative date for the relevant study period. The up-front payment must be $500 or more. For more information about making up-front payments, the student administration area of your provider will be able to assist you.

Can you provide an example of how the discount is calculated?

Robert is required to pay a student contribution amount for a unit of study of $2,745 by 31 January 2021, and makes an up-front payment in relation to the unit of $900 on 20 January 2021.

Robert is entitled to HECS‑HELP assistance for the unit of $1,845 ($2,745 minus $900), which the Commonwealth must pay to the higher education provider.

The up-front payment in relation to the unit exceeded $500 so there is a HECS‑HELP discount of $100 (one‑ninth of $900). The Commonwealth lends to Robert the remainder of the HECS‑HELP assistance in relation to the unit, an amount of $1,745 ($1,845 minus $100).

Student Protections

What does this policy mean for students?

Every student studying in Australia can be confident that wherever they choose to study, they will be assessed as being academically suited to that study, their academic progress and engagement will be monitored throughout the course, and they will be prevented from incurring debt for study for which they are not suited.

How is the eligibility for Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) and Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) loans changing?

The new Commonwealth assistance eligibility requirements introduced by these measures require students to:

  • be a genuine student
  • be assessed as academically suited to their course by their provider
  • limit their enrolment to 2.0 EFTSL (i.e. two years or less) worth of study per year unless their provider has assessed them as academically suited to undertake more study
  • maintain a reasonable completion rate.

In what new circumstances will a provider have to cancel a HELP debt?

Providers will be required to cancel your HELP debt if you were ineligible for the HELP loan, or if the provider completed your request for Commonwealth assistance on their behalf.

How do I know whether I am a ‘genuine student’?

Providers will be required to assess students as ‘genuine’ as part of their eligibility for continued Commonwealth assistance. This is to prevent students from occupying CSPs that may be better utilised by genuine students and from taking on HELP debts for study that is not appropriate for them. 

Factors that providers may use to determine whether you are a genuine student are:

  • your engagement with your course
  • whether you have been provided with information about the requirements for, and the cost and duration of your course
  • whether you satisfy the course requirements and complete your assessments
  • if studying online, how many times you log into your course
  • if you have provided up‑to‑date contact details that the Department can use to confirm your enrolment
  • any enrolments in other courses that may make it impossible or highly improbable for you to complete your course. 

What is an EFTSL?

An Equivalent Full Time Study Load (or EFTSL) is a measure of the study load of a student studying on a full‑time basis. An EFTSL value is a measure of an amount of study, e.g. one EFTSL is equivalent to one year of full‑time study in a higher education course. A typical full time study load over a year is usually 8 units of 0.125 EFTSL each.

I would like to study more than one course at the same time. How can I prove to my provider that I am able to study both my courses?

If you would like to study more than 2.0 EFTSL (2 years or more) worth of study in one year and still receive Commonwealth assistance, your provider will need to assess you as academically suitable and able to successfully undertake that study. As requirements for different courses vary, you should talk to your provider in the first instance about what you need to do to prove your suitability. If you are enrolled in more than one higher education provider at once, you will need to be assessed as suitable by each provider you are enrolled with.

How am I protected if a provider approves me for a HELP loan when I am not eligible?

If a provider approves you for a HELP loan when you are not eligible and the provider was at fault in doing so, your provider will not be able to pursue you for your unpaid tuition costs after your HELP loan is cancelled.

Commonwealth Grant Scheme short course places

What does this policy mean for students?

To help Australians upskill or retrain in fields of national priority, 50,000 higher education short course places will be allocated in 2021 across a range of disciplines. These places will give additional options for students and the recently unemployed to undertake higher education, preparing our nation and workforce to move out of the economic downturn. Short online courses including in teaching, health, science, information technology and agriculture provide faster training pathways and alternative study options for workers looking to upskill. 

Will subsidised fees for short online courses continue in 2021?

Short course fees are no longer discounted. Eligible students can still defer their upfront costs through a HELP loan

National microcredentials marketplace

What is the microcredentials marketplace?

The microcredentials marketplace is an online platform where job seekers can go and see what skills and abilities they need to further up-skill and re-skill, to get promoted and further their career opportunities, transition and diversity their skills to meet new market demands. 

Will microcredentials replace long-course study like bachelor degrees and trade certificates?

Microcredentials will work alongside formal qualifications to give more options to engage in study and to further improve and recognise a person’s abilities. For example, a person studying a construction management diploma will be able to explore further skills recognition through the marketplace, like leadership, digital skills or accounting.

Expanded Industry 4.0 Advanced Apprenticeship Pilot

How does the partnership with Siemens demonstrate better tertiary options?

Students and employers both benefit when the skills being taught in university courses are the skills industry needs. This will only happy by improving collaboration between universities and industry.

The Industry 4.0 Advanced Apprenticeship Pilot will be expanded into a two-year qualification that allows learners to progress from a one-year Diploma to a two-year Associate Degree.

The pilot also aims to facilitate the development of potential microcredentials embedded within the Associate Degree.

Strengthen and expand the Regional University Centres program

What is the Regional University Centres program?

The Regional University Centres (RUC) program takes an innovative approach to improve access to tertiary education for regional and remote students. RUCs support students to remain in their local community and study online with any Australian university, providing student support and campus-like facilities in regional and remote areas across Australia. More information about the program can be found at www.education.gov.au/regional-university-centres

How many Regional University Centres currently exist?

A map of all 25 RUCs can be found at www.education.gov.au/regional-university-centres

Why do we need more Regional University Centres?

Students in regional and remote areas continue to face additional challenges in accessing higher education due to fewer study options. Lower population density in regional and remote areas makes it challenging for traditional education providers, including universities, to operate campuses. Also, internet access can also be unreliable in some areas, limiting online study options. These issues can negatively affect study opportunities and student aspirations.

By supporting and strengthening current RUCs, and further expanding the RUC program through the establishment of new RUCs using a broader range of models, student aspirations and opportunities to undertake higher education can be supported.

A scoping study will be undertaken to inform the location of future RUCs.

How much funding has been given to the program?

In addition to the Government’s $53.2 million commitment already provided to the RUCs program, a further $21 million in funding will be invested over four years from 2020-21 to 2023-24 to increase access and opportunities for tertiary education in regional and remote areas by strengthening and expanding the RUC program.

This brings funding for the RUC program to a total of $74.2 million for up to 33 Centres.

What will the $21 million in funding be used for?

The funding will be used to strengthen and expand the RUC program through the provision of centralised support for RUCs and a range of projects, as well as establishing up to eight new Centres.

How can organisations/communities apply for Regional University Centre funding?

More information will be made available following the completion of a scoping study to inform future RUC locations, and any further enquiries can be directed to regional [at] dese.gov.au.

Tertiary Access Payment

Why is the Tertiary Access Payment being introduced?

The Tertiary Access Payment (TAP) is a one-off, non-indexed, means-tested payment of $5000 to school-leavers from outer regional or remote areas who relocate more than 90 minutes from their home to undertake full-time, higher-level tertiary education (Certificate IV or above).

The payment is intended to assist students with the additional costs associated with relocating to undertake tertiary study.

The TAP aims to encourage individuals in outer regional and remote Australia to access high-level tertiary study (Certificate IV or above) in the year immediately following Year 12, rather than taking a gap year.

Who is eligible to apply for the Tertiary Access Payment?

The TAP will be available for school leavers who are:

  • from an outer-regional, remote or very remote area (as per the ASGS remoteness classifications)
  • enrolled in a Certificate IV or above qualification, with duration of at least one year
  • relocating to study at an institution at least 90 minutes by public transport from their home (either in another regional location or a metropolitan location)
  • enrolled in at least 75 per cent of a fulltime study load over a 12 month period
  • accessing tertiary study in the year immediately following their completion of Year 12 or equivalent (or the first available semester of their chosen course if the course has a mid-year start).

This payment will be means-tested. Students will need to be below a parental income threshold of $250,000 to receive this payment.

This income cut-off is significantly higher than the means test applied to other student support payments such as Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY. However, the $250,000 cut-off is the same means test that applies to Carer Allowance and will enable students with two working parents to qualify for the payment.

How can I apply for the Tertiary Access Payment?

Students relocating to study at a university will apply through their university. Students relocating to study at a non-university higher education provider or a vocational education and training provider will apply through Services Australia. Further details on how to apply will be released later in 2020.

How do I receive the Tertiary Access Payment?

The TAP will be made in two instalments – a $3000 payment toward the beginning of the year, to assist with upfront costs, and a $2000 payment toward the end of the first year. Exact timing of payments will depend on institutions’ census dates.

This payment will only be available in the student’s first year of study – no further payments are made in the second year of study or beyond.

What can the money be used for?

There are no restrictions on what the TAP money is used for – students are able to spend the payment as they wish. The TAP can be used to cover costs associated with study including, but not restricted to:

  • bond for accommodation
  • assistance with rent and other household bills
  • groceries
  • textbooks and other study supplies.

I am eligible for Youth Allowance/ABSTUDY. Am I also eligible for the Tertiary Access Payment?

Yes. For those outer regional and remote students also receiving Youth Allowance or ABSTUDY, they can also receive the TAP, as long as they meet all other eligibility criteria. For these students, this payment will provide additional support to recognise the extra challenges faced by students from low-income families.

Students who are eligible for the Relocation Scholarship linked to Youth Allowance/ABSTUDY payments are also able to receive the TAP.

Why is this payment limited to students from outer regional and remote areas?

The Napthine Review explicitly recommended this payment be targeted at outer regional and remote students who are relocating more than 90 minutes from their home (Recommendation 2, Action 7).

Individuals in outer regional and remote areas have substantially less access to tertiary education providers than those living in metropolitan and inner regional areas. In addition, while tertiary attainment rates are lower in all regional and remote areas, compared with metropolitan areas, the Napthine Review highlighted that this disparity increases the further away from metropolitan areas a person resides and is more pronounced at the university level.

Improved Fares Allowance

What is Fares Allowance?

Fares Allowance is a payment currently available through Services Australia to assist students to travel between their permanent home address and their place of tertiary study. More details are available at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/Centrelink/fares-allowance.

What do changes to the Fares Allowance mean?

Currently, students must be receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy or the Pensioner Education Supplement (PES) for six months before they can access a return trip home under Fares Allowance during their first year of study.

This change will reduce the waiting period from six months to three months, to allow students to travel home in the mid-year break in their first year. All other aspects of Fares Allowance and the eligibility criteria will remain the same.

Changes will commence from 1 January 2021, to benefit students who begin receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy or PES for the 2021 academic year.

Who is eligible for funding and how can I apply?

Please refer to the Services Australia website for all details on eligibility for Fares Allowance and how to apply at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/Centrelink/fares-allowance.