4 March 2019

University students supported by Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) will start paying back their loans earlier than before, as the repayment threshold of the program will be lowered to $45,881 from July this year.

The new repayment rate will sit at one per cent of taxable income, which amounts to around $500 a year for low-income earners. The amendment that brought the new threshold will also see all tuition fee assistance programs combined under one lifetime loan limit beginning in 2020.

Some students at the University of Melbourne have concerns about the increased financial burdens resulting from the adjustments made to HELP.

“The combining of HECS and FEE-HELP loans will put students like me into a lot of debt as they’ll have to pay tens of thousands in uni fees upfront,” said postgraduate student Katrina Bell.

Sophie Wallace, a student from regional Australia, also worries the change could discourage potential students living in rural areas from attending universities, particularly those who are struggling financially.

Other students believe the changes are fair. “For Indigenous students especially, completing a university degree breaks the intergenerational cycle
of economic disadvantage,” said an Indigenous student who wishes to remain anonymous.

University of Melbourne Student Union President Molly Willmott has expressed disappointment over the new HELP system. “Putting into account the cost of living increasing and more graduates failing to find employment, added pressure to repay a degree so early is unfair and puts low-income graduates at risk,” said Willmott. “The threshold should at least be raised back to $55,000.”

“The University is opposed to the reduced cap on HELP loans and has informed the Government of its view,” said a University spokesperson in a statement to Farrago. “The University understands the serious financial implications of the cap for some students. The University is committed to access and equity and is currently examining alternatives for minimising the impacts of the HELP cap. The University reminds all students of the financial services available on campus.”

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