A message to students from Vice-Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson

Thursday 22 May 2014

A low angle photograph of Swinburne University of Technology signage on the Advanced Technologies Centre building in Hawthorn.

I am writing with a brief update following last week's Federal Budget and what it means for our students, who we understand are concerned.

In the Budget, the Government has laid out very clearly its future direction for the Australian university system. It's already clear that these changes, once legislated, will have far-reaching effects.

Commonwealth grants, both for teaching and research, will be reduced and each university will be required to determine its own fee levels for domestic undergraduate students. Although universities will be allowed to set their own fees, reduced Commonwealth funding for most subjects will likely lead to higher student contributions for new students who are starting their degrees in 2016.

For current students, there will be no immediate change to the student contributions which you make. Provided that you complete your degree by 31 December 2020, you will not pay any more for your studies.

The Government has, however, announced some changes to the way in which HELP debt is collected which will affect current students. From 2016, the repayment threshold will decrease and students will be required to start paying their HELP debt back faster and indexing will be at a higher rate than CPI.

To learn more about how the Federal Government's proposed changes will affect you, read more here: http://ow.ly/wRxnT

In my view, there are a number of risks in the changes that are being proposed. One relates to the capacity of young Australians to bear significantly higher levels of debt - a problem that has captured public attention in the United States, where the value of outstanding student loans already exceeds $1 trillion.

Another is the willingness of taxpayers to continue to underwrite Australia's world-leading income contingent loan system.

The size of the nation's outstanding HELP debt now stands at more than $30 billion and had already been expected to grow to more than $55 billion by 2016. Now, with full fee deregulation and the removal of lifetime limits on an individual's HELP debt, that figure will increase very appreciably.

We are concerned that the changes proposed will deter students who might now find it difficult to consider a tertiary education, with long term consequences for their futures and their families, and the nation's economy.

There are a number of features of the new system that the Australian Government has indicated will require further consultation. Swinburne will continue to participate in the national conversation about these issues.

We'll continue to keep you updated as we learn more about the detail of the Australian Government's changes as they are presented to the Australian Parliament in the months ahead.

Professor Linda Kristjanson
Vice-Chancellor and President