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Private education gives Australian families the power of choice

By Brendan Nelson - posted Tuesday, 20 April 2004

Thick. Rich. Queue jumpers. These are the words of derision reserved for about 10,000 Australians currently studying in Australian universities.

What loathsome sin have they committed? These Australians have been offered and accepted a full fee paying university place. In plain language, unlike the other 530,000 undergraduate students, they receive no taxpayer support.

Half of Australia’s universities currently offer full fee paying opportunities. These are students who either missed the HECS cut off or who declined a HECS place in a course they didn’t want to, in favour of paying full fees in one they did.


Australia currently hosts 118,000 fee paying foreign students. While they are welcomed for economic and cultural benefits, Labor wants to ban Australians from their own universities if they pay their own way.

Under a Labor government, the only way Australians could pay full fees would be to go offshore, sell their passport for a foreign one and come back. Madness.

Six years ago Australian unis were allowed to offer full fee paying places to academically eligible Australians. All HECS places have to be filled first and then a maximum equivalent of 25 per cent could be enrolled on a full fee basis. These students now represent less than two per cent of undergraduates.

The University of Western Sydney enrols 5,000 foreign students as full fee payers. But not a single Australian. Full fee paying places are additional opportunities.

Reforms just passed will see 34,000 more fully funded HECS places into the system over the next five years. But for the very first time the government will give a HECS style loan to Australians who miss out on a HECS place who might be offered a full fee place. A flat 20 per cent charge will apply to the loan, so no matter how long it takes to pay it back; the cost of a $20,000 loan will never be more than $4,000.

Students at private unis can also access such loans. From Bond University to the Australian Institute of Music, rich or poor students will be given the financial keys of access.


It’s like TV. We have five free to air channels. But you can also purchase Foxtel. Pay TV doesn’t restrict free to air access, but it does broaden choice. So do fee paying university places.

Some high school students currently opposed to full fee paying places may soon be thankful they exist. A student with his heart set on Arts/Law at UNSW and a tertiary entrance score of 99 will just miss out on a HECS place.

Parents desperately seeking consolation through tears of bitter disappointment will be able to at least say, “Son, you have done brilliantly. You still have a second chance as a fee paying student at UNSW”.

Were the government removing HECS places and replacing them with full fee places, I would be outraged. Why did four independent Senators agree with me on this? Because they examined the facts, not emotionally charged dogma.

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About the Author

Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson is a former federal Minister for Education, Science and Training and is the Liberal Member for Bradfield (NSW).

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