29. Higher Education Loan Program

29.1 - What is HELP?

HELP consists of:

  • HECS‑HELP, which provides eligible Commonwealth supported students with a loan to cover their student contribution amount (see part 30.1)
  • FEE‑HELP, which provides eligible fee-paying students, enrolled at an eligible provider, with a loan to cover some or all of their tuition fees up to the FEE-HELP limit (see part 31.1.)
  • OS‑HELP, which provides eligible Commonwealth supported students who wish to study overseas with a cash loan to cover expenses such as accommodation and travel (see part 32.1)
  • SA-HELP, which provides eligible students with a loan to cover any student services and amenities fee imposed by their providers (see part 33.1)
  • VET Student Loans is a separate scheme for VET students. Information about VET Student Loans is available from the department’s website.

29.2 - Determining HELP eligibility

There are common eligibility criteria across all loan schemes that must be met if a student is to be considered for assistance.  Each loan scheme also has additional eligibility criteria which must be met. The table below broadly summarises the HELP eligibility criteria across the schemes.

Common criteria

To be eligible, a student must:

  • be an Australian citizen or the holder of a permanent humanitarian visa or an eligible1 New Zealand special category visa (SCV) holder who fulfils certain residency requirements (from 1 January 2016); and
  • meet the tax file number requirements; and
  • apply within the eligible time period.
HECS-HELP OS-HELP SA-HELP FEE-HELP VET Student Loans
Specific to Loan Criteria

To be eligible, a student must:

  • be Commonwealth supported for that unit; and
  • submit a valid Request for Commonwealth support and HECS-HELP form by the census date; and
  • be primarily studying at a campus in Australia; and
  • an Australian citizen and undertake in Australia at least one unit of study contributing to the course; or
  • the holder of a permanent humanitarian visa who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit.
Specific to Loan Criteria

To be eligible, a student must:

  • be enrolled in a course of study as a Commonwealth supported student; and
  • have already completed at least one Equivalent Full-Time Student Load (EFTSL) of study in Australia as a Commonwealth supported student that counts towards their course of study; and
  • have at least 0.125 EFTSL remaining on return; and
  • not have received OS-HELP in relation to more than one other six-month period; and
  • have not received any other OS-HELP loan for a period that overlaps or coincides with the six-month period; and
  • be undertaking full-time study while overseas; and
  • have that overseas study count towards the course of study they are enrolled in; and
  • be selected by their Australian provider.
Specific to Loan Criteria

To be eligible, a student must:

  • undertake in Australia at least one unit of study contributing to the course; and
  • be enrolled in a course of study with the provider or a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals on a day on which the fee is payable; and
  • has, on or before the day on which the fee is payable, completed, signed and given to an appropriate officer of the provider a request for Commonwealth assistance in relation to the fee.
Specific to Loan Criteria

To be eligible, a student must:

  • be a fee paying student; and
  • be primarily studying at a campus in Australia; and
  • not have exceeded his or her FEE‑HELP limit; and
  • be enrolled in a unit that meets the course requirements; and
  • an Australian citizen and undertake in Australia at least one unit of study contributing to the course; or
  • the holder of a permanent humanitarian visa who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit; or
  • if the student is undertaking, or is to undertake, the unit as part of a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals – a permanent visa holder who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit.
Specific to Loan Criteria

To be eligible, a student must:

  • be a full fee-paying (fee for service) student (diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma), or an eligible student enrolled in a State or subsidised place (diploma and advanced diploma only); and
  • a permanent a permanent humanitarian visa holder who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit; and
  • be primarily studying at a campus in Australia; and
  • not have exceeded his or her FEE-HELP limit; and
  • be enrolled in an approved course with an approved course provider and have enrolled in accordance with the application requirements; and
  • be assessed by the approved course provider as academically suited to undertake the course; and
  • have a Unique Student Identifier or are otherwise exempt.

In determining whether a student is entitled to HELP, a provider should collect sufficient information from the student to be satisfied the student meets the legislative requirements on or before the census date. In some cases, this may mean that students provide additional documentation after they have enrolled.

Example

  • Oliver completed his Bachelor of Arts/Law as a fee-paying student and used $80,000 of his available HELP balance.
  • Oliver is now seeking to enrol in a fee-paying Master of Business Administration (MBA) and has been asked for evidence of his available HELP balance by the university as part of his MBA enrolment.

The provider must comply with privacy and protected information requirements (including those contained within the Privacy Act and HESA) when handling students’ personal information (see part 40).

29.3 - Combined HELP loan limit and available HELP balance

There is a ‘combined HELP loan limit’ on how much students can borrow in government study and training loans. The combined HELP loan limit includes all previous FEE‑HELP, VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans borrowings, as well as new HECS-HELP borrowing from 1 January 2020.

There will be two limits, referred to as the HELP loan limits, which will replace the FEE-HELP limits. For 2020, the HELP loan limits will be $106,319 for most courses. The limit for dentistry[1], medicine[2] and veterinary science[3] and eligible aviation courses is courses is higher, at $152,700 in 2020 [HESA section 104‑20]. HELP loan limits are indexed on 1 January each year.

From 1 January 2020, every student will have a unique ‘available HELP balance’ (which replaces the FEE-HELP balance). A student’s available HELP balance is their remaining borrowing entitlement for HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans. Any loan fee amounts or indexation of outstanding debts are not included in a person’s available HELP balance.

The department publishes the HELP limit for each year on the department’s website.

This information is also published in the information booklets available from the Study Assist website.

Students may access up to their available HELP balance for the year in which study is undertaken. Repayments from 1 July 2019 will renew a student’s available HELP balance and will be able to be re‑borrowed for additional study.

Providers should remind students to check their available HELP balance as any amount paid over a student’s eligible limit will need to be recovered by the Provider.

The FEE-HELP limit is indexed on 1 January each year. If a person has reached their FEE‑HELP limit in 2017 and wishes to enrol in 2018 or later years, they will be able to access the difference between the FEE-HELP limit in 2017 and the FEE-HELP limit in the year they enrol.

Exceeding the HELP balance

If a student is enrolled in a unit of study where the tuition fee exceeds the student’s available HELP balance, the student will only receive HECS‑HELP, FEE‑HELP or VSL equal to their available HELP balance. Providers are responsible for collecting the remainder of the student’s tuition fee for the unit.

Example

  • David has an available HELP balance of $3,000. He enrols in four units with the same census date. The tuition fee for each unit is $800. The total amount of HELP to which David is eligible for the units is $3,000, even though the total amount of tuition fees for the units is $3,200. David must pay the remaining $200 upfront.

Students enrolled with multiple providers

Students who are approaching their combined HELP loan limit, and who are enrolled with multiple providers or are enrolled in units, some of which are provided by OUA, must notify each provider and OUA of how much HELP they wish to receive for each unit [HESA subsections 107-10(3) and (4)].

In cases where a student is enrolled in multiple units on the same census date, does not have enough available HELP balance to cover all the units, and fails to notify their providers, the units for which they will receive HELP will be determined according to the order in which the data is reported to TCSI. Where a student does not have enough available HELP balance to cover a unit of study, the department will notify the affected provider(s) via an exception report. Providers are responsible for recovering any outstanding tuition fees from students. The Commonwealth can only pay the provider HELP up to the amount of the student’s available HELP balance.

Viewing a student’s available HELP balance

A student can view their available HELP balance via the myHELPbalance website at using their Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN) as well as their student ID number. Their CHESSN will be issued to them on their Commonwealth Assistance Notice (see part 11.1 and part 11.3).

A provider can undertake an entitlement search at any time to obtain the student’s available HELP balance via the myHELPbalance website. To undertake a search, providers will need to know a student’s CHESSN or USI, their full name and date of birth.

29.4 - Calculating the amount of HELP

A student can borrow up to the amount of the tuition fee being charged by their provider as long as this amount does not result in the student exceeding their available HELP balance. Students may pay part of their tuition fee for the unit upfront to their provider on or before the census date and obtain HECS‑HELP or FEE‑HELP for the remainder.

The amount of HECS‑HELP or FEE‑HELP provided for a unit of study is the difference between the tuition fee for the unit and the sum of any up-front payments the student has made on or before the census date. This amount should be calculated immediately after the census date for the unit. A student’s available HELP balance will be reduced by this amount.

Providers report a student’s HELP debt through the Higher Education Student Data Collection (see part 36.1) and the Commonwealth pays the HECS‑HELP or FEE‑HELP amount to the provider.

 

[1]    A course of study in dentistry means a course of study, completion of which would satisfy the minimum academic requirements for registration as a dentist by an authority of a state, a territory or the Commonwealth, regardless of whether further dentistry study is completed before registration is sought.

[2]    A course of study in medicine means a course of study, completion of which would allow provisional registration as a medical practitioner by an authority of a state, a territory or the Commonwealth.

[3]    A course of study in veterinary science means a course of study, completion of which would satisfy the minimum academic requirements for registration as a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner by an authority of a state, a territory or the Commonwealth, regardless of whether further veterinary science study is completed before registration is sought.