2019 December Higher Education updates


Table of contents

On 5 December 2019 the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced changes to a number of APS department arrangements, including the formation of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment. The new department arrangements will take effect on 1 February 2020, and we will endeavour to keep providers up to date and informed as we transition to one department.

We wish you all a safe and happy holiday, and look forward to another exciting year ahead!

The following is applicable to both higher education and vocational education and training (VET) providers

Charging measures legislation passed

Higher education providers (providers) will not be issued an invoice for the annual charge for the 2020 calendar year until May 2021, after the reconciliation of providers' HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP student enrolment data has occurred. The activities that will be cost recovered and the amounts to be charged can be found in the Cost Recovery Implementation Statement, which will be published in due course.

  • The Higher Education Support Amendment (Cost Recovery) Act 2019 and the Higher Education Support (Charges) Act 2019 outlining amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) passed Parliament in October 2019. The enactment of these Bills means that from 1 January 2020:
    • an application fee will be introduced, payable by submitting an application for approval as a FEE-HELP provider. This will recover the Australian Government's full costs of administering and assessing applications from prospective FEE-HELP providers; and
    • an annual charge will be introduced to providers to partially recover the costs incurred by the Government in administering the HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP programs to them.

Extending the Unique Student Identifier (USI) to higher education

The Australian Government is extending the USI from the vocational education and training sector to the higher education sector.

Starting in 2021, new students will receive a USI and by 2023, all higher education students (including those who commenced prior to 2021), will need to have a USI. The USI will replace the Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Number (CHESSN), which will gradually be decommissioned. This will reduce the number of student identifiers in the tertiary system, record a student's entire tertiary education journey and help inform higher education policy and programs.

The department is working with the Office of the Student Identifiers Registrar to plan the expansion, and consultation with higher education providers will begin in 2020 and continue throughout the development and implementation to ensure a smooth transition.

You can learn more about the existing VET USI on the Unique Student Identifier website.

2019 Budget and Pre-Election Commitment measures

The Australian Government has proposed new changes in the 2019-20 Budget and the recent Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO). These measures were included in the Education Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No.1) Bill 2019, which passed Parliament in November 2019.

Loan limit for aviation courses

From 1 January 2020, students undertaking eligible aviation courses of study will have access to the higher combined Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) loan limit. Eligible aviation courses of study will be determined by the Minister for Education and will include those that meet the requirements to obtain the ratings required by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for a Commercial Pilot Licence. The higher loan limit amount will be $152,700, which is the 2019 FEE-HELP limit indexed by the Consumer Price Index.

Through the Budget and PEFO, the Government has agreed that aviation courses under both higher education and vocational education and training can be eligible for the higher loan limit. The limit is designed to cover not just the cost of a Commercial Pilot Licence, but also other qualifications required for employment as a pilot such as the Multi Engine Command Instrument Rating and the Multi Crew Co-operation qualification.

Remission of debt for teachers in very remote areas of Australia

This initiative will remit all or part of a person's HELP debt after they have been engaged as a teacher, including an early childhood teacher, for four years in a very remote location in Australia (using the ASGS Remoteness Structure) at any of the following:

  • an early childhood education and care service that includes a preschool education program
  • a preschool, or
  • a school providing primary or secondary education.

Under this initiative, teachers must complete four years full time in a six-year period, or the pro-rated part time equivalent, commencing on or after the start of the 2019 school year.

The HELP debt to be remitted would be up to the cost of obtaining their recognised teaching qualification in either Commonwealth supported study (HECS-HELP), a full fee-paying place (FEE-HELP) or a combination of both.

The portion to be remitted is limited to the HELP debt outstanding at the commencement of the teacher's placement, and to a maximum of five years of education qualification related tuition costs.

This initiative will also waive indexation on the teacher's outstanding HELP debt while they are teaching in a very remote area, from 14 February 2019. There is no minimum length of service requirement for indexation to be waived. Once they are no longer teaching in a very remote area, indexation on any remaining HELP debt will recommence.

The list of Centre Based Day Care services operating in very remote locations can be accessed through the 'very remote Centre Based Day Care services list'.

The list of eligible preschools in New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia can be accessed through the 'very remote preschools list (NSW NT QLD SA)'

The list of eligible primary and secondary schools can be accessed through the 'very remote schools list'. Please refer to the 'very remote schools list' for preschools located in eligible locations in Western Australia and Tasmania.

Other new Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) arrangements

The Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Act 2018 (the Act), announced as part of the 2017-2018 Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, passed both houses of Parliament on 14 August 2018.

Passage of the Act has implemented the following changes for 2019 and 2020:

  • changes to the HELP repayment thresholds
  • an increase to the FEE-HELP loan limits
  • removal of loan fees for some students at Table B higher education providers, and
  • a combined, renewable HELP loan limit.

Changes in thresholds

From 1 July 2019, the new minimum HELP repayment threshold of $45,881 with a one per cent repayment rate came into effect. There are a further 17 thresholds and repayment rates. The top threshold is $134,573, at which 10 per cent of income is repayable.

Combined HELP loan limit and renewable HELP balance from 2020

Combined HELP loan limit

From 1 January 2020, a combined HELP loan limit will replace the FEE-HELP limit. HECS‑HELP borrowing incurred from 1 January 2020 will count towards the HELP limit, and any FEE-HELP, VET-FEE HELP and VET Student Loans already incurred will be carried over. The combined HELP loan limit amount will be $152,700 for students studying medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and eligible aviation courses, and $106,319 for all other students (these are the 2019 FEE HELP limit indexed by the Consumer Price Index).

Renewable HELP balance

The renewable HELP balance will also come into effect on 1 January 2020. This means that repayments starting from the 2019-20 income year will 'credit' or 'top up' a person’s HELP balance to use for further study. The Australian Taxation Office will advise the Department of Education of an individual’s compulsory and voluntary repayments against a person's HELP debt. The department will use their repayment information to increase the person’s HELP balance by the same amount.

Under the renewable balance, eligible compulsory or voluntary repayments will be able to be re-borrowed in the future, up to the relevant HELP loan limit for that year. This will enable people to pursue further study in order to retrain, change careers, or further specialise in their current profession. The same maximum loan limits, depending on the course of study, will continue to apply.

myHELPbalance portal

With the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) loan limit changes commencing from 1 January 2020, more students will need to monitor their HELP balance, to ensure they have enough HELP assistance available to cover their student contribution or tuition fees. They will be able to do this through the myHELPbalance website.

As a person’s available HELP balance will be renewable, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will, at various points throughout the year, advise the Department of Education, from  1 July 2020, of a person’s repayments against their HELP debt. The department will use this repayment information to increase the person’s HELP balance by the same amount repaid, so they will be able to access those funds again, up to the relevant HELP loan limit for that year.

PAYG payments are not credited to a person’s HELP balance as they are deducted from their pay. The PAYG payments are withholding amounts, so they are not ‘received’ by the ATO until the person submits their tax return for assessment by the Commissioner. As a result, it is expected that the largest repayment information being shared between the department and the ATO will be during the peak tax return season.

There will be clear communication for students and providers around the scheduling of repayment information, with FAQs on the myHELPbalance to address students’ questions.

Both students and providers will be able to access the application to view remaining borrowing entitlements. Students will also be able to view their loan history.

The department has conducted extensive user research that has informed the final design of myHELPbalance, with two student surveys receiving over 2500 responses. The myUniAssist web application will continue to run until the end of 2019, as the FEE-HELP limits continue to operate until 31 December 2019. On 1 January 2020, myUniAssist will redirect students to the myHELPbalance portal.

Introducing Edy - Study Assist's upcoming pilot virtual assistant

As you know, the Department of Education will be piloting a virtual assistant on the Study Assist website very soon. This has been a long time coming and we are very close to entering the pilot phase! Edy will be around 24/7 to answer questions from students, career practitioners or anyone who comes her way, on topics that include getting a loan, loan eligibility, repayment of debts etc. If the question cannot be answered or it does not sit within the scope of Study Assist, Edy will suggest the best place for the user to find the requested information. During the pilot phase, the department will be continuously improving the knowledge base for Edy. Edy will only be as good as the information fed to her. If you are interested in improving Edy, please help the department to add to the knowledge base by directing traffic towards her. This is to see all the different ways a question can be asked so Edy can be trained to be the best possible version of herself. Please note, the released product will not be the final product, you will see Edy grow as the department continuously adds/amend her knowledge to suit those who are using it.

If you wish to be part of the pilot phase, and haven’t already done so, please send an email to HEenquiries@dese.gov.au expressing your interest.

Census date on weekend/holiday

The Department of Education advises that, when setting census dates, higher education providers need to consider the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (the Act).

In basic terms, the Act says that if you set the last day for doing something (e.g. the census date) on a weekend or a holiday then this “thing” can be done on the next day that is not a weekend or a holiday. For example:

  • unit 101 census date - Saturday 21 March 2020
  • student withdraws from Unit 101 - Monday 23 March 2020.

In this case the student has met the census date requirements in terms of withdrawing on or before the census date and they are not liable for a Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt for Unit 101.

Allowing ‘a thing’ (eg the submission of a HELP application form or the withdrawal from a unit of study) to be done on the next day (to the weekend or holiday) does not grant a student extra time to become eligible, for example, to become a citizen, or to apply for a tax file number. The student would still be required to be eligible as at the census date.

These resources remind students getting payments to tell Centrelink when they change their study details.

Students are told of their obligations when they claim Youth Allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY, so these messages are not new. However, students can forget to tell Centrelink when they withdraw from a subject, change their course or stop studying. This can lead to overpayments and debts they need to pay back.

Some providers have asked for communication resources while they prepare to go live with the Tertiary Collection of Student Information (TCSI) service in early 2020.

You may like to send a copy of the resources to your student association as well. In the kit you will find:

  • a shell article to use in your student newsletters or on your website
  • an infographic on how to update study details to use on your social media channels
  • a self-print factsheet to email or hand to students withdrawing from a subject or course
  • a self-print poster to use in a student centre
  • content you could add to your webpages about withdrawing from a subject or course, with a link to the appropriate www.humanservices.gov.au webpage.

Email TCSI.support@humanservices.gov.au for a copy of the kit.

For more information about TCSI, visit the HEIMShelp TCSI page, or email TCSI.support@humanservices.gov.au.

The following is applicable only to higher education providers


The Department of Education (department) conducted an internal review of the OS-HELP scheme, which assists Commonwealth supported students to study part of their course overseas.

The allocation limit of 20,000 loans per year (specified in the OS-HELP Guidelines 2013) has influenced the review as the actual numbers of loans allocated is approaching this limit. The department analysed the loan distribution process whereby advance payments are made to providers at the beginning of the year based on providers’ estimates. A reconciliation process takes place later in the year on actual loans allocated against these estimates.

Advance funding overpayments

The department has determined that providers are approving and allocating loans at a rate less than the maximum, requiring the Australian Government to reclaim a substantial portion of funding later in the year. In 2017, the total amount advanced to providers in respect to OS‑HELP loans was around $154 million. Around $51 million of this was reclaimed.

As a result, the department is considering several options in determining the way in which upfront OS-HELP payments to providers could be improved. These options would merely be an administrative change relating to upfront payments. If providers wish to allocate further loans during the year and require further payments, the April and October revised estimates processes will still continue.

Loan allocation approvals

The department would like to remind providers that they should not allocate loans above the amount advised in writing by the department. As stated in the following extract from the OS‑HELP Guidelines 2013:

"the number of students selected for receipt of OS-HELP assistance in relation to a period must be such that the number of loans for overseas study does not exceed the number advised in writing to the higher education provider by the department" (Chapter 2.15.1)

This is especially important as the number of loans nears the 20,000 limit. Where providers exhaust the number of loans advised by the department and wish to allocate more loans to students, they must first seek approval from the department before these loans are allocated and paid to students.

Loans paid without the appropriate approval are at risk of being invalidated. If you require additional loans beyond the amount advised in writing by the department, please refer to section 32.4 of the Administrative Information for Providers for more information on this process.

2020 student publications

The Department of Education is continuing its ‘digital approach’ to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) student information products, where the products are only available electronically.

Commonwealth assistance forms (CAFs – the paper forms)

With the majority of higher education providers (providers) using their own eCAF system or the Australian Government eCAF system (the Government eCAF), there will only be a limited number of paper CAFs printed for 2020. If you require paper forms, please place your order in HITS or email HEenquiries@dese.gov.au for assistance, noting any orders over 200 (per loan type) will require a business case to justify why the paper forms are required.

HELP booklets

The HELP information booklets are currently going through the design process and will be available on the Study Assist website in due course. While the department does not print hard copy booklets, providers can request the relevant print files of the various HELP booklets from the department and print hard copies themselves, or direct students to download/read the booklets on the HELP Publications page of the Study Assist website.

HELP booklets and brochures

The student HELP information booklets and brochures will be available on the Study Assist website shortly.

You can request the print files of these products if you want to print hardcopies, or you can direct students to download/read the products on the HELP Publications page of the Study Assist website.

If you require hardcopies of the brochures, please place your order in HITS or email HEenquiries@dese.gov.au for assistance. Please note the department will cease printing hardcopies of the brochures from the 2021 student year, but will make the print files of the brochures for providers to print their own.

Want to have a look at the Government eCAF?

For providers not using any type of eCAF at the moment, please have a look at the Government eCAF training environment to investigate if it could work with your business processes. To request access to the eCAF training environment, please email HEenquiries@dese.gov.au.


The Department of Education has released the new ComparED website. ComparED is complementary to the QILT website, and focuses on the outcomes of the QILT survey, but presents information in a way that is more user-friendly for our target audience, prospective students. With ComparED, users can compare experience and employment outcomes for up to 6 out of 21 different study areas and up to 6 different institutions of the 115 listed.

The revised QILT website will continue to serve institutions through the provider portal and deliver the administrative functions of the surveys.

You can now promote your survey outcomes by directing students to the ComparED website.

Allocation of designated places for Table A universities

In 2020, Table A universities will have the flexibility to redistribute their allocated Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) from enabling to sub-bachelor and/or postgraduate level, or from sub-bachelor to postgraduate and vice-versa, in a cost neutral manner. Universities would not be able to transfer their allocated CSPs from either sub-bachelor or postgraduate to enabling. This soft barrier on enabling places is intended to encourage a greater focus on learning outcomes and movement of resources towards accredited qualifications that are transferable to other institutions, as highlighted by the Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework.

Universities will be permitted to utilise CSPs for any postgraduate courses that they believe meets the needs of their students. To maintain transparency on the use of CSPs for postgraduate courses, where a university wishes to redistribute CSPs to postgraduate courses that do not currently attract CSPs, the university should inform the Department of Education regarding its rationale for the move. This should address factors such as requirements for initial entry to a profession, demand and local economic or community need for the postgraduate course, or a focus on supporting access for underrepresented students including those in regional and remote locations.

Universities will be able to trade allocated designated places with one another, provided:

  • the traded places are cost neutral, meaning the value of the donor provider's designated places is equal to the value of the recipient provider's designated places. Traded places do not necessarily have to be at the same level,
  • universities can demonstrate they have arrangements in place to take into account the number of places required in the pipeline of enrolments beyond the transfer to ensure students can complete their courses,
  • that once a trade is agreed between institutions, the universities involved in the trade must notify the department in writing by 31 March of the year for which the trade applies, that is, in advance of the census date for the traded places. No retrospective trades will be considered.

If you have any further questions, please contact CGS@dese.gov.au.

Performance-based funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (PBF Scheme)

The Minister for Education announced the final design of the PBF scheme for 2020 on  2 October 2019. Based on recommendations from an expert panel, sector feedback and further statistical analysis, the scheme comprises four core measures with adjusted thresholds to account for university contexts and student characteristics.

The measures are weighted as follows:

  • graduate employment outcomes (40 per cent)
  • student experience (20 per cent)
  • student success (20 per cent)
  • equity group participation by Indigenous, low socio-economic status and regional/remote students (20 per cent).

The Department of Education has invited universities to provide a qualitative submission and will support them improve their performance in the future.

The PBF scheme will ensure universities focus sufficient attention on the quality of their teaching and student support to achieve the best possible graduate outcomes. In particular, it puts a strong emphasis on the importance of graduate employment outcomes, which will motivate universities to ensure they are meeting the needs of their local labour markets when offering places to students.

If you have any further questions, please contact HEreform@dese.gov.au.

Mission Based Compacts for 2019 (compacts)

Compacts are a quality and accountability requirement under section 19 110 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA). Universities must enter into a compact with the Australian Government for each year for which a grant is paid to the provider under HESA. For 2019 and 2020, reporting requirements for compacts will be expanded incrementally with a view to further collaboration and strategic discussions between the universities and the Government on key higher education issues.

The 2019 compacts requested universities to provide information on:

  • the university's mission
  • teaching and learning strategies
  • research and research training and innovation strategies
  • strategies to support equity group students
  • strategies to support labour market outcomes
  • strategies to support security measures.

The Department of Education is reviewing the 2019 compacts. The department intends to publish them on the department's website by the end of the year.

If you have further questions, please contact CGS@dese.gov.au.

Redistribution pool of medical places

The Australian Government is establishing a small pool of up to 60 medical Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) drawn from existing university allocations every three years. These places will be redistributed between universities to support key health workforce priorities. The first round for 2021 will focus on helping to build the rural and regional medical workforce.

The Department of Education released a discussion paper on 23 September 2019, inviting feedback on options for managing the redistribution pool by 25 October 2019. The paper included a new Assessment Framework and guiding principles to support universities developing proposals for new or expanded medical programs. All proposals for new medical schools and/or medical CSPs going forward will be evaluated against the Assessment Framework.

The department has published the submissions on its website. The Department of Health (Health) managed stakeholder feedback from jurisdictions through the Health Services Principal Committee, and other key health workforce stakeholders through the Medical Workforce Reform Advisory Committee. Feedback from the university sector will help to determine the parameters for the pool and how it will be implemented.

Following collaboration with Health, the department has provided advice to the Minister for Education on options for the redistribution pool mechanism.

If you have any further questions, please contact CGS@dese.gov.au.

The following is applicable only to VET providers.

New VET Student Loans (VSL) application round

Registered Training Organisations seeking VSL approval will have an opportunity to apply when the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business (Department of Employment) opens the next application round in December 2019. Due to the Christmas period, it is anticipated that the round will close 31 March 2019 and approved providers will be able to enrol from 1 July 2020. Further information will be published on the the Department of Employment's website.