Higher Education Provider Updates March 2023

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Cessation of HECS-HELP upfront discount – from 1 January 2023

Following the passage of legislation in late 2022, the HECS-HELP 10% upfront discount ceased, effective from 1 January 2023. Higher education providers (providers) should ensure that information provided to students is current and correct.

The Department of Education (Department) and the Study Assist websites were updated on 12 December 2022 to reflect this policy change.

Providers are advised that this change has been enabled in the Tertiary Collection of Student Information (TCSI).

Unique Student Identifier (USI) - Minister exemption for offshore international enrolments and award conferral

The Minister for Education has, by legislative instrument, provided an exemption for offshore international students to require a USI in order to have their award conferred. This provides an exemption for students who are unable to be assigned a USI because they do not have the necessary supporting documentation and will not complete any of their study onshore in Australia. The exemption also provides that international students who have completed their course of study in Australia prior to 1 January 2023, and have returned to their home country, are exempt from the conferral of award requirement.

For conferral, the student must have completed all academic and practical requirements and have no outstanding debt to the provider. Conferral is not specifically linked to the graduation ceremony, or receipt of the academic transcript.

It is important that providers are aware that international students studying onshore who have not yet arrived must not be required to provide a USI as a condition of enrolment. International students are unable to create a USI prior to landing in Australia and clearing customs. Administration staff at providers and Tertiary Admission Centres should be aware that a USI must not be a mandatory requirement at enrolment for international students. Once onshore, international students should be encouraged to acquire a USI as soon as possible.

OS-HELP – allocation and additional loans

The Department has been made aware of a number of providers that approved OS-HELP loans in excess of their allocation. Providers cannot select a greater number of students for OS-HELP assistance than the number advised by the Department, even if the provider has sufficient funding to do so.

If a provider expects that it will not have enough allocated OS-HELP loans to meet expected student demand in a particular year, it can request an additional allocation of OS-HELP loans at any time. Such a request will only be valid if it is sent to the HELP.Policy@education.gov.au. The Department will advise whether the request for additional loans is approved. Providers must not select students to receive OS-HELP loans in expectation of receiving an additional allocation.

FEE-HELP loan fee exemption data fix

The FEE-HELP loan fee exemption extension from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2022 has been legislated. This means that undergraduate students with FEE-HELP loans at non-Table B providers will receive a credit on their HELP debt account at the Australian Tax Office (ATO) for the removal of the loan fee. This will be a system data fix enabled by TCSI and is expected to occur in April 2023. The Department expects that it may take 24 hours for loan records to be updated at the ATO between the removal of the original record and the replacement of the revised record.

Tax File Number (TFN) verification

All students who wish to obtain a HELP loan are required to meet the TFN requirements under Division 187 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) by providing to the provider (and the Department) their TFN, or a Certificate of application for a TFN on their eCAF.

In the latter case, once the student receives their TFN from the ATO, they must give it to their provider within 21 days of it being issued.

TFN verification ensures that the TFN supplied by the student to the provider and submitted to TCSI matches student details at the ATO. The ATO verifies the TFNs supplied through TCSI against the details they have for the student.

TFN details are automatically sent by TCSI to the ATO when sufficient data is reported for them to verify.

Any TFNs not verified due to a mismatch in TCSI are re-checked nightly for up to 12 weeks. When the 12-week period has finished, a final notification is provided advising that the verification process has failed and ceased for the student. This 12-week verification cycle should give providers and students sufficient time to resolve the mismatch. Re-triggering verification after the 12-week period has concluded can be done by updating the student details.

HELP Eligibility requirements and provider obligations

Providers must determine whether a student is entitled to access a HELP loan. Providers should collect sufficient information from the student and actively assess the documentation to be satisfied the student meets the legislative requirements (as set out in Chapter 3 of HESA) on or before the census date. In some cases, this may mean that students provide additional documentation after they have enrolled.

Higher Education Provider Guidelines 2012 remake

The Higher Education Provider Guidelines 2012 (the Guidelines) provide further information to support the implementation of HESA.

The Guidelines were due to sunset on 1 April 2023 and have been remade. The 2023 Guidelines have incorporated feedback received through the HELP communications working group meetings and correspondence received by the Department from providers.

The Higher Education Provider Guidelines 2023 are now published on the Federal Register of Legislation.

As providers apply the 2023 Guidelines, the Department is interested in suggestions on the utility of the Guidelines and provider suggestions for improvement. Providers that wish to provide feedback on the utility of the 2023 Guidelines can contact the Department at HELP.Policy@education.gov.au.

Grandfathering provisions extended to eligible honours students

The Higher Education Support Amendment (2022 Measures No. 1) Act 2023 amended HESA with effect from 21 February 2021 to ensure that the definition of a ‘grandfathered student’ under the Job-ready Graduate reforms is extended to a person who commenced a course of study (the ongoing course) with a higher education provider before 1 January 2021, completes that course and commences another course of study (an honours course that leads to an honours degree) that relates to the ongoing course.

The amendment means that honours students who commenced, but did not complete, their related undergraduate degree prior to 1 January 2021 are now eligible to retrospectively receive discounted course fees. This was the original intention of the measure introduced under the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Act 2020.

As a result of the amendment, any student who has paid a higher student contribution because they were excluded from the grandfathering arrangements will become retrospectively eligible to pay the lower amount. Providers are required to re-credit an affected student’s HELP balance and/or refund an excess up-front payment amount to ensure that an affected student’s HELP balance is what it would have been had the student been treated as a grandfathered student at all times during the transition period.

The Department is currently in the process of registering a second transitional arrangement for those students who should be considered grandfathered and are now in an honours course but may have paid their HECS-HELP debt upfront between 1 January 2023 and 20 February 2023. This amendment will mean providers will have to reimburse students for the extra amount they may have paid during that period should any students be affected. Providers should be aware of this and check for updates as this will be progressed within the coming month(s).

Reporting Requirements and 20,000 Commonwealth Supported Places

In addition to standard reporting through TCSI, Non University Higher Education Providers in receipt of Equity Place funding were sent reporting templates for April estimates, including a dedicated sheet for reporting Equity Places.

Providers are required to report the Unique Student Identifier (TCSI element E584), course name (TCSI element E308), course code (TCSI element E307), six-digit field of education code (TCSI element E461) and course of study type (TCSI element E310) for all students commencing in the courses approved under the measure in 2023.

Providers also need to indicate which students have been identified to be experiencing educational disadvantage.

Please contact CGS@education.gov.au with any queries.

Charging a Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) and offering SA-HELP

Providers approved under HESA (i.e. Table A and B providers and non-university FEE-HELP providers) may charge students a SSAF and offer SA-HELP to assist students to pay for all or part of their SSAF.

Where a provider has not previously charged a SSAF but intends to charge one to students in the future, please contact the Department via SSAF@education.gov.au. The Department would like to help providers understand the additional SSAF and SA-HELP legislative requirements that must be met, including publishing and reporting requirements.

Providers may also wish to familiarise themselves with SSAF and SA-HELP legislative requirements by reviewing sections 18 and 33 of the Administrative Information for Providers (AIP).

Updating the HELP IT System (HITS) Contacts and Key Personnel List

Providers are responsible for updating HITS with their contacts and key personnel information. This is to ensure important communication to the sector is sent to the correct staff. This includes notifying providers of the opportunity to vary your HELP advance payment and provide an estimate for the following year’s HELP advance.

Pages 53-60 and 100-104 of the HITS User Guide will assist providers to update the HITS Contact List and Key Personnel List.

Enquiries relating to HITS and access to the system should be sent to FEE-HELP@education.gov.au.

Notifying the Department and TEQSA of material changes

Providers must notify the Department via FEE-HELP@education.gov.au of any material changes that occur. This includes but is not limited to name changes, key personnel changes (i.e. CEO, directors, etc.), sale of the business to another company.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) also needs to be notified of material changes. Higher Education Providers can find further information about material changes on TEQSA’s Material changes webpage.

Material change notifications should be sent to the Department and TEQSA simultaneously.

Please note, if a provider intends to change its corporate structure, please contact the Department via FEE-HELP@education.gov.au in the first instance to understand the affect this may have on your organisation’s approval as a FEE-HELP provider under HESA.

HELP factsheets

As advised in the December 2022 Higher Education Provider Update, the 2023 HELP factsheets are published on the Study Assist website.

The factsheets (covering CSP/HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, OS-HELP and SA-HELP) are a one-page resource designed to provide an overview of the specific type of Commonwealth assistance and a quick guide to eligibility and the application process.

The factsheets complement the 2023 HELP booklets which are very detailed and comprehensive, so the factsheets are a great resource to introduce students to the information they must be aware of.

USI queries and referrals

The Department has received a number of misdirected referrals where students are seeking assistance with creating or accessing a USI, rather than the USI office. The Department has asked other government departments to ensure that their call centre scripting is directing students to the USI contact centre (1300 857 536) or visiting the website (usi.gov.au) for information.

The Department would also appreciate if providers could ensure that their student services areas also have the correct referral information for creating or accessing USIs.

eCAF Stocktake update

The Department has recently finished analysing the large volume of submissions and thanks those providers who have proactively been in contact to become compliant for 2023. All providers involved in the stocktake should expect to be notified about the assessment in April 2023.

A general note to any provider who is thinking about transitioning to the Government eCAF system for one or more of their loan types, please contact HEenquiries@education.gov.au if you would like to arrange a meeting to discuss transitioning to the Government system.

eCAFs and census date

This is an important reminder to those providers who use the Government eCAF system that it is the provider’s responsibility to manage their own students, including sending eCAF invitations or revising eCAFs. With census dates approaching, the Department has had several students requesting the Department check or update their eCAF. The Department will not respond to a student in relation to their eCAF and will refer them to their provider to manage. If a student has an eCAF issue that you are unable to address, please contact the department directly at HEenquiries@education.gov.au

A further reminder to all providers that while the legislation does permit variation of a census date without written approval by the Minister or his delegate, this is only prior to the census date falling due. Providers cannot vary census dates in the eCAF system once the census date has passed due to non-submission from the student. If providers experience an administrative issue, such as an IT outage, that results in a student not submitting their eCAF by the census date, please contact the Department as soon as possible for advice on next steps.

Student Learning Entitlement Management Systems (SLEMS)

The Student Learning Entitlement Management System (SLEMS) went live on 17 March 2023. 

SLEMS will track the Student Learning Entitlement (SLE) of students including amounts used from 1 January 2022, upon the implementation of the policy. A few things to note for SLEMS:

  • Students will be able to view their SLE amounts in myHELPbalance. This includes functionality to view unit enrolment changes to their SLE amount. 
  • Providers will be able to view students’ SLE amounts in myHELPbalance. 

Providers should contact TCSI support TCSIsupport@education.gov.au orstudentlearningentitlement@education.gov.au if they have any questions. 

Australian Universities Accord

On 22 February 2023, the Australian Universities Accord Panel released a discussion paper outlining the fundamental challenges facing the Australian higher education sector.

The Discussion Paper is structured around a series of prompt questions to stimulate conversation about how Government, the sector and other relevant stakeholders can work together to deliver a higher education system that meets the current and future needs of the nation.

Interested stakeholders were invited to make a submission in response to the Discussion Paper by 11 April 2023. Submissions will help the Panel articulate the role the higher education sector should play in Australia’s development, what the system should look like in 30 years’ time, and how we get there.

Further details on how to share your views as part of the Accord’s consultation process are available at the Department of Education’s Accord consultation page.

Microcredentials Pilot in Higher Education

Applications for Round 1 of the Microcredentials Pilot in Higher Education (Pilot) closed to eligible higher education providers on 10 February 2023.

The Pilot will provide $18.5 million to higher education providers to design and deliver microcredentials:

  • $2.0 million is for the development of up to 20 microcredentials.
  • $16.5 million is for delivery of microcredentials from 2023-24 through to 2025-26.

Microcredentials designed and delivered under Round 1 of the Pilot will be in areas of national priority. Further information, including the areas of national priority, are located via the Department’s webpage at Microcredentials Pilot in Higher Education.

The Department will inform applicants of the outcomes of the assessment process in the coming weeks.

Microcredentials Marketplace

On 9 December 2022 the new MicroCred Seeker website, formerly named the Microcredentials Marketplace was launched. MicroCred Seeker is a nationally consistent platform that will enable learners to compare short courses offered by tertiary education providers. The platform will provide users with a range of course-specific information regarding study and learning outcomes, allowing users to make informed decisions about their lifelong learning journey.

MicroCred Seeker will help learners and providers:

  • Compare tertiary microcredential offerings through filters such as price, location, delivery modes, and create a tailored shortlist.
  • Understand credit offerings for microcredentials and how to ‘stack’ them into larger qualifications.
  • Provide data regarding the demand and use of microcredentials.

MicroCred Seeker was developed in consultation with VET and higher education providers and is underpinned by the National Microcredentials Framework.

Tertiary Access Payment (TAP) is open

The TAP is a one-off payment of up to $5,000. Its aim is to help eligible students with the cost of moving to study. This is for study after finishing year 12 or equivalent.

For more information, including eligibility and the application process, see Services Australia.

Upcoming domestic tuition protection levy consultation

At the recent Tuition Protection Service Advisory Board meeting on the 29 March 2023 the draft settings for the VSL and higher education tuition protection levies were agreed.

The TPS Director is seeking feedback from domestic education providers on the draft levy settings with sessions being run across the country online and in-person in May and early June for higher education providers with HELP loans and up-front fee paying students and providers participating in the VET Student Loans program.

The consultation will commence with an online information session to share the draft levy settings with all domestic education and training providers.

Expressions of interest are sought from providers who would like to participate in the in-person sessions in capital cities by contacting operations@tps.gov.au with your name, provider and city where you would like to participate.

Details will also be emailed to CEOs and key contacts in the HELP IT System (HITS) and made available on tps.gov.au. Providers are asked to review their current contacts for their organisation in HITS, ensuring a contact has been identified with the contact type of CEO/VC. The HITS User Guide contains instructions on how to add or update contacts in HITS.

The TPS looks forward to engaging with providers on draft domestic levy settings.

Tertiary Collection of Student Information (TCSI) Update

For further information on TCSI and upcoming webinars and newsletters please consult TCSI News Centre.