How Does HECS Work?

How Does HECS Work?

Last Updated on 27 January 2024 by Ryan Oldnall

If you have attended university or are looking to attend university you have likely heard of HECS.

HECS, short for the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, is the Australian Government’s program that enables students to have their educational expenses covered by the Government upfront.

So this raises the question, How Does HECS Work?

Explanation of HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme)

The Higher Education Contribution Scheme, commonly known as HECS, is an Australian government initiative that helps students afford higher education.

It allows eligible students to defer their tuition fees and repay them later through the tax system.

This means that students don’t have to pay their university fees upfront, making tertiary education more accessible.

Significance of HECS in Australian Higher Education

HECS plays a vital role in Australian higher education by removing financial barriers for students.

It has made university education more equitable, enabling individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to pursue higher education without the burden of immediate tuition fees.

This has led to increased enrollment rates and a more educated workforce in the country.

I for one would not have been able to attend University without the input of HECS. I entered University straight out of high school going on to complete both a bachelor and graduate diploma.

Without HECS I would not have had the financial resources available to study and like many, my family did not have that kind of money either.

How Does HECS Work?

Brief Background of HECS

The Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) has its roots in the higher education reforms of the late 1980s.

Prior to HECS, university education in Australia was heavily subsidised by the government, with minimal tuition fees. However, the government faced budgetary pressures and sought to shift a portion of the education costs onto students.

In 1989, the HECS system was introduced as a compromise. It allowed students to defer the payment of tuition fees while studying and instead repay these fees through the tax system once they entered the workforce and earned a certain income threshold [1].

Key Objectives of the HECS System

The HECS system in Australia has several key objectives. First and foremost, it strives to ensure that higher education remains accessible to all Australians, regardless of their socio-economic background.

By deferring fees and offering income-contingent repayments, HECS minimizes financial barriers that might otherwise deter individuals from pursuing a university education.

Another key objective is the sustainability of higher education funding. HECS helps universities receive the necessary funds to maintain high-quality education and research facilities.

It does this by spreading the cost of education across graduates’ working lives, ensuring a steady stream of funding for the education sector.

Additionally, HECS promotes equity and fairness in the education system by charging different contribution rates based on the field of study.

This encourages students to pursue courses that align with their interests and career goals rather than being purely influenced by financial considerations.

This is why at certain points in time the Government will heavily subsidise areas such as nursing and healthcare which have chronic worker shortages.

Who is eligible for HECS?

Eligibility for HECS is primarily based on citizenship and residency status. Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens who meet specific criteria, and holders of Australian permanent humanitarian visas are generally eligible for HECS [2].

International students and temporary visa holders are usually not eligible. Additionally, students must be enrolled in an eligible course at a participating University to access HECS.

How to apply for HECS

Applying for HECS is typically a straightforward process. Eligible students indicate their intention to use HECS when enrolling in a HECS-supported course at an eligible institution.

This can usually be done during the course enrollment process, and students may need to provide proof of their citizenship or residency status.

It’s essential to follow the instructions provided by the university or institution during enrollment to ensure HECS eligibility.

HECS-HELP Up-Front Discount

While HECS allows students to defer their tuition fees, some individuals may choose to make upfront payments if they have the means to do so.

HECS-HELP Up-Front discounts were previously in place but ceased on 31 December 2022. At the time it allowed eligible students to receive a 10% discount on payments of $500 or more [3].

HECS-HELP Loans: How Do They Work?

HECS-HELP loans are a important component of HECS, providing financial assistance to students.

These loans cover the full amount of HECS debt, including tuition fees and student contributions. Students who choose not to pay upfront can access HECS-HELP to defer their debt until they reach the income threshold for repayment.

HECS-HELP loans have income-contingent repayments, making them a flexible and accessible financing option for higher education. For a full deep dive into the topic read my Comprehensive Guide: HECS Debt.

HECS Repayment Threshold

One of the key features of HECS is income-contingent repayments. Graduates only begin repaying their HECS debt once their income exceeds a specific threshold.

Repayment amounts are directly linked to income, ensuring that individuals with lower incomes pay less and those with higher incomes contribute more. This system provides a safety net for graduates and helps manage the financial burden associated with education.

These income thresholds routinely change inline with CPI and other factors. The latest rates can be found on the Government’s Loan Repayment Threshold page.

When and How Do HECS Repayments Commence?

HECS repayments commence once a graduate’s income surpasses the repayment threshold, which is adjusted annually. Repayments are automatically deducted from the graduate’s income through the Pay as you go (PAYG) tax system.

Graduates do not need to make separate payments; the process is seamless and ensures that repayments align with their financial capacity. Those with HECS debt would just need to indicate this on their payroll forms when on boarding with the new employer.

Options for Voluntary Repayments and Paying Off HECS Debt Faster

Graduates have the option to make voluntary repayments on top of their mandatory HECS repayments. This allows individuals to pay off their HECS debt faster, potentially reducing the total interest accrued.

Making voluntary repayments can be a strategic financial choice for those who want to clear their debt more quickly and save on long-term indexation costs.

I cover this topic in greater detail in my article, Why Is My HECS Debt Not Going Down? [6].

Given that HECS debt is indexed and doesn’t accrue interest, it might make better financial sense to prioritize paying off other types of debt before considering voluntary payments toward your HECS debt.


The Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in Australia is a government initiative that allows eligible students to defer their tuition fees and repay them based on their income once they enter the workforce.

Key points about how HECS works include its eligibility criteria, income-dependent repayment system, and the variation in contribution rates based on course type and field of study.

Understanding the eligibility criteria, contribution rates, and repayment options is important in planning your successful tertiary educational journey.

HECS offers flexibility and accessibility, but it’s crucial to consider the long-term financial implications of one’s choices. Some University courses can rack up significant levels of HECS debt, so you want to ensure it leads to viable job opportunities!

By making informed decisions, students can leverage HECS to achieve their academic and career goals while managing their financial future responsibly.

Higher education is a valuable investment, and HECS is a tool designed to make it accessible to all Australians.

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