Relief for students with $3b of HECS debt eliminated

Cassandra Morgan |

The government will eliminate $3 billion in HECS debt by capping the student loan indexation rate.
The government will eliminate $3 billion in HECS debt by capping the student loan indexation rate.

More than three million Australians will have their student debt wiped, with an average deduction of $1200.

Education Minister Jason Clare on Sunday announced the government would cap the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) indexation rate, eliminating about $3 billion of student debt.

The capped rate would ensure indexation matched either the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or Wage Price Index (WPI) – whichever was lower – after Australians were slugged with a student debt increase of 7.1 per cent in 2023.

Jason Clare
About $3 billion in student debt will be wiped for some three million Australians, Jason Clare says. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

The record increase was based on CPI, whereas under WPI, the debt spike would have only been 3.2 per cent.

The government said it would backdate the change – which formed part of the May federal budget – to student loans from June 1, 2023.

“This will wipe out around $3 billion in student debt from more than three million Australians,” Mr Clare said in a statement.

“The Universities Accord recommended indexing HELP loans to whatever is lower out of CPI and WPI.

“We are doing this, and going further.”

Students at the University of New South Wales
Universities Australia says the changes will make a real difference in people’s lives. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

All HELP debts that were indexed in 2023 and would be subject to indexation on June 1, 2024, would get an indexation credit, the government said.

A person with an average HELP debt of $26,500 would have about $1200 cut from their outstanding loans this year under the change, pending legislation passing.

The credit for someone with $130,000 in student debt would be almost $5900.

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said she found the suggestion students who weren’t already paying back debt wouldn’t be worried about increases “really insulting”.

“They’re actually anxious when they see their student debt go up … they still see that amount going up and it’s quite scary for them and they know that it’s looming over them,” she told Sky News on Sunday.

“I don’t think students will feel particularly warm and welcoming of this announcement.”

Universities Australia backed the move as cost-of-living pressures continue to bite.

“These changes are a significant win for Australians with a HELP debt and will make a real difference in people’s lives,” Universities Australia chief executive Luke Sheehy said.

Greens education spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi says student debts shouldn’t be growing at all.

“Let’s be clear, this will not provide any cost-of-living relief to people who are struggling to make repayments, pay rising rents and afford their groceries,” she said.

The backdated change would apply to Australians with HELP debt, VET Student Loans, Australian Apprenticeship Support Loans and other student loans that existed on June 1.

“By backdating this reform to last year, we’re making sure that apprentices, trainees and students affected by last year’s jump in indexation get this important cost-of-living relief,” Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement.