1. General information

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The Higher Education Administrative Information for Providers (AIP) is designed to help higher education providers (providers) understand their obligations under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA), legislative instruments made under HESA, and other Australian Government legislation. It explains the rules and procedures associated with administering:

  • places for Commonwealth supported students
  • tuition fees for domestic and overseas fee-paying students
  • the student services and amenities fee
  • the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)
  • other Australian Government higher education support arrangements

Changes in 2021

On 19 June 2020 the Australian Government announced the Job-ready Graduates Package, with legislation to enact these changes receiving Royal Assent on 27 October 2020. Changes in this package affect student contributions and provide additional support for students in regional and remote Australia. The majority of these changes commenced on 1 January 2021.

Amendments in 2020 also make it compulsory for new students commencing a course of study from 1 January 2021 to have a Unique Student Identifier (USI) in order to be eligible for Commonwealth assistance (specifically a Commonwealth supported place, HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, and/or OS-HELP). The USI will be a mandatory field on the Commonwealth Assistance Form (eCAF) for new students.

These, and other changes to higher education, are reflected within the AIP.

1.1 - Legislation, guidelines and determinations

The AIP should be read in conjunction with HESA, including its notes, which provides information on application, saving and transitional provisions. The AIP should also be read with other associated legislation and guidelines, which are the primary sources of requirements with which providers must comply. The AIP is intended to provide general guidance only and is not intended as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. Providers should seek their own legal advice to understand their obligations under HESA and other Commonwealth legislation. Relevant sections of legislation and guidelines are referenced throughout the AIP.

Examples

References in the AIP will appear as follows:

  • Legislation: [HESA section 19-30]
  • HESA guidelines: [FEE-HELP Guidelines chapter 3]
  • Other parts within the AIP: [part 26.3]
  • Appendices within the AIP: [Appendix A]

For links to relevant legislation, guidelines and Ministerial determinations, see [Appendix A].

Changes are made to legislation, guidelines and Ministerial determinations from time to time. The department recommends that providers consult the Federal Register of Legislation (https://www.legislation.gov.au/) for the latest updates. The provisions of legislation, guidelines or Ministerial determinations will prevail where there is inconsistency between the content of the AIP and provisions of the legislation, guidelines or Ministerial determinations contained in the AIP. For a full list of the terminology used in the AIP, see [Appendix B].

Extracts provided from HESA that contained an asterisk* will support the interpretation of certain terms. This includes a reference to this term in HESA’s Dictionary [HESA Schedule 1; HESA section 1- 10].

1.2 - Open Universities Australia

While Open Universities Australia (OUA) is not defined as a provider under HESA, it is subject to specific provisions of HESA. Where the AIP refers to providers and to students undertaking studies with a provider, that information also applies to OUA and OUA students where relevant, unless indicated otherwise. Where there is a specific requirement for OUA, this is set out in the AIP.

1.3 - Fairness requirements

HESA details the fairness requirements for the treatment of students who are enrolled or seeking to enrol with Table A, Table B and Table C providers [HESA sections 16-15, 16-20 and 16-22] and approved higher education providers [HESA Subdivision 19‑D]. The fairness requirements are a part of the Quality and Accountability requirements set out in Division 19, and operate as criteria that the Minister (or delegate) is to apply when considering approval of a higher education provider under HESA and the breach of which can lead to cessation of approval (for cause) [HESA subdivision 22B, sections 22-15].

A provider must treat all its students and any person who is seeking to enrol with the provider fairly [HESA section 19-30].

The application of fair treatment does not require all students to be treated the same. Fairness must be considered in the context of all the relevant circumstances. There are situations in which the fair treatment of students may result in students being treated differently if they are in different circumstances.

1.4 - Equal access to Commonwealth benefits

Where a provider receives a grant or access to assistance under HESA Chapters 2 and 3 in respect of students or a class of students, the provider must ensure the benefits of, and the opportunities created by, that grant or assistance are made equally accessible to all students and all of the students in that class [HESA subsection 19-35(1)]. This obligation only extends to those students or a class of students who meet applicable eligibility criteria.

The Australian Government, through arrangements with the providers, provides grants and assistance to benefit students through:

  • Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) made available under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS)
  • student loans offered through the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)
  • various scholarships for disadvantaged students and research students, including through the Research Training Program (RTP)
  • various equity programs providing additional support for designated equity groups

1.5 - Application of merit in selection of students

A provider must have open, fair and transparent procedures that, in the provider’s reasonable view, are based on merit, for making decisions about students applying for, or receiving, Government assistance [HESA subsections 19-35(2) and 19-35(4)].

Application of merit

The application of merit in decision-making would generally involve a provider considering each application on a case-by-case basis and not applying inflexible policies that may preclude students benefitting from a grant, allocation, or payment.

No income test

A provider may not apply an income test when making decisions about which of their students are to receive a CSP. A provider may not exclude high-income students, or students whose parents have a high income, from having their application for a CSP considered.

Membership of a particular group

Generally, a provider cannot make membership of a particular group, for example; social, religious, socio‑economic or cultural, a CSP eligibility requirement, as this would not be considered relevant to merit. This may depend on the stated objectives or mission statement of the provider. This is different from the Government providing a grant, which is to benefit only a particular group.

Educational disadvantage

When selecting students, a provider can take educational disadvantages that a particular student has experienced into account [HESA subsections 19‑35(3) and 19‑35(5)]. This should involve considering the actual disadvantages that a particular student has experienced.

Where there is no clear evidence that a student has suffered educational disadvantage, a provider should not use proxy indicators – for example, the student being from a low socio-economic group or a rural area – to decide whether the student has suffered disadvantage. Not all students who satisfy a proxy indicator will have experienced educational disadvantage. Instead, a provider must consider a particular student’s specific circumstances.

1.6 - Marketing Requirements

All providers must comply with requirements relating to the marketing of courses. Civil penalties apply if these requirements are breached.

When marketing a course, providers are prohibited from:

  • representing that a HELP loan is not a loan, or that a HELP loan does not need to be repaid [HESA section 19-36]
  • offering benefits to students to induce them to make a request for Commonwealth assistance (excepting benefits specified in the HEP Guidelines) [HESA section 19-36A]
  • mentioning the availability of HELP loans when engaging in cold-calling (whether in person, by phone, email, other electronic communication, or any method defined as cold-calling in the HEP Guidelines) to market courses [HESA section 19-36B]
  • mentioning the availability of HELP loans if using third party contact lists to market courses [HESA section 19-36C]; or
  • breaching any other marketing requirements set out in the HEP Guidelines [HESA section 19-36D]