31. FEE HELP

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31.1 - What is FEE‑HELP?

FEE-HELP provides a loan to eligible fee-paying students to pay for all or part of their tuition fees for units of study undertaken with an approved provider under HESA.

A student can borrow up to the HELP loan limit. However, if repayments against a HELP debt to the Commonwealth are made then the balance of those repayments are credited against that person’s HELP balance. A student repays their loan through the taxation system once their repayment income is above the minimum repayment threshold for compulsory repayment [part 35].

31.2 - Which providers may be eligible to offer FEE‑HELP?

Approved higher education providers (that is, those listed in Table A, Table B and Table C of HESA, or otherwise approved by the Minister in accordance with HESA) are eligible to offer FEE-HELP [HESA subsection 104-10(1)].

31.3 - What does FEE‑HELP cover?

FEE‑HELP provides a loan to eligible students for tuition fees only [part 31.1] [HESA section 107-1].

31.4 - Eligibility requirements

To be eligible for FEE‑HELP for a unit of study, the student must:

  • meet the citizenship or residency requirements [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(a) and section 104-5]
  • be a genuine student [HESA paragraph 104-1(1AA) and HEP Guidelines Chapter 9]
  • satisfy the completion rate requirements [HESA section 104-1A] (see Appendix M)
  • be assessed by their higher education provider as academically suited to undertake the unit [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(ac)]
  • have available HELP balance greater than $0 [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(b)]
  • not be a Commonwealth supported student in the unit [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(d)]
  • be enrolled in a unit that meets the course requirements [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(e) and section 104‑10]
  • be enrolled in the unit on or before the census date for the unit and remain so enrolled at the end of the census date [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(g)]
  • have obtained and provided their USI before the census date, for students commencing a course of study on or after 1 January 2021 (and for all students from 1 January 2023) [HESA paragraph 104 1(1)(ga)]
  • meet the TFN requirements [part 34] [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(h)]
  • have completed, signed and given to an appropriate officer of the provider a Request for a FEE-HELP loan form [part 9.1] on or before the census date [HESA subparagraph 104‑1(1)(i)(ii)] and
  • if a student is commencing a higher education course from 1 January 2021, that is not an OUA course or a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals (and for all remaining students, from 1 January 2023), provide their USI to their provider before the census date [HESA paragraph 104-1(1)(ga)]; and
  • have completed all parts of the request for Commonwealth assistance for the unit (or the course for which the unit forms a part) that the person themselves is required to complete [HESA subsection 19-36E]

A student is not eligible for FEE-HELP for a unit of study if the unit forms part of a course of study that is, or will be, undertaken primarily at an overseas campus [HESA subsection 104-1(2)].

Citizenship and residency requirements

To be eligible for FEE‑HELP for a unit of study, a person must be:

  • an Australian citizen who will undertake in Australia at least one unit of study contributing to their course of study [HESA subsections 104-5(1) and 104-5(3)]; or
  • for students studying through OUA, an Australian citizen who is resident in Australia on the day they submit their CAF in relation to the unit of study [HESA subsection 104-5(4)]; or
  • a New Zealand Special Category Visa holder who meets certain arrival and long‑term residency requirements [part 31.4] and [Appendix F] and who will study at least one unit of study contributing to their course of study in Australia [HESA subsection 104-5(2A) and 104‑5(3)]; or
  • the holder of a permanent humanitarian visa or eligible former permanent humanitarian visa holder who will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit [HESA subsection 104-5(1)(b)](see Appendix C); or
  • the holder of a permanent visa who is undertaking the unit as part of a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals and will be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit [HESA subsection 104-5(1)(c)]

New Zealand citizenship

From 1 January 2016, certain New Zealand Special Category Visa (SCV) holders have been eligible for HELP loans. New Zealand SCV holders will be eligible for a HELP loan if they:

  • hold a current SCV under the Migration Act 1958; and
  • first began to be usually resident in Australia at least 10 years before the test date, and at that time were a dependent child aged under 18 years; and
  • have been physically present in Australia for at least eight out of the past 10 years, and 18 months out of the past two years; and
  • meet the other eligibility criteria for a HELP loan under HESA

New Zealand citizens and overseas study

If a New Zealand citizen arrived in Australia using a New Zealand passport, in the absence of another valid Australian visa, they will have automatically received a SCV provided they met certain security, character and health requirements.

The SCV is a temporary visa that expires as soon as they leave Australia, but it remains in place for as long as they remain in Australia. Therefore, if a SCV holder leaves Australia, they automatically lose their SCV and no longer meet the eligibility requirement of holding a current SCV under the Migration Act 1958. Any units of study that have a census date after their SCV ceased to be current will not be eligible to be deferred though a FEE-HELP loan and will need to pay for those units upfront.

For more information, see [Appendix F].

31.5 - FEE-HELP course requirements

The course requirements for FEE-HELP assistance for a unit of study are:  

  • the course is undertaken with an approved higher education provider; and
  • it is an enabling course offered through a self-accrediting provider; or
  • it is an accredited course in relation to the provider

Units undertaken as part of an enabling course – a course that enables a person to meet the requirements for entry into a course of study leading to a higher education award – may also be eligible for FEE‑HELP [part 6.2].

Courses accredited as a VET course are not eligible for FEE‑HELP. Some of these courses may be eligible for VET FEE-HELP or a VET Student Loan. VET students are not covered in this document. For further information on VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans, see the department’s website.

A unit of study is not eligible for FEE-HELP if the Minister has determined the course or the provider of the course is one for which FEE-HELP is not available [HESA subsection 104-10(2)]. Eligible students enrolled in a cross‑institutional program, undertaking fee-paying units at a host provider, are eligible for FEE‑HELP if the units count towards an eligible course with the home provider [part 14.4].

OUA requirements

Students studying eight or more units of study through OUA must successfully complete at least 50 per cent of those units to be entitled to FEE‑HELP for future OUA units [HESA section 104-2].

31.6 - Bridging courses for overseas‑trained professionals

Eligible overseas‑trained professionals may request FEE-HELP for a bridging course to enable them to meet the formal requirements for entry into their profession in Australia.

Listed professional occupations

The FEE-HELP Guidelines specify listed professional occupations and the assessing bodies for listed professional occupations [HESA sections 104-60, 104-65 and 104‑70].

Professional occupations are those that are categorised as such under the Migration Regulations 1994 1.15 (I), and designated with a prefix numeral of ‘2’ under ‘Group 2 Professionals’ of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) collection, catalogue Number 1220.0, 2013, Version 1.2. ANZSCO is the classification system that allows the standardised collection, analysis, and dissemination of occupation data administered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Listed professional occupations are on the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) or the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL). Only bridging courses related to the occupations in these lists are eligible for FEE-HELP assistance.

The Skilled Occupation List (SOL), administered by the Department of Home Affairs, is used by potential applicants seeking to nominate skilled occupations which are acceptable for permanent and temporary skilled migration to Australia.

Eligible bridging courses

Depending on the requirements of the profession, a bridging course for overseas‑trained professionals may consist of:

  • subjects or units specified in the assessment statement [HESA section 104-50] issued by an assessing body for a listed professional occupation [HESA section 104-55], as studies that, if undertaken by the person, will enable them to meet the requirements for entry to that occupation [HESA subsection 104‑45(1)]
  • occupation-related study specified in the assessment statement issued by an assessing body that, if undertaken by the person, will enable them to prepare to sit examinations needed to enable entry to a profession in Australia [HESA subsection 104-45(2)]; or
  • tuition and training programs specified in the assessment statement issued by an assessing body that, if undertaken by the person, would enable them to meet requirements for entry to an eligible professional occupation [HESA subsection 104-45(3)]

All bridging courses for overseas-trained professionals must either be undertaken on a non‑award basis or through Open Universities Australia [part 6.8] [HESA section 104-45].

A bridging course is not eligible for FEE‑HELP where the study:

  • is for entry into an occupation outside of Australia [HESA subsection 104-70(1)]
  • is not a requirement for entry to a listed professional occupation [HESA subsection 104-‑70(1)]
  • is being undertaken as part of a course of study
  • leads to any higher education award course, including postgraduate degrees; or
  • relates to general English language training including English language tests [HESA subsection 104-70(3)]

Study load limits

FEE‑HELP for a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals is only available for a person to the maximum of one EFTSL. If a course is over one EFTSL, it does not meet the requirements to be a ‘bridging course of study for FEE-HELP’. For this reason, a student is able to enrol in more than one bridging course of study, and access FEE-HELP for each course separately [HESA section 104-45].

Assessing bodies

Many professions, especially those that are regulated, require overseas-trained professionals to demonstrate that they meet the Australian standard for practice by undertaking an assessment of their skills and knowledge. Each of the approved professions has an assessing body to complete this function. Assessments may consist of interviews, educational comparisons and/or written or practical examinations. Regardless of the type of assessment, professions that require an individual to undertake a bridging course will issue an assessment statement.

Assessing bodies for listed professional occupations are listed in the SOL [HESA section 104-55].

Assessment statements

An assessment statement is a written statement provided by an assessing body for a listed professional occupation that states the studies, examinations and/or tuition and training programs that a person needs to undertake to meet the requirements for entry to that occupation [HESA section 104-50]. The assessing body may charge a fee for the assessment statement.

A bridging course only qualifies for FEE‑HELP where the study relates directly to the assessment statement. Bridging students should be advised to confirm their proposed study with their assessing body prior to enrolment.

Bridging course fees

Providers set the fees for a bridging course. In setting the tuition fees for a bridging course, providers should keep in mind that FEE‑HELP is available for tuition fees only, and students undertaking bridging courses for overseas professionals can only borrow up to the relevant HELP loan limit that applies to them.

31.7 - Available HELP balance

There is a combined limit on how much students can borrow in government study and training loans. The HELP loan limit includes all previous FEE‑HELP, VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans borrowed, as well as new HECS-HELP loans from 1 January 2020. Every student has a unique ‘available HELP balance’ (which replaced the FEE-HELP balance). A student’s available HELP balance is their remaining borrowing entitlement for HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans. Students may access up to their available HELP balance for the year in which study is undertaken. Providers are responsible for collecting the remainder of the student’s tuition fee for the unit [part 29.3].

31.8 - Loan fee and amount of FEE-HELP loan debt

Loan Fee exemption and reduction

A FEE-HELP loan fee exemption applies for units of study with census dates between 1 April 2020 to 31 December 2021 [HESA subparagraph 137-10(2)(b)(i)]. This means the loan fee will not apply to FEE‑HELP undergraduate students at a non-Table B providers that undertake units of study with census dates during this period.

For census dates from 1 January2022, the FEE-HELP loan fee has been reduced from 25 per cent to 20 per cent through changes implemented by the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates And Supporting Regional And Remote Students) Act 2020.

Loan Fee

Loan fees apply to FEE-HELP loans. If a student accesses a FEE-HELP loan for a unit of study that forms part of an undergraduate course of study with a non-Table B provider, from 1 January 2022 the amount of the FEE-HELP loan debt is the amount of the loan plus 20 per cent [HESA subsection 137-10(2)] and is taken to have been incurred by the student immediately after the census date for the unit.

The following do not form part of an undergraduate course of study and do not attract the 20 per cent loan fee:

  • enabling courses to assist students to meet the requirements for entry into an award program [part 6.7]
  • undergraduate study undertaken through a Table B provider
  • units made available by providers and accessed through OUA
  • postgraduate courses of study, including higher degrees by research [part 6.6]; and
  • bridging courses for overseas-trained professionals

The loan fee does not reduce a person’s HELP balance and is repaid through the taxation system.

Example

Pablo is enrolled in an eligible undergraduate course of study after 1 January 2022 and has requested a FEE‑HELP loan for the course. Pablo’s tuition fees total $2,000 and he has paid $1,000 up-front to his provider.

The amount of Pablo’s FEE-HELP loan is $1,000 and this is the amount by which his available HELP balance is reduced. The amount of Pablo’s FEE-HELP debt will be $1,000 x 1.20 = $1,200. This is the amount he will be required to repay through the taxation system.

31.9 - Repaying FEE-HELP debt

A person’s FEE-HELP debt is part of their accumulated HELP debt recorded by the ATO. People repay their accumulated HELP debt through the taxation system once their repayment income reaches the minimum repayment threshold for compulsory repayments [part 35.1]. They may also make voluntary repayments to the ATO [part 35.2].