Occasional Paper Series

The Melbourne CSHE periodically publishes research through the CSHE Occasional Papers series. Each peer reviewed paper presents new research and analysis on topics significant for Australian and international higher education.

Occasional Paper # 2022/1

FROM PRIVATE TO PUBLIC BENEFIT: THE SHIFTING RATIONALES FOR SETTING STUDENT CONTRIBUTIONS

Since 1989 domestic students in Australian public universities have been charged student contributions, originally called HECS. Three subsequent redesigns of the student contribution system commenced in 1997, 2005 and 2021. With each change the then government advanced different rationales or mixes of rationales for their price decisions. The five rationales are course costs, private benefits, public benefits, increasing resources per student place, and incentivising course choices. This paper documents and evaluates these rationales.

Higher education public and private benefits are recurring themes in student contribution setting, both as high-level justifications for government policy and in pricing specific disciplines. These ideas played a significant role in how various governments explained three of the four implemented student contribution systems.

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