When can domestic undergraduates be charged full fees?

This post is not related to any current policy issue. It is a summary created for another reason but might be useful for higher education administrators or policy people.

‘Full fees’ is a term used in Australia as an implied contrast with students who pay a student contribution, which is usually combined with a Commonwealth contribution to provide an overall funding rate for a Commonwealth supported student. ‘Full’ means that there is no government subsidy and the student pays all the provider charges. Tuition fees for non-Commonwealth supported students are not regulated. There is more detail on this in chapter 7 of Mapping Australian higher education 2018.

About 7 per cent of domestic undergraduates in Australia are full-fee paying. The simple explanation for this is that domestic undergraduate students in public universities pay student contributions rather than full fees, while undergraduates in private universities and non-university higher education providers pay full fees. However, there are exceptions in both cases, sometimes at the unit of study (subject) level rather than the course.

In what follows, all statutory references are to the Higher Education Support Act 2003.

Generally, domestic undergraduates enrolled in a Table A university (more commonly known as a public university) must be enrolled as a Commonwealth supported student: section 36-30 (1). This creates an on-going entitlement for that course, unless one of the exceptions below becomes relevant: section 36-25(1).

Once a student is a Commonwealth supported student, he or she can be charged a student contribution but cannot be charged another tuition fee: section 169-15(1).

A domestic student is an Australian citizen, a New Zealand citizen, a permanent visa holder or a permanent humanitarian visa holder: Schedule 1, Dictionary.

But there are exceptions to the general entitlement of public university students to Commonwealth support:

When the student is a former international student: section 36-30(2)(d).

When the student has advised that they do not want to be a Commonwealth supported student: section 36-10(3).

When the unit of study does not contribute to the course of study they are enrolled in: section 36-10(1)(b).

When the higher education provider expects that the student will not undertake any of the course’s units of study in Australia: section 36-10(2B) (so for example an expatriate Australian could not take a subsidised online course at an Australian university).

When the course of study will be taken primarily at an overseas campus: section 36-15(1A).

For permanent residents and New Zealanders, when they will not be resident in Australia for the duration of the unit: section 36-10(2).

When the university has determined that a summer or winter school subject is full-fee (but the subject has to be available at other times): section 36-10(7).

When the student is in an employer-reserved place: section 36-15(1)(a).

When the student is in a course the minister has specifically declared is not Commonwealth supported: section 36-15(2)(a) (this is a legislative instrument; only applies to a Bachelor of Circus Arts at Swinburne).

When the student is in a course of a specified type the minister has declared is not Commonwealth supported: section 36-15(2)(b) (this is a legislative instrument, none made).

In the last two cases, there is also power to limit the restriction to ‘students of a specified kind’. In deciding whether to make the determination, the minister must have regard to the effects on students, and the determination must be made at least six months before the day that students are next able to commence the affected course(s): section 36-15 (3) and (4). The determination is a legislative instrument, which means that it can be disallowed by either house of parliament.

For domestic students who are not at Table A universities, the default entitlement to a Commonwealth supported place is reversed and they are not entitled to a Commonwealth supported place except in limited circumstances.

To get a Commonwealth supported place, students have to be at a higher education provider that has been allocated places in a ‘national priority’ area: section 30-10(4). There are some statutory examples of national priorities: section 30-20. In practice, they are in teaching, nursing, and a range of courses at the University of Notre Dame. The allocations of places can be found in funding agreements with the Commonwealth.

The higher education provider decides which students receive a Commonwealth supported place. Once the place is allocated, the student can keep it for that course: section 36-25(1). A student can be converted from full-fee to Commonwealth supported, but not the other way around.

If not Commonwealth supported, the student must pay a tuition fee unless he or she is an exempt student: section 169-15(2). Exemptions include scholarships and limited cases of units of study that are work experience in industry: section 169-20 and the Administration Guidelines.


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