The Higher Education Contribution Scheme: Keeping Tertiary Education Affordable and Accessible

Higgins, T., 2019, Chapter 3 in Successful Public Policy: Lessons from Australia and New Zealand, Luetjens, J., Mintrom, M., ‘t Hart, P. (eds.) Canberra: ANU Press.

The Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) was a key part of the 1988 Dawkins reforms to the Australian higher education landscape. In 1987, there was an urgent economic case for expansion of the higher education sector, which led then education minister John Dawkins to embark on a path of ambitious and radical policy reform. The organisational process was efficient and rapid and the capable individuals assisting Dawkins were deliberately chosen, setting out persuasive arguments for student contributions and carefully designed policy features and parameters that were critical to the acceptance of HECS. HECS has successfully facilitated the growth in higher education participation and graduate outcomes that motivated its development. The policy has broad public and political support and endures 30 years after implementation. It is also a policy export success, with many countries adopting incomecontingent loan (ICL) schemes following Australia’s pioneering lead. Its endurance, broad public and political acceptance and international adoption are testament to the operational efficiency and economic and social fairness of HECS.

A summary of why HECS is considered a policy success follows. The remaining sections of this chapter set out in greater detail the context, motivation, people involved, development and delivery processes, policy changes since implementation and the challenges and risks HECS faces today.