The cost of FEE-HELP

Providing me with my second page one dial-a-quote this week, the SMH this morning leads with a story titled ‘Student debts out of control’. Drawing on an article by Bruce Chapman in this week’s Campus Review, it says:

GRADUATES from private colleges and universities are costing taxpayers more than those from public universities, and new ministers of religion present one of the greatest burdens.

Though for reasons I will explain this is not correct, Chapman’s original article does make a valid point. This is that under the FEE-HELP loan scheme for full-fee students there are implicit subsidies because student debt is only indexed to inflation, meaning that the taxpayer bears most of the real cost of lending students money to pay their tuition fees. (Aspects of this issue were discussed on this blog last October.)

Undergraduate FEE-HELP students do pay some real rate of interest, because they have to pay a 20% surcharge on any amount they borrow (eg, if they borrow a tuition fee of $10,000, they will owe the government $12,000). If these students repay quickly, that could work out at quite a high real rate of interest. But if they borrow a large sum that takes many years to pay back then their real rate of interest will be low, and they will effectively receive a subsidy from taxpayers.
Continue reading “The cost of FEE-HELP”