Taxpayer-funded overseas holidays for graduates: the latest NUS anti-HECS argument

According to a story in today’s Sydney Sun-Herald, the National Union of Students is calling for an inquiry into the ‘economic impact of student debt’. Unfortunately for them, the human interest aspect of the story – one Joy Kyriacou (who by I am sure by complete coincidence has the same surname as former NUS President Daniel Kyriacou) – could not get her lines straight and revealed NUS’s campaign as the shameless rent-seeking that it is:

Ms Kyriacou, who graduated with a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts from the University of NSW in 2006, said the $16,000 student debt burden was stopping her from saving for other things, like her first overseas trip or a house deposit. (italics added)

Of course it was bad enough that we were being asked to to finance a special first home buyers grant for graduates. But now we are being asked to fund their overseas holidays as well. Even by the very low standards of arguments against HECS, this one is a shocker.

The NUS leadership is hardly brighter than Ms Kyriacou. Any honestly conducted inquiry along the lines they propose will only discredit their arguments. For example, NUS President Angus McFarland told the Sun-Herald that:

“Across the board, HECS relief is required to boost graduate participation in our economy,”

Yet according to ABS Education and Work 2007 that particpation is already at 86%. It was 87% in 1996, before the 1997 and 2005 HECS increases, but if this is not a sampling issue it is likely to be due to the feminisation of the graduate workforce since then.

And Andrew Leigh and Bruce Chapman’s research of a couple of years ago found very little bunching of incomes below the HECS threshold, despite the cash flow consequences of moving above it by small amounts.

While there is a small amount of survey evidence that some people with NUS-type views are unwilling to make their fair financial contribution, it is obviously much better for taxpayers in general to suffer a few cheats than to write off a billion dollars a year from the vast majority of graduates who are pleased to get jobs.

I am happy to back NUS’s call for an inquiry, provided it is conducted by a reputable person or organisation. It cannot do their cause any good.

16 thoughts on “Taxpayer-funded overseas holidays for graduates: the latest NUS anti-HECS argument

  1. Such cynicism! Kyriacou is a very common Greek name.

    What’s your problem Andrew? NUS are just pursuing the interests of their members. Self interest is what makes capitalism work. Isn’t that what you classical liberals believe?


  2. The NUS is a bit better than the Oaktree Foundation & the UN. They are literally giving away a taxpayer funded holiday. If you’re between 20-25 and fill out the following survey you get a chance to win:

    I don’t know what’s so special about young people that we have to entice them with holidays to Queensland to provide their opinions on issues. I would have thought a movie ticket would’ve been enough.


  3. incidentally, i’m 20 🙂 but i still must be harsh on the youth lobby, who get many pointless grants of taxpayer money.


  4. “Self interest is what makes capitalism work. Isn’t that what you classical liberals believe?”

    Self-interest mediated through the market, which requires persuading others to voluntarily hand over their money. Self-interest is a near-universal trait, but it requires appropriate institutions for it to be a positive force.


  5. I wrote a pro-HECS article for (Melbourne Uni student newspaper) Farrago in the early 90s and one point I made in response to the ‘free education’ advocates was that while education does provide important non-pecuniary benefits (eg it “broadens the mind”), so does travel. Yet no one believes that the government should fund an overseas trip for every 19 year old in the country. Maybe things have now got to the stage where the NUS does indeed believe that at least graduates should be entitled to such benefits.


  6. “Self-interest mediated through the market”

    Such as the market for ideas and influence?

    Education for all, not just the rich!

    What do we want? Classical Liberals with better lay out on their blogs! When do we want it? Now!


  7. “Yet no one believes that the government should fund an overseas trip for every 19 year old in the country” … well, perhaps not every 19 yo.
    Thirty-five years ago, in the summer break between 2nd and 3rd year I went on a Curtin Uni organised tour of Europe: 120 students with 10 lecturers – each day there was a program of pre-arranged visits to various organisations/places, you could choose on the day whatever lecturer-led visit you wanted to join. You kept a diary and handed it in at the end for course credit. Best educational experience ever. So I would like that opportunity available for all uni students – the cost could be just added on to HECS.


  8. What has changed since student protests were more about making things better for others (e.g. anti-war, anti-apartheid, etc, etc)? What has made them more self-serving, illogical, and out of touch?
    (1) The newer generation might be more selfish that their parents
    (2) Compulsory student unionism made student associations more reasonable.

    So, when did things go downhill, and what immediately preceded that change (and therefore is probably to blame)?


  9. Russell, I’m pretty sure you can add an overseas student exchange to your HECS bill. My memory is somewhat hazy, but I think this was a point upon which Andrew N. corrected me a few years ago.


  10. Spiros – The market for ideas has its own correctives for self-interest, eg blogs pointingo out rent-seeking behaviour.

    Russell – Andrew L is right, it is the OS-HELP scheme.

    As Curtin is only 21 years old, I presume that was a WAIT tour?


  11. WAIT-In-Europe 1973 – – apparently the stress nearly killed the woman who organised it so the next year it was scaled down to WAIT-In-Asia, and that one was the end of the plan to give students ‘the grand tour’.

    It was different to an exchange in that everyday had 10 different things arranged – you got a nice multi-disciplinary experience, while everybody read the same couple of basic “History of European Civilisation” texts.

    Those were the days when the state government handily owned a bank as well as WAIT – so we had loans arranged for us on agreeable terms.


  12. Ok I admit that I never had any university education and my wife has (and so her late husband) but I am not the less for it.
    My step-daughter (now 47) with her various law degrees nevertheless asked my advice when it came to certain litigation.
    As such, and being a “CONSTITUTIONALIST” I am well aware that not having a university degree isn’t going to be the end of the world. If anything I take on any lawyer/barrister/judge in litigation, and so successfully considering my successful 5-year litigation against the Federal Government!
    Still, having stated this I would prefer that university education is provided free of charge for Australians. After all, charging students and then having them pay back the HECS fees only increases the cost to the customer in the end.
    A bloke who became a doctor has to charge to recoup his study cost and so the patient end up paying for it. The same with other professions.
    As such, I favour free education for Australians. In my view, in the long run it will be cheaper for the end consumer and give a fairness to those who studied hard to get finally their life going after the completed their studies and not be bogged down to repay the HECS fees.
    I may not master the English language (not my native language) as one who graduated from university but as author of books in the INSPECTOR-RIKATI® series on constitutional and other legal issues I am hardly in fear that this harms me. Neither would I fear others to get free education where I had none of that level, as after all, if we all care about someone else then someone else will also care for us. Hence, lets pursue free education for Australians even at university levels and abandon fees charges for Australians! I view it is cheaper in the long run for taxpayers to pay for it.
    Then again some may disagree with my views, and they are entitled to their views as much as I am to mine. See also my blog at


  13. When I did a student exchange in Germany I was still eligible for Youth Allowance. I was getting $320 a fortnight to piss up the wall in Europe. Best rort ever! Plus Melbourne Uni gave me $1500 for my troubles.


  14. Gerrit, that’s an interesting argument in favour of fully taxpayer-subsidised tertiary education, but I’m not sure I buy it – what you’re suggesting is that the current scheme moves the costs towards those taxpayers who make the most use of the services of university-educated professionals. But is this a bad thing? In the case of doctors, I can see the argument that it unfairly moves the costs towards those that happen to suffer poor health (or hypochondria) – but, importantly in Australia, only to those who choose not to use bulk-billed services. In the case of other professions, presumably people make use of the services of a tertiary-educated professionals because they stand to gain from it personally – so it seems entirely fair they should pay more towards the cost of the professional’s education. Further, it’s a little difficult to determine just how much the costs of education are passed on to customers, as opposed to being absorbed by the professionals being reducing their disposable incomes (or, potentially, reducing what they pay their staff). Surely most successful professionals have already pay off their HECS/HELP debts, so those still with them wouldn’t be competitive if they charged customers more.


  15. “Such cynicism! Kyriacou is a very common Greek name.”

    Spiros, 14 April, in (I think) a mock doubting of my suggestion that Joy Kyriacou and Daniel Kyriacou might be related.

    A reliable source now tells me that – surprise, surprise – they are siblings and both active in the ALP in inner Sydney. That’s the trouble with using general journalists. They can’t tell when they are being conned.


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