The Herald-Sun this morning reports on the country’s biggest HELP debts, with the highest coming in at $384,957 according to the ATO.
I did some background for this story (though unfortunately for my media mentions, in the story I am only one of the anonymous ‘education experts’ recommending caps on HELP debts), including some modelling of how much somebody could end up owing.
In my maximum debt scenario, my hypothetical student has been enrolled continuously since HECS started in 1989. Until 2002, he/she takes the most expensive HECS course on offer. When the PELS scheme for full-fee postgraduate students starts in 2002, he/she takes the most expensive MBA course for $48,000 a year for two years (though in reality you need business experience to get into these courses). They then find another postgraduate course to do for another couple of years over 2004 and 2005, at $30,000 a year. Now they are covered by the capped FEE-HELP loan scheme, and to max that out I enrol them in a full-fee medicine course for $25,000 a year for four years. In 2010 I switch them to a Commonwealth-supported place to continue the medical course, with a HECS-HELP loan of just under $9,000.
The total debt for all this, including the effects of indexation, is $371,787.
Perhaps I have missed the most expensive permutation of courses. But the more obvious problem with my model is that it assumes my hypothetical student would be accepted into all these courses.
Of the two main explanations for the $384,957 figure, (1) that a student has managed to find a way to maximise their HELP debt, or (2) that in the (I would estimate) 1.5 million current HELP debtors someone has had a slip on the keyboard and added an extra digit to someone’s debt, I think (2) is the more likely.