Student Payments

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

Michael Klapdor

The 2018–19 Budget includes a number of measures to increase assistance to Indigenous students and students from regional and rural areas and to prevent students from accessing student payments if they are undertaking courses not approved for the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).

50 years of ABSTUDY

The Budget includes a $38.1 million measure over four years to provide additional assistance to Indigenous secondary school students who receive assistance through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Assistance Scheme (ABSTUDY) program.[1] The ABSTUDY program assists Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students and apprentices where they need to travel for study.[2]

The precursor of ABSTUDY, the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme was introduced in 1969 as part of a Gorton Government ‘commitment to implement special measures to assist Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to achieve their educational, social and economic objectives through financial assistance to study’.[3] The grants scheme was initially limited to tertiary students. A scheme for secondary students was introduced from 1970 and the two were amalgamated into ABSTUDY in 1988.[4]

Today, the ABSTUDY scheme consists of seven different ‘awards’ which provide a range of allowance payments for students and apprentices with eligibility for a particular award depending on the individual’s study, training and personal circumstances. The allowances are means tested.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of ABSTUDY in 2019, the Government will:

  • combine the boarding supplement rate with the Living Allowance at the Away from Home rate for all ABSTUDY recipients under 16 years of age—rates will increase by around $5,258.60 per year for almost 1,900 students
  • implement new travel arrangements for secondary students receiving Fares Allowance with increased trips and greater flexibility for students travelling to or from locations other than home and school
  • provide more frequent payments to boarding providers to support students who move to a new school or boarding arrangement and encourage providers to ensure continued attendance[5]
  • streamline the ABSTUDY approval process for secondary school scholarships
  • no longer apply the maintenance (child support) income test to some ABSTUDY awards.[6]

Most of the changes will not require legislation as ABSTUDY is administered through policy guidelines approved by the Minister for Social Services. The maintenance income test changes require legislation.  

Access to Youth Allowance for rural students

The Government will raise the family income limit that applies to regional students claiming ‘independence’ for Youth Allowance purposes by supporting themselves through paid employment. A young person considered independent for Youth Allowance does not have their parent’s income taken into account when determining their rate of payment.

There are different criteria under which a person can be considered independent and one such route is through participation in paid work. This criterion can satisfied either through full time paid work for at least 18 months in any two year period, or through two less restrictive ways that apply only to students in regional and remote areas:

  • over a 14 month period since leaving secondary school, earn 75 per cent or more of Wage Level A of the National Training Wage Schedule included in a modern award (for someone who finished school in 2016 this would be equivalent to $24,042) or
  • work at least 15 hours a week for at least two years since leaving secondary school.[7]

For regional and remote students to be eligible for these two self-supporting independence criteria, their parent’s combined income for the financial year before the calendar year they apply for Youth Allowance must be less than $150,000. This parental income limit was introduced from January 2011, after the then Labor Government attempted to remove the less restrictive self-supporting criteria altogether but eventually negotiated to save the income-limited version for regional and remote students.[8] This Budget includes a measure to raise the limit to $160,000 (plus $10,000 for any additional child) and to assess the income for the financial year preceding the student’s self-support period.

The Government has stated that this measure is part of its response to the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education undertaken by John Halsey.[9] However, the report of the Halsey Review did not raise the income limit as a matter of concern nor did it recommend amending the limit.[10]

The measure will allow more regional students from families with high incomes to qualify for Youth Allowance. The measure will cost $53.9 million over four years from 2018–19 and will require legislation.

Limiting student payments to HELP-approved courses

The Government estimates it will save $101.1 million over five years by limiting eligibility for student payments for higher education courses to students undertaking courses approved for the HELP. The measure was first announced in October 2017 but not detailed in the December 2017 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.[11] The new limits for students in higher education builds on a 2017–18 budget measure which limited access to student payments for vocational education and training (VET) students to those studying courses approved for VET student loans.[12] Affected student payments are Youth Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY and the Pensioner Education Supplement.

While courses at all public universities and some private higher education providers are approved for the HELP (available to domestic students only), a small number of private providers are not approved. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency lists 169 registered higher education providers in Australia while the Australian Government’s StudyAssist website lists 147 providers approved to offer Commonwealth assistance (through the HELP).[13]

The measure has already been implemented via a legislative instrument which commenced on 1 January 2018.[14] The Government estimates that up to 2,000 students will be affected by the changes.[15] Student payment recipients studying at non-HELP approved providers were protected from the measure for the duration of their current course.


[1].          The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, pp. 94–95, 170–171.

[2].          Department of Human Services (DHS), ‘ABSTUDY’, DHS website, last updated 7 May 2018.

[3].          Department of Social Services (DSS), ABSTUDY Policy Manual, DSS, Canberra, 1 May 2018, p. 6.

[4].          Ibid., pp. 6–7.

[5].          A 2016 study of Northern Territory boarding schools suggested some were focused on pursuing enrolments for funding purposes and that students were returning to their communities after a short time. J Guenther, G Milgate, B Perrett, T Benveniste, S Osborne, and S Disbray, ‘Boarding schools for remote secondary Aboriginal learners in the Northern Territory: smooth transition or rough ride’, Australian Association for Research in Education Annual Conference, Melbourne, November 2016, p. 7

[6].          DSS, Student measures, factsheet, DSS website, May 2018, pp. 1–2; DHS, 50 years of ABSTUDY — strengthening ABSTUDY for secondary students, factsheet, DHS, May 2018, pp. 1–4.

[7].          DSS, ‘ YA & DSP – Self-supporting through Paid Employment’, Guide to social security law, DSS website, last reviewed 7 May 2018.

[8].          J Gillard (Minister for Education), Government delivers on Youth Allowance, media release, 16 March 2010.

[9].          Australian Government, op. cit., p. 94.

[10].       J Halsey, Independent review into regional, rural and remote education: final report, Department of Education and Training, 2018.

[11].       C Porter (Minister for Social Services), Improving outcomes for students through a stronger student payments system, media release, 16 October 2017.

[12].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, p. 144.

[13].       Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), ‘Search the National Register’, TEQSA website, 2017; Australian Government, ‘Providers that offer Commonwealth assistance’, StudyAssist website.

[14].       Student Assistance (Education Institutions and Courses) Amendment Determination 2017 (No. 3).

[15].       Porter, op. cit.


All online articles accessed May 2018

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