Higher education is big business in Australia. With millions of young Australians planning to go to university in the next decade and millions more paying off their student loans, the cost of university affects everyone.

While Australia’s university funding arrangements have changed over time, we still enjoy a moderate-to-high level of government support, especially compared to countries like the USA. Here’s how much university costs in Australia.how much does university cost in australia

How much does university cost in Australia?

As an Australian citizen in a CSP (Commonwealth Supported Place), you can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $55,000 for an undergraduate degree. The lower range is for 3-year degrees like basic arts or sciences, while the high end includes subjects like law and medicine, which both require more than 3 years. 

Further study, such as honours or master’s degrees, can add a fair bit more on top, especially as they may not have any CSPs.

For international students, Australia can be one of the most expensive places to study. Course fees range from around $78,000 for a basic arts degree, to over $300,000 for medicine. International students also need to have enough money to cover their cost of living and accommodation, as well as insurance, and often a commencement fee.

Some degree’s fees are completely paid for by the government, but with strings attached. Teachers who work in very remote schools for four years in a six year period can be eligible for all or part of their HELP debt to be wiped clean. Some higher degrees by research, such as PHDs and Research Masters, are eligible for a scholarship under the Department of Education’s Research Training Program – even if you’re not an Australian citizen.

Who pays for university in Australia?

Most university degrees in Australia are paid for by both students and the commonwealth (federal) government. The government subsidises the full cost of the degree, and students pay the rest. Australian and New Zealand citizens pay less for their degrees than compared to international students, as they’re eligible for Commonwealth Support Places.

What are Commonwealth Supported Places?

Most Australian undergraduate degrees are Commonwealth Supported Places, or CSPs. These degrees are subsidised by the government, with students paying a small contribution instead of full price. If it can’t be paid upfront, Australian citizens can defer payment with a HECS-HELP loan. Most postgraduate have few or no CSPs, so most students pay full fees.

What are HECS-HELP Loans?

HECS-HELP loans are government loans that help students pay their student contributions. At the start of each semester, you can elect to not pay your student contribution fees upfront, and instead have them added to your HELP debt.

HELP loans are not unlimited – you can only use a certain amount of government money to pay or your degree. The 2020 HELP loan limit is $106,319 for most degrees. If you’re studying medicine, dentistry, or veterinary science leading to initial registration, or if you’re studying certain approved aviation courses, the HELP loan limit is $152,700. Any fees above this will need to be paid upfront.

These loans don’t need to be paid back until you’re earning a certain amount of taxable income, called the repayment threshold. The 2020 compulsory repayment threshold is $45,881. This is automatically calculated at tax time.

Full fee-paying students

If you’re an Australian or New Zealand citizen, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be enrolled as a full fee-paying student. Full fee-paying places for undergraduate degrees were phased out in 2009, to ensure Australian students gain entry to university on their own merit, and not their ability to pay. 

What are FEE-HELP Loans?

If you’re a full fee-paying student at a private institution, you may still be able to use a government loan to pay for all or part of your degree. If you’re an Australian citizen, or have a New Zealand special category visa, you may be eligible for FEE-HELP.

FEE-HELP is otherwise the same as HECS-HELP – it has the same loan limits, and the same repayment threshold. All HELP debts count towards the same HELP limit, so if you have HECS-HELP loans and FEE-HELP loans, they come out of the same maximum loan amount.

Typical university fees for Commonwealth Assisted Students

Your Student Contribution is charged per year’s study, with each course falling into one of three different bands. Each band has a maximum student contribution set for it by the government, but most universities charge the maximum amount. The table below shows the maximum contribution for the different bands.

Student contribution band

2020 Student contribution range

(per year)

Band 3: Law, dentistry, medicine, veterinary science, accounting, administration, economics, commerce

$0 – $11,155

Band 2: Computing, built environment, other health, allied health, engineering, surveying, agriculture, mathematics, statistics, science

$0 – $9,527

Band 1: Humanities, behavioural science, social studies, education, clinical psychology, foreign languages, visual and performing arts, nursing

$0 – $6,684

Your HECS debt at the end of your course will be the student contribution above, times how ever many years your degree takes. For a three-year humanities degree, expect your HECS debt to be around $20,000, give or take.

Typical university fees for Full Fee-Paying Students

As we mentioned above, full fee-paying degrees were phased out in 2009, but they are still available for international students. Full fee-paying amounts will vary greatly, as universities get to decide how much their full fees with be, with no capping from the government. This is where some universities may be cheaper or more expensive than others.

A basic 3-year arts degree, as a full fee-paying student, could cost you anywhere from $78,000 – $130,000. A Bachelor of Arts and Laws can cost anywhere from $150,000 – $250,000. Medical degrees are even higher, around $190,000 – $320,000.

On top of the course fees, International students may also need to pay for Overseas Student Health Cover, as well as a commencement fee. They will also need funds to cover their cost of living.

About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.