The federal government has delivered its latest Budget, with an education spend of $33.7 billion across the school and tertiary sectors. The major announcements include an update on higher education reforms and a new scheme to get vulnerable jobseekers into work.
What's happening with fee deregulation?
Nothing — just yet.
The federal government proposed a range of changes in its Budget for 2014 “15, which were set to cause a shake-up of the tertiary sector. As well as seeking to reduce the discount offered to students holding a Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP), the most controversial change would see public universities set their own undergraduate fees. Currently, CSP students pay tuition fees based on one of three student contribution bands. These bands are based on broad disciplines, with fee maximums set at $6256, $8917 and $10,440 for a year of full-time study. In a deregulated system, universities would abandon the CSP bands and set tuition fees as they saw fit 'like private colleges and for most postgraduate courses' with potential for big fee hikes. Some reports suggested that some degrees could exceed $100,000.
The government also expected to lower the repayment threshold for Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) debts, with grads currently starting to pay back their debts upon earning $54,869 or more. The idea was that the repayment threshold would drop to around $50,000, which would see grads start paying back their loans sooner. The average graduate starting salary is around $53,000, dropping to $40,000 in some disciplines.
The above changes were expected to come into effect during 2016 and 2017, but are now on hold. While the next steps are uncertain, it's possible we'll see reform in 2018. A federal election is set for July this year.
What's on offer for young jobseekers?
This year's Budget has a strong focus on getting young people into jobs. A major announcement is the introduction of the $725 million Youth Jobs PaTH program, which stands for 'Prepare, Trial, Hire'. This program will allow up to 120,000 vulnerable young people to take advantage of job opportunities and move off welfare support, offering intensive employability skills training and a hands-on internship. Interns will work 15 to 25 hours per week and receive $200 a fortnight on top of existing welfare benefits. While this equates to a small sum per hour, it's worth keeping in mind that many internships are entirely unpaid.
Those transitioning into work will also be supported, with a $212 million Youth Transition to Work program helping young people who are disengaged from study or work and are at risk of long-term welfare dependence.
If you're thinking about self-employment, the government's Exploring Being My Own Boss workshops will help provide an opportunity to learn about starting a business and how you can translate your ideas into an income.