A new report released by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has revealed repayment periods for some university degrees may extend up to 44 years, raising serious concerns about the accessibility and affordability of higher education in Australia.
The report, titled "The Future of Graduate Debt in Australia," reveals that under current policy settings, repayment periods for certain degrees could exceed 40 years.
Many four-year degrees could end up costing more than $100,000 once debts are repaid.
The study indicates that graduates from a Business Management degree are likely to be the worst affected, with a staggering repayment period of 44 years, totalling $119,331.
The modelling shows a Humanities and Social Sciences Honours degree could take 40 years to repay at a cost of $110,353.
Female law graduates could take 36 years to pay off their qualification, four years more than their male counterparts.
The report's release comes a day ahead of repayments on the Higher Education Loans Program (HELP) debts – also known as HECS - rising 7.1 per cent when they are indexed on Thursday.
Current total outstanding HELP debt stands at $74.3 billion for the financial year ending 2022, around four times as much as 2009.
The average amount of student debt is now $24,770 per student, up from $15,191 in 2012. Students now take an average of 9.5 years to pay off their degree, compared to 7.3 years in 2006.
The report, compiled using data from across the sector, shows a combination of newly increased course fees under the Jobs Ready Graduates Reforms, reduced repayment income thresholds, and high debt indexation are to blame for the spiralling repayment crisis.
NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said the findings were a serious concern.
"This report paints a startling picture of the current state of tertiary education. We are seeing students who may be paying off their debts for the majority of their working lives," Dr Barnes said.
"This is not what higher education should look like. It's a barrier to equality which must be a core principle of our universities."
"We are seeing the toxic legacy of the radioactive half life of the Coalition's Jobs Ready Graduates model.
"But despite that serious damage, we are hopeful the current federal government is serious about tackling these issues to create better universities for students and staff.
"Education is a fundamental right and should not lead to decades of financial burden. We need to address this issue.
"We will continue to engage positively with the government to ensure students aren't saddled with lifelong debt into the future."
Assumptions in the report:
* Wage growth: 2.3% – the average of the last 10 years
* Indexation rate: begins at 7.07% then falls to 2.2% over the next 7 years – 2.2% is the average indexation applied over the last 19 years
* Starting salaries are those for the industry linked to each program
* In the model repayment thresholds are indexed at the same rate as student debt
Matt Coughlan 0400 561 480 / firstname.lastname@example.org