Exclusive research has revealed the long term financial and social burden the cost of a university education is having on Australians.
Futurity Investment Group’s University Debt Report, which surveyed more than 1,000 Australians who attended university, found HECS-HELP debt impacts major life events, including buying a home, getting married and starting a family.
Three in five (59%) revealed their HECS-HELP debt has impacted their ability to purchase a home, a jump of 9% in the past three years.
One in three (35%) reported HECS-HELP debt has had a moderate to very large impact on their ability to start a family (up from 28% in 2020), while 31% revealed debt acquired at university has impacted their ability to get married.
When it comes to career progression or a career change, the Report found males are impacted to a greater extent than females. One in three (31%) male respondents reported their HECS-HELP debt had a moderate to very large impact on their ability to change jobs, compared to 28% of female respondents.
The research found HECS-HELP debt is having a significant impact on respondents’ ability to purchase a car, with 49% reporting a moderate to very large impact, up from 41% in 2020.
The University Debt Report found 16% of Australians who attended university are unable to afford medical and dental treatment as a result of their HECS-HELP debt.
The overwhelming majority (68%) are uncomfortable with their level of debt, with females more uncomfortable than males (72% v 63%).
A quarter of university educated females (23%) do not feel in control of their financial situation, compared to 13% of males.
The research also found university educated females have more HECS-HELP debt and earn less than their male contemporaries.
Kate Hill, an executive at Futurity Investment Group, says the type of courses that have higher proportion of women tend to lead to lower paying professions, despite the cost of education being similar to other degrees.
“The outcome as far as job opportunity and career growth, coupled with traditional family roles where females tend still to be the partner who takes time off for care, combine to form what we’re seeing now,” The Guardian quoted Hill as saying.
“A lot of the traditional female professions – teaching and nursing – over the last 40 years have become professionalised, requiring university degrees and gathering debt. Traditional male trades haven’t been – and they’re cheaper, you’re paid as you go through that process.”
Most (68%) people who attended university have HECS-HELP debt in their thirties, while 51% of respondents are still paying HECS-HELP debt in their forties.
The research revealed the average HECS-HELP balance is $22,636, a jump of 10% in the past three years.
The majority (61%) of respondents aged 22-29 finish university with a HECS-HELP debt of between $20,000 – $50,000, an increase of 13% since 2020.
One in two (46%) female respondents finished university with a HECS-HELP debt of between $20,000 – $50,000, a rise of 14% in three years, while 43% of male respondents finished university with a HECS-HELP debt of between $20,000 – $50,000, a jump of 19% since 2020.
Three in four (70%) university educated males earn more than $60,000, compared to 59% of female respondents. Two-thirds (35%) of males who attended university earn more than $100,000, compared to 21% of females.
The annual average gross income of respondents has also increased by $17,451 in the past three years to $80,580.
Since completing their degrees, 22% of male respondents and 15% of female respondents have gained additional qualifications for their job. Of this group, 46% of females needed the additional qualifications within a year of completing their degree, compared to 27% of males.
Futurity’s University Debt Report also aligns with Australian Tax Office data which reports more than three million Australians have a HECS-HELP debt, totalling $74.3 billion.
Of the three million Australians with HECS-HELP debt, 60% are female and they hold 58% of the total debt.
The average time to fully repay HECS-HELP debt is now 9.5 years. It has gradually trended up from 7.5 years over the past 15 years. A staggering 1.4 million Australians currently have a HECS-HELP debt of more than $20,000, while 293,201 currently have a HECS-HELP debt of more than $50,000.
1,561,656 Australians with HECS-HELP debt are yet to make any repayments.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens spokesperson for higher education, has introduced a bill to freeze student debt and raise the minimum repayment threshold, with support from peak education unions.
She said people shouldn’t be “punished with a debt-sentence” for studying.
“The problem is about to get much worse, with student debts likely to be indexed by around 7% in June based on modelling prepared for my office,” The Guardian quoted Faruqi as saying.
“Women already bear the brunt of soaring debt and rising indexation will make that even worse. Sitting back and allowing the student-debt crisis to worsen is fundamentally anti-women.”
Faruqi called on the government to dump the stage-three tax cuts and support people burdened by “crushing student debt”.