The access implications of income-contingent charges for higher education: lessons from Australia
This paper describes the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS), Australia's income contingent charge mechanism, and analyses its impact on the social composition of university participation. We analyse university participation data from three cohorts of young Australians. The first cohort completed their schooling prior to the introduction of HECS, the second following its introduction and the third after the scheme was amended substantially. We find that the social composition of participants was different in 1999 from that of 1988. However, the distribution was more equal than it was in the late 1980s. That outcome reflected the growth in participation in the middle of the wealth distribution, which was stronger than growth at either the top or the bottom of the distribution. Other aspects of university participation also changed: participation grew more strongly among females than males. We find no evidence that participation fell among 'marginal decision makers' - those who, while at school, said they did not intend to study at university. We conclude that HECS did not act to discourage university participation in general or among individuals from the lowest wealth groups.
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