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Fee Free University and TAFE: Greens Launch Transformational 5 Point Plan for Higher Education

Media Release
Mehreen Faruqi 11 Dec 2018

The Australian Greens will be taking a transformational higher education package to the Federal Election aimed at breaking successive Labor and Liberal attacks on the sector and transforming Australia’s universities and TAFEs. The plan is the biggest investment in higher education Australia will have ever seen. The Greens plan will support students, staff and universities.

Senator Faruqi, the Australian Greens Education Spokesperson, was an academic at the University of New South Wales and the Academic Director of the Master of Business and Technology Program and an Associate Professor at the Australian Graduate School of Management for UNSW.

Our 5 Point Plan will:

1.      Provide fee free undergraduate university and TAFE for all students. The Greens will remove all student fees from University and TAFE across the country, making higher education universal and removing barriers to education for everyone.

2.      Boost university funding by 10% per student. The first real funding increase for universities in decades, this boost will improve learning and teaching conditions, reduce class sizes and enable researchers to pursue solutions to the big problems of our time.

3.      Link additional funding for universities with an increase in security of work for university staff, reversing the decades old trend of casualisation and insecure work.

4.      Tie the HELP repayment threshold to the median wage, which will immediately lift the 2019 repayment threshold from $45,881 to $52,990, meaning students with existing debts won’t begin repaying their debt until they are earning a decent wage.

5.      Raise student support payments like Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy by $75 a week. 

The plan will be funded by ending fossil fuel subsidies for big mining companies and making offshore gas companies pay a flat 10% royalty rate for extracting gas.


Australian Greens Education Spokesperson, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, said:


“The Greens Plan to make universities and TAFE fee free, increase funding to universities and expand income support payments for students is transformational. It will change forever how we think about education. Whether you are starting out, have student debt already or are thinking of going back to study, the Greens plan will help you.

“For too long, education has been treated as a piggy bank by both the Liberal and Labor parties. As a result, higher education looks more like a business with students as customers, rather than as a way to build skills and knowledge to solve the problems of tomorrow.

Free University and TAFE

“It’s time to end the debt sentence. Young people are graduating from university and TAFE with crushing debts that take almost a decade to pay off. Under the Greens plan, over 1.3 million Australians will be studying fee free and and debt-free in TAFE and universities by 2023.  

“Technology is rapidly changing the way we work and learn. Students graduating today will be working in industries we haven’t even imagined yet. If we are to take advantage of automation and technological change, we need to ensure that people are able to retrain and re-skill without incurring crushing debts over and over again.

“We need bold and transformational plans that shake up the status quo. Liberal and Labor governments have cut funds to universities and TAFE while giving massive tax handouts to their corporate donors.  Australians are sick of being told that they have to go without while corporations evade tax and dictate government policy. We are reclaiming education from the politics of austerity and neoliberalism.

“We have universal primary and secondary education. Free public higher education is the missing piece of the puzzle.

“No one should graduate with a decade of debt ahead of them. Australians have seen the benefits of free education, and we can have them again.

“Removing TAFE fees is a crucial part of this plan. TAFE is being decimated by state and federal governments. Fee free TAFE and the removal of the Gillard-era contestable funding requirements will rebuild TAFE as the vocational training provider of choice for students.

“Young people already face the prospect of high unemployment, high costs of living and a lack of affordable housing. Our plan will take away the crushing debts, giving students tens of thousands of dollars extra in their pockets to help them make the best possible start in life.

“Our plan to make education free for millions of Australians will be life changing for many, especially for people who want to change careers and re-skill later in life. By removing the crushing debts, people will be able to adapt to new and emerging careers without being penalised.  

University Funding and Academic Job Security

“For too long universities have been asked to do more with less. It's been decades since the last real increase in funding to universities. Our plan delivers an extra sixteen billion over the next decade for universities to improve learning and teaching conditions, reduce class sizes and and give researchers the resources they need. Importantly, we will work with universities to reduce casualisation in the sector to reduce job insecurity and improve staff working conditions.

“We are ranked 30th out of 34 in the OECD for public investment in tertiary education which shows how behind we are globally. We need to properly fund our public university system and reverse the cuts imposed by the Liberal-National Government.

“As a former academic, I know that we will not begin to address the challenges of the years to come unless our best minds are given the time, resources and support to tackle them.

Student Support Payments

“We know that debt isn’t the only barrier to higher education. Students, particularly those who move from regional and rural areas to the city to study, need extra support to make ends meet.

“We will increase youth allowance and expand access to more people. We know that many students are under significant financial stress and  work multiple jobs as they study full time. We need to better support students to enable to them to focus on their studies and training.

Raising the HELP threshold

“Next year the HELP repayment threshold will be slashed to $45,881, well below median wage. That means most people will start repaying loans just when they are starting out in their career and need money the most. That’s completely unacceptable.

“For graduates with HELP debt, their first job often comes with the nasty surprise of extra tax to pay back debt. Our plan will ensure that people don’t begin repaying education debt until they are earning more than the median wage.

How we will pay for our plan

The plan is estimated at approximately $18 billion over four years, and $129.6 billion over ten years, based on Parliamentary Budget Office figures. Two measures will pay for the plan.

End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

When we fill up our cars at the petrol station, we have to pay excise on that fuel of 41 cents a litre. If you are a big mining company burning fossil fuels, the government pays the excise back to the mining company. It is one of the most expensive spending programs of the federal government, just below the funding they spend on child care and public schools. Instead of propping up the fossil fuel industry and slowing down the transition to off-grid renewable energy, the Greens want to see these subsidies redirected into paying for free TAFE and University education.

Make Gas Companies Pay

Our offshore gas companies don’t pay a cent in royalties or a cent in super profits tax. They get Australia’s offshore gas for free. The community gets nothing out of this but higher gas prices. The tax system has been rigged in favour of these gas companies so that they have $278 billion of tax credits to burn through until they finally have to pay tax. That is 15.9% of GDP in avoided taxes. The Greens plan is to make those gas companies pay a flat 10% royalty rate for extracting the gas and phasing out this mountain of tax credits by 10% a year over ten years to make sure they finally pay tax on their super profits. Liberal and Labor parties take millions in donations from the mining, coal and gas industries, which is why they would rather keep these current tax breaks in place than create a universal TAFE and University education with secure work for teachers. 

Who will benefit from this plan?


All students will enter university and TAFE fee free and Youth Allowance will be increased by $75/week to assist them with their living expenses. 

Our plan will see more that 800,000 students attending university and 400,000 attending TAFE fee free by 2021. By 2023, over 1.3 million Australians will be studying fee and debt-free in TAFE and universities.

The average student graduating in 2019 will be repaying debt for ten years. Under our plan they will have twenty thousand extra dollars in their pocket in the decade after they graduate. That includes more than $5000 in the first four years after graduation they would have otherwise spent on debt repayments. That’s nearly $25 extra a week towards rent or food.

The immediate hip pocket savings under our plan are even higher for some of our most important professions. A nursing graduate will save more than $7000 in debt repayment in the first four years after they graduate. Early childhood education and care graduates earning the average salary will be saved from two decades of debt and more than $8000 dollars in fees.


Examples of students savings by degree or qualification

Graduate earning average graduate salary

Current years it takes to pay of their debt

Savings on cost of qualification (to nearest thousand)

Their savings in the first four years after graduation

Female teacher




Male teacher




Female nurse




Male nurse




Female social worker




Male social worker




Female early childhood education and care worker




Male early childhood education and care worker




People with HELP debts

People with existing HELP debts will have the repayment threshold lifted and tied to the median wage, meaning debt repayments won’t happen until you have a good job.

Under our fee-free plan, students with existing HELP debts will be able to pursue a further degree or qualification at any time without accruing additional debt.

University Staff

According to the National Tertiary Education Union, “amongst the major industry groups, tertiary education is characterised by one of the highest levels of precarious employment in Australia. Less than 36% of all university employees have continuing employment….”

The Greens’ 10% increase in Commonwealth Grant Scheme base funding per student will improve conditions for staff, giving them the resources they need to research and teach.

Further, our commitment to working with staff and their unions to link funding under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme to reductions in the rate of insecure work in universities, will reverse the trend of casualisation and insecure work that threatens the work and livelihoods of university employees at all stages of their degrees.

Someone looking to retrain

The prospect of a decade or more of debt is a significant disincentive for older people pursuing further education. Under our plan, anyone wanting or needing to retrain, reskill and change career won’t be saddled with unsustainable debt for decades. They will have lifelong access to unlimited TAFE and university.


The Greens’ plan to lift the university funding freeze and increasing funding by 10% per student will mean universities receive an extra $16 billion over the decade to invest in teaching and learning, invest in research and guaranteeing their financial stability for decades to come.


Our plan will inject $45 billion into the TAFE system over the decade which has been neglected for far too long. In addition to seeing over half a million Australians training for free by 2023, our free unlimited TAFE plan will lead to a permanent annual boost in TAFE student numbers of 132,000 by 2023 as more students choose TAFE.

Students and Stakeholders available by request.

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