When the ‘good debt’ stopped being good: the fallout and future of rising student loans

Original Article

As Hecs and Help debts start to weigh on graduates, is it time to rethink our student loan system?

Errol Phuah, the national president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, sees the effect the debt is having on the students he represents.

“It manifests itself in poor mental health outcomes and just being very apathetic about everything,” says Phuah. “Students might be coping but they’re not really saving. There’s no guarantee that we’ll get secure employment and it’s really hard to get a loan when you’re on a short contract, let alone having accrued a large Help debt.”

Download: Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) 2022 Review

The last few years have been incredibly challenging for all of us and it, for this reason, we have all worked tirelessly to hold CAPA together through the most challenging time in its long history. 

While CAPA has been troubled by governance issues, we have kept CAPA in the policy conversations in Canberra driven by passion and conviction. We had to freeze our bank account and manage the best we could to pay CAPA’s bills and travel because we believed the postgraduate voices must be heard. 

I am proud to say we did our best under less than favourable circumstances and sought legal advice for myself and CAPA along the way. Both Saira, Sharlene and many of our affiliates are owed a big thank you for their moral support through this challenging year. 

Finally, I apologise for the length of the document; the reality is that much work has been done this year, and it came from a place of genuine passion. 

I hope the readers of this document find inspiration for what we tried to accomplish this year despite the obstacles placed in our way. 


Errol Phuah

Download: CAPA’s response to ‘Next steps on improving the transparency of higher education admissions’ Consultation paper

CAPA welcomes the targeting admission information to include the two-applicant groupings that may become prospective postgraduate students. With more comparable information between courses and institutions, students can make an informed decision on their enrolment, especially with the ever-increasing investment cost of postgraduate education.
The available CSP places should be displayed as something other than an exact numerical value, as a small number may give a false perception of a highly competitive CSP process. Thus, we recommend providing the percentage of successful applicants receiving a CSP place, which serves as an indicator (based on historical data) of the ‘relative competitiveness for CSP places’, which considers the cohort size.
Other information we feel would be beneficial to prospective postgraduate students include:

  • Estimated hours or ratio split between on-campus and online interaction.
  • Whether a postgraduate coursework course is an eligible prerequisite for a Doctor of Philosophy
  • The potential existing pathways, including horizontal transfers between degrees (i.e. Biotechnology to Molecular Biology)
  • More consistency in course naming conventions between institutions to ensure students are aware of analogous pathways at different institutions.