Paying for a university
education: HECS and
The introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in 1989 is one of the most successful policy formulations in Australia because it is both radical and enduring. In 1988, when the policy was developed, it was a radical change for the governing party that sponsored it (the ALP) because it seemed to repudiate a deep commitment of that party to free university education and was at first strongly opposed not only by students but also by other important constituencies of the ALP. The enduring character of HECS seems to have been confirmed recently (October 1999) when the present (Coalition) government hastily dropped an alleged proposal by the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr Kemp, to abolish HECS and replace it by deregulated fees and an effective voucher system (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Media Release, Higher Education Funding, K10610, 18 October 1999).
By 1999 HECS had become an established feature of the higher education system in Australia, at least in the eyes of students, and the government recognised that changes to HECS could pose serious electoral hazards. The episode also demonstrated, indirectly, how radical changes to policies can fairly quickly become accepted as the normal state of affairs. When HECS was first introduced only ten years before, in 1989, it was viewed as a radical change from the