Fee Help in the VET Sector

Fee Help in the VET Sector
Photo CC-BY-2.0 2011 Shawna Pierson
Photo CC-BY-2.0 2011 Shawna Pierson

Fee Help is a loan scheme that assists eligible fee paying students pay all or part of their tuition fees. In most cases there is a loan fee of 25% for these loans for undergraduate courses of study.

The great thing about this scheme is that you don’t have to start paying your loan off until you get a job (and earn around $50K or more)! So it’s a great option for school leavers who plan to study full-time and also for mature age students who have lost their job and are retraining or who are changing careers and so on.

My concern with VET Fee Help and its easy accessibility through private and public RTO’s all over Australia is the growing trend for mature age workers, who are working and studying part-time, to take it up.

While it can be a good option for people who are currently not working, it is often not the best option for others in the workforce as it can be very costly and individuals can end up with a debt up to 10 times the market value of the course they want to complete that they must commence paying off even before they’ve completed their study!

Now, let me make myself clear.

I am not denigrating VET Fee Help.

What I am opposed to is the marketing that surrounds it and I hope this post will draw attention to the pitfalls and costs that you can be burdened with if you don’t read the fine print and ask the right questions.


Let me give you an example.

This morning, I was approached by a potential student who wanted to enrol in the Diploma of Human Resources Management. She is currently working in recruitment and is looking for a career change.

Now this qualification is currently being offered in the Australian Education market from $1,900 – $4,500 at many of the private RTO’s and up to $16,000 or more at some TAFE’s and universities1.

The VET Diploma market is extremely competitive, with many less scrupulous providers looking for a quick sale, so it definitely pays to shop around and not get pushed into a sign-up that you haven’t had time to think carefully about. After all it’s not just the money (although this seems to be the most significant factor in decision making) but it’s also the amount of study time you have to put in over months or even a year or more and it’s also the quality of the program on offer and the support provided with it.

Personally, I can’t fathom why you would sign up for and complete an inferior program of study. After all, the whole purpose, at least for mature age students is to learn new skills and underpinning knowledge. But, I digress!

Anyway, she was approached by a ‘course advisor’ read ‘salesperson’ from a private RTO who wanted to sell her Fee Help – i.e. ‘do the Diploma of HRM now and don’t pay any upfront fees’!! Of course this was attractive to her, in this tight market who wants to payout even $1,400 in course fees upfront or pay it off weekly or monthly if you can get a study load and pay it off on the never, never?

Of course Fee Help sounds very attractive – why pay any fees if you can avoid it?

But, in this case there is a significant downside.

On closer inspection, she found that the published fees for this course were $6,500. So for the privilege of accessing fee help she is paying a 60% premium on the fees!

Not only that, to this fee you need to add the 25% loan fee. But then the coup de gras is the realisation (once signed up and all systems go) that you’re already earning above the repayment threshold so you have to start paying it back immediately!

So all you gain is the initial start – you can commence next week with no monetary outlay.


Well, even that’s not entirely true.

You might find out later you have to purchase one or more text books and other ‘necessary’ resources and, you might also find that, if you really need help along the way well, you have to pay for it!

Needless to say my student didn’t sign with this RTO although they really put the pressure on her, but, a friend of hers did! As soon as she realised the
reality of the offer (after talking to this friend) she tried to cancel her registration but the RTO would not let her.

Now this sort of high pressure selling has, in my opinion, no place in VET Education and training and it gives us all a bad name. But, given that we have an open market in Australia and this type of sales approach is part of it, well, it is probably here to stay.

My advice to all those mature age students looking for the ‘best’ course for them is to be very, very careful and don’t sign-up on first contact. Shop around, read the fine print and make sure that the course and the method of payment makes sound academic and financial sense. Listen to your gut, if it sounds too good or too easy to be true then, it probably is!

reading contract

To help you, here is a summary of the key factors to be aware of:

  1. Make sure that you know what the full course fees are (even if you’re getting Fee Help), and shop around, otherwise you might be paying double the market rate!
  2. Be sure that you know what you’re getting in the published course fee and that trainer help is available at all times throughout your course of study. You don’t want to have to pay more for ‘extras’.
  3. Check that you don’t have to pay the fees again if you take more than 12 months to complete your study. It’s not unusual for busy part-time students to take more than 12 months to complete a Diploma (after all you don’t know what’s around the corner when you sign up). Some RTO’s make you enrol and pay the fees again each year!
  4. If you sign with a broker (i.e. sites that offer multiple courses using various providers) make sure you know who is offering the course and awarding the qualification and what expertise they have in your chosen field of study.
  5. If you sign with a private RTO make sure it is Australian Owned (so check it’s registration details and check out who the Principal and/or CEO is as well). LinkedIn can also be helpful here to check credentials etc.

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  1. Approximate prices only based on Google search conduction 29 May 2014 []

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