The UK should look to the student tuition fee system in Australia as it decides whether the level of fees currently charged should be increased, Australia's new Minister for Education and Deputy Prime Minister has suggested.
Julia Gillard was in Britain last week as part of a UK tour to discuss shared policy agendas with government ministers, including John Denham, the Secretary for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Speaking at an event held by the City of London, she said the Australian Higher Education Contribution Scheme (Hecs) provided a "robust model of income-contingent deferred loans" that was not "a barrier to access".
Under the model, Australian students are charged 25 per cent of their course costs and can either pay "upfront" with a 20 per cent discount or defer payment until they have completed their degrees and are working, with money repaid according to income. The debt is recovered through the tax office.
"(Hecs) has been an important development feature of our system and a model that the rest of the world has shown some interest in so there may be something there (for the UK) to learn from," she said.
Hecs was first introduced in 1989 when a flat fee was charged for all university students. When the Howard Government came to power in 1996, a three-tier fee structure was introduced, with courses such as law and medicine that had higher income potential attracting greater fees.
The UK Government will review the current £3,500 tuition fee in 2009. Neil Gorman, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, told a recent conference on higher education funding in London: "Personally, I much prefer the Australian system. For example, you have two students who do French at university and one becomes a primary-school teacher earning £15,000 a year, while the other does a conversion course and becomes a city lawyer.
"They will pay back according to their income, and I think that Australian system is working very well - the graduates seem to like it."