GST: Hexed students can rest easy

The introduction of the GST on July 1 has prompted tertiary students to converge on Railway Square in Central Sydney last Monday and Tuesday, in a somewhat misplaced protest.

Almost a dozen students gathered with banners displayed to passing cars such as "No GST on HECS" and "Honk if you Hate Howard".

HECS (the Higher Education Contribution Scheme) will not be directly affected by the GST, according to both Michel Hedley, corporate relations manager of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and David Wilson, Associate Dean (Education) for the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney.

"Deferred HECS repayments may be indirectly increased due to any inflationary effects of GST due to deferred HECS payments (being) index-linked," Wilson said.

Due to there being no GST placed on HECS fees, Wilson, while doubting that such a tax would ever be introduced, said that it would prevent some people from considering university as an option for further study.

"There are also some equity issues, as students able to pay HECS up-front not only get the 25 per cent discount for up-front payment but will also not suffer the inflationary impact of GST. Higher education is more affordable for the rich," Wilson said.

He does not believe that if a GST on HECS fees were introduced it would have a large effect on the shortage of people with IT skills, as those seeking to obtain IT qualifications but not wanting to attend university do have other options. These include Certificate, Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses from TAFE colleges and private colleges.

"Most, but not all, are excellent but may limit the graduate in terms of job opportunities. We (UTS) get many applications from people with such qualifications wanting to upgrade to our degree or graduate certificate courses because these open up more opportunities. They may, particularly with TAFE qualifications, receive advanced standing on the basis of their previous study," Wilson said.

Although not equivalent to a degree in IT fields, Wilson believes that qualifications gained from other institutions are a "valuable and useful starting point".

Hedley commented that the number of students enrolled in IT-related courses has increased, although the number of enrolments at universities has been steady due to government limitations.

UTS currently has almost 400 students, both local and international, enrolled in IT-related courses.

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