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Gender gap persists in earnings, HECS-HELP debts and study areas: new report

New research has concluded that university-educated females in Australia have accrued a bigger HECS-HELP debt and also earn less than their male counterparts.

The findings appear in Futurity Investment Group’s Impact of University Debt Report, which surveyed more than 1000 Australians who attended university. 


The Impact of University Debt Report found stark differences in the earnings of university-educated individuals based on their sex and age. For instance, 39 per cent of females earn less than $40,000, while only 27 per cent of males recorded a similar salary bracket. Conversely, the report also found more than half (57 per cent) of university-educated males earn in excess of $60,000 per year, compared to 42 per cent of females. 

Age also played a key factor in determining earnings, the report found. Roughly one in two (53 per cent) of university-educated individuals aged 30–39 earn more than $60,000 per annum. In contrast, 41 per cent of 22–29-year-old Australians earn less than $40,000.


The Impact of University Debt Report also found substantial differences between the HECS-HELP loans of males and females. For example, one in four (24 per cent) of the male respondents finished their university studies with a HECS-HELP debt between $20,000 and $50,000; in contrast, close to one in three of the female respondents (32 per cent) had accrued a similar amount of debt.

The report also highlighted that very few Australians are paying fees up front and instead relying on HECS-HELP loans. An overwhelming 90 per cent of university-educated individuals in their twenties have a HECS-HELP debt, with that figure dropping to 72 per cent in their 30s.

Concerningly, almost half (48 per cent) of individuals surveyed who were in their 40s still had a HECS-HELP debt, with “the average time to repay HECS-HELP debt ... now approaching 10 years and ... trending up”.

HECS- HELP debt has also had some impact on home ownership, while 41 per cent of respondents reported their HECS-HELP debt has had some impact on their ability to purchase a car. The amount individuals earned also had a significant impact on their ability to make voluntary payments, which can help pay off HECS-HELP loans over a much shorter time period.

For instance, only a third (31 per cent) of respondents earning less than $40,000 have made voluntary repayments towards their HECS-HELP loan. In contrast, over half (57 per cent) of individuals earning more than $60,000 have made voluntary repayments.

Other key findings
In addition to concerning findings regarding gender inequality in earnings and debt, the report highlighted a number of other issues salient to the sector, including:

  • Thirty-five per cent of employed respondents are not employed in their field of study, while a higher percentage of 40-49-year-olds (42 per cent) are also working outside of their study area.
  • Close to half (44 per cent) of respondents “are negative or neutral about the value of their university education because of HECS-HELP debt”. 
  • The ‘gendering’ of particular professions continues to be significant, with 61 per cent of females studying education, with another 66 per cent studying health. On the other hand, 81 per cent of respondents studying Information Technology are male and 79 per cent studying engineering are also male.


Of the more than 1000 survey responses forming the report, individuals were all Australian citizens and had either completed a university degree, were currently studying a university degree, had deferred their university studies or withdrawn from a university course. Fifty-one per cent of respondents were females and 49 per cent were males.

Survey responses were received from all states and territories, with NSW providing the highest percentage (30 per cent), closely followed by Victoria (29 per cent). Fifty-seven per cent of respondents were employed full time, 29 per cent were employed on a part-time basis, and 15 per cent were unemployed. 

Finally, a range of age groups were represented in the survey:

  • 20-29-year-olds - 20 per cent
  • 30-39- year-old - 25 per cent
  • 40-49-year-olds - 24 per cent
  • 50-59-year-olds - 18 per cent
  • 60+  - 12 per cent

Futurity CEO Ross Higgins said the Impact of University Debt Report shines a light on how loans to fund a university education “can have long lasting effects”. 

“Debt acquired at university should not negatively impact important financial and social objectives, including purchasing a home, a new car, starting a business or later-in-life career changes,” he said. 

“The research also highlighted the growing gender pay gap, which is often exacerbated when females take career breaks to have children, raise a family, then return to work in a part-time role. 

“It’s unacceptable they are earning less and leave university with more HECS-HELP debt than their male contemporaries.”

The Futurity CEO said that, despite the obvious gender imbalances, the survey found that the majority of Australians who attend university are “positive or neutral about the value of their university education despite their HECS-HELP debt and the financial and social impacts”. 

“However, with the cost of a university education exceeding $50,000 in many instances, it’s essential people considering a tertiary education understand debt acquired at university can carry financial and social burdens later in life," he said.

“It’s crucial all Australians understand the value of having dedicated savings and funding for university education so they can avoid large HECS-HELP debts impacting financial wellbeing and their ability to achieve their goals later in life.

“With the total cost of education now demanding a far greater share of the family budget, parents and grandparents need effective savings and investment solutions to meet the educational  aspirations of their children and grandchildren.

“Dedicated education savings and investment vehicles can help cover the cost of university. Not only will they alleviate the financial and social burden later in life, but also enable Australians to upskill, learn new technologies and explore different career paths.” 

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