Two much-cherished principles among many on the left are that school choice will hurt the poor, and that HECS deters poor students. In his speech to the ANZSOG schools conference, Labor leader Kim Beazley yesterday took on the first. As Michael Costello points out today, "Nobody should underestimate how radical it is for Labor to open up choice between public secondary schools".
But then, Beazley takes aim at HECS, saying "I will have more to say at a later stage, in particular about the giant burden HECS has become". We can only hope that what he has to say in the future is: "I was wrong when I called HECS a giant burden". The graph above is from a paper by Bruce Chapman and Chris Ryan, showing university attendance by wealth group before HECS (1988), after HECS (1993), and after the radical HECS changes (1998). It’s true that the poor attend university less than the rich, but this was always the case – including under free education. Since the introduction of HECS, we’ve had more money to spend on universities, and attendance by all groups – poor and rich alike – has risen.