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9.8.1 Tertiary education

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Last amended 
26 May 2017

Tertiary qualifications

It is a policy intention that the vocational component of a rehabilitation plan will provide the client with the opportunity to find ongoing, secure and sustainable employment in the civilian workforce. To achieve this it may be appropriate for DVA to provide support for the client to undertake further education, to enable them to return to the workforce to at least the level of their former employment. Where the best possible option to attain a secure and sustainable employment outcome requires a higher level of qualification, such as tertiary education, this must be given consideration. 

This approach applies regardless of the ADF rank that a former serving member may have reached during their military career. DVA acknowledges that the civilian labour market is now highly competitive, and depending on the field of employment that a client is pursuing, the need for tertiary qualifications has increased.  Tertiary education in this context is a course, usually a Bachelor level course, being undertaken at an Australian university.

Several criteria are required to be met before tertiary education can be approved. DVA Rehabilitation Coordinators and rehabilitation providers must refer to the more detailed information about these criteria in section 9.8.3 of this chapter. In summary, the criteria include the following:

  • the client must have an open, active rehabilitation plan in place;
  • a vocational assessment must have been conducted to provide evidence to support a determination about whether tertiary education is the most appropriate option, given the client’s circumstances, medical restrictions, health status and existing skills, qualifications , interests, experience and aptitude for study;
  • a comprehensive labour market analysis must have been conducted, to provide assurance that there will be opportunities for the client to find sustainable and secure employment in their chosen field at the completion of their studies;
  • there must be clear medical evidence that tertiary study is an appropriate option for the client at a particular time, and that they have the medical capacity to undertake work in their chosen field at the end of their course;
  • there must be no barriers, such as criminal convictions, which will prevent the person from being able to work in their chosen field at the end of their studies;
  • the client, their rehabilitation provider and the DVA Rehabilitation Coordinator must sign the D9303 Tertiary Education Assistance Agreement Form which can be found on the DVA forms portal;
  • the client must be prepared to, and will be expected to utilise the university support services available to them, particularly if they are experiencing difficulties in meeting the requirements of their course;
  • the client’s rehabilitation provider must commit to pro-actively monitoring the client’s progress in their tertiary studies and providing appropriate support when needed, while encouraging self-management; and
  • the client understands and accepts that DVA will only fund failed, deferred or repeated units, or units for which the student has withdrawn after the university census date, after considering evidence from the client’s rehabilitation provider about why DVA should continue to support the student in working towards their qualification.  Information that will be considered in this context includes whether an unexpected situation has developed which has created challenges to the person being able to focus on their studies. These types of circumstances could include (but are not limited to) ongoing ill-health or a flaring of symptoms of an accepted condition, a relationship breakdown, or unexpected family crisis.


DVA recognises the positive benefits that can be gained through participating in tertiary education. These may include for example, building social connections, positive work habits and confidence. In some cases, it may be appropriate, given a client’s unique circumstances, to consider participation in study where a person is not participating in a rehabilitation plan with the explicit goal of returning to employment in the short term. Please see section 6.9 of the Rehabilitation Policy Library for further information about psychosocial rehabilitation and further education. 

Courses must be appropriate for an individual

The policy and legislative principle behind supporting tertiary studies is that the person will be provided with appropriate assistance to help them to secure sustainable and meaningful employment within their local labour market.  DVA has a responsibility to consider the cost-effectiveness of the wide range of educational options that are available to individual clients.

It is essential that the vocational assessment and labour market analysis provides clear evidence of the most appropriate educational and retraining options for an individual, to assist them to secure sustainable employment. 

DVA has a responsibility to ensure that rehabilitation clients have the best chance possible of successfully meeting tertiary course requirements where this is assessed as being the most appropriate option for a client. For example, where a person did not fully complete their high school studies, or has not studied for many years, they may first be supported to undertake a bridging course or tertiary preparation course, to develop an understanding of their aptitude for study, and to enable them to build their skills and confidence prior to applying for their chosen course.

What type of tertiary courses can be supported?

Students applying to Australian universities can be offered two types of places– a Commonwealth Supported Place or a domestic fee paying place.

A Commonwealth Supported Place is a subsidised higher education enrolment. This means that the Australian government will pay part of the student’s fees called the ‘subsidy amount’, directly to the university. The subsidy amount is not a loan and students do not have to pay the subsidy amount back. However, students are required to contribute towards their study and pay the remainder of the fee called the ‘student contribution’. Students can access the HECS-HELP loan scheme to pay their student contribution. Students are required to meet citizenship and residency requirements to be eligible for a Commonwealth Supported Place and these places are only available to domestic students.

A domestic fee paying place is one for which the university does not receive any government funding. As such, students enrolled in these courses are required to pay the full cost of their course. However, students may be eligible to access a loan through the FEE-HELP scheme to pay these fees.

The type of place that is being offered will be specified by the university in the letter of offer sent to the client.

As a general principle, DVA will not pay for a domestic fee paying place without very clear evidence from a comprehensive rehabilitation assessment that this is the only option available to a client to enable them to secure sustainable employment in the civilian workforce. This is because there are likely to be other, more cost effective options that could be pursued which would assist the client to achieve a successful and sustainable return to employment.

A Commonwealth Supported Place

Students enrolled in a Commonwealth Supported Place only have to pay the ‘student contribution' for their units of study. The student contribution amount will be the amount DVA pays. 

Different areas of study are grouped into three ‘Bands’ which set the maximum range that can be charged for a full-time study load. A full time study load is normally around 8 units per year.

The table below shows the student contribution bands and ranges for 2017 noting that the contribution range changes each year.

 Student contribution band

2017 Student contribution range
(per EFTSL*)

Band 3: Law, accounting, administration, economics, commerce, dentistry, medicine, veterinary science

$0 - $10,596

Band 2: Mathematics, statistics, computing, built environment, other health, allied health, science, engineering, surveying, agriculture

$0 - $9,050

Band 1: Humanities, behavioural science, social studies, education, clinical psychology, foreign languages, visual and performing arts, nursing

$0 – $6,349


Source: http://studyassist.gov.au/sites/studyassist/helppayingmyfees/csps/pages/student-contribution-amounts

* Equivalent full-time study load (EFTSL)

It is important to note that Band 3 courses must be carefully considered through a rehabilitation assessment, as there may be more cost effective alternative courses which will still lead to secure and sustainable employment in related fields. This particularly applies to courses such as medicine and law. For example, a nursing or allied health qualification may be identified through a rehabilitation assessment as a more reasonable and cost effective alternative to medicine, and would still enable the person to work in a health setting.

A domestic fee-paying place

A domestic fee-paying place is not subsidised by the Australian Government and students pay the entire amount of their tuition fees. Generally, domestic fee-paying places have lower entry requirements. 

As domestic-fee paying places have lower entry requirements, it is important that this does not become the primary reason why this option is explored. Before consideration is given to funding a domestic fee-paying place, rehabilitation providers are encouraged to undertake specific vocational testing to enable them to develop a better understanding of the client’s abilities and aptitudes. Information about the type of tests that could be considered in this context can be found in section 9.5 of this chapter.

In order to provide the best possible chance of a client being successful in undertaking tertiary studies, a bridging or tertiary preparation course could be considered, in preference to a client enrolling in a domestic fee paying course with lower entry requirements.

DVA will only approve funding for domestic fee-paying places where there is very clear evidence from a comprehensive rehabilitation assessment that this is the best option available to a client to enable them to secure sustainable employment in the civilian workforce.

Post-graduate studies

In most work settings, and in most circumstances, Bachelor level degrees should be sufficient to enable to client to secure meaningful and sustainable employment in their chosen field. Therefore, as a general principle, DVA will not support tertiary studies where the client already has tertiary qualifications, or post-graduate qualifications, such as Masters or PhD’s. However, it is also recognised that each request must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Rehabilitation Coordinators are therefore asked to contact rehabilitation@dva.gov.au for policy advice if they receive a request which they believe warrants consideration due to the client’s individual circumstances.

Can a client fund tertiary education themselves?

Clients may choose to undertake tertiary education without receiving financial support from DVA for the course. This may occur, for example, where a client wants to update existing tertiary qualifications or to work towards their ideal job but they already have the qualifications, skills and experience to be able to secure suitable and sustainable employment in the civilian workforce.

In these cases, if the client establishes eligibility to receive rehabilitation assistance, they are obliged and expected to fully participate unhindered in their rehabilitation plan while studying. This is particularly relevant where the client is receiving or applying to receive compensation payments, such as incapacity payments from DVA. If there is medical evidence that the client has the capacity to work, then they will be expected to undertake vocational rehabilitation activities included on their rehabilitation plan, and accept any suitable employment that is offered to them. If the client chooses to prioritise their self-funded study, and is not fully participating in their agreed vocational rehabilitation activities, they risk being found to be non-compliant because they are not meeting their rehabilitation obligations. This means that there is a risk that their compensation payments (but not their access to treatment) may be suspended.

Similarly, If the client has left existing suitable employment for the sole purpose of pursuing study, their  circumstances would need to be reviewed to consider if they have a deemed ability to earn.

Rejecting a tertiary education request

When a Rehabilitation Coordinator considers that tertiary education is not an appropriate rehabilitation activity, there are no avenues of appeal for the client. This is because a determination has not been made. Rather, the Rehabilitation Coordinator has considered all of the evidence available to them, and made a judgement that tertiary education is not an appropriate activity to be included on the client's rehabilitation plan.

As part of the normal rehabilitation plan negotiation process, information needs to be provided to the client about why tertiary education is not regarded as being an appropriate rehabilitation activity. As with all rehabilitation plans, discussions about rehabilitation activities should be a collaborative process and therefore alternative options should always be discusssed with the client.