The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia. PES qualifying study for tertiary students


This topic discusses the following issues relating to PES and full-time tertiary students:

  • full-time study-load for tertiary students
  • situations when the institution considers the recipient full-time
  • 15 hours class contact
  • what constitutes study-load
  • start of qualifying study
  • qualifying study from 1 January or 1 July
  • full-time study during the first 2 weeks of a course
  • continuing students
  • masters and doctorate studies
  • absence due to incapacity.

Full-time tertiary students

To be undertaking qualifying study for PES, a person must be undertaking or intending to undertake an approved course (1.1.A.210). The person must also be a full-time student or concessional study-load student ( in respect of that course.

A student is a full-time tertiary student (1.1.F.230) if they are enrolled in, or intending to enrol in, at least 75% of the normal amount of full-time study for a course for a study period. Different conditions apply depending on whether or not the course is a course of study within the meaning of the Higher Education Support Act 2003, as described in the following table.

If the course … then the student is considered full-time …
is a course within the meaning of the Higher Education Support Act for a particular period (whether the units being undertaken are trimester or semester based or annual) if they meet a minimum of 75% of a full-time workload for the course.
is NOT a course within the meaning of the Higher Education Support Act if the institution considers them to be full-time, OR
in the absence of the above, they have a minimum of 15 hours class contact per week.

Act reference: SSAct section 1061PF Normal amount of full-time study

Institution considers the student full-time

The following table describes when a tertiary student is full-time because the institution considers them full-time.

If the institution … then the student is full-time if they are completing at least 75% of the …
classifies the course as full-time

normal full-time load of the course.

This also applies to students who are undertaking courses at more than one institution.

does not specify the typical full-time workload for a semester or year amount of full-time study that would be needed to complete the course in the minimum time.

Example: An institution offers a 2-year course that requires 1600 hours of study, but does not specify how the course would typically be completed. If study is offered on a semester basis, the normal full-time workload for each semester would be 400 hours. To meet the 75% rule for a semester, a student would need to enrol to do at least 300 hours.

does not usually classify the course as full-time full-time load for a comparable course that is offered on a full-time basis.

15 hours class contact

People who are undertaking a substantial study-load but who do NOT fit the normal definition of a full-time tertiary student as described in this topic, can be considered full-time if they do at least 15 contact hours a week.

Explanation: As full-time study is an average of 20 contact hours per week, a student needs to do only 15 contact hours per week, that is, 75% of a full-time workload, to qualify as a full-time student for PES.

Workload - 15 hours class contact

The following table describes study-load activities for the 15 hours contact a week.

Activity Considered as study-load
Scheduled/official classes, tutorials, lectures, seminars, workshops, fieldwork and practicums/practical components that are part of the course.
Formal, regular consultation with supervisors that is a normal requirement of the course.
Non-class work such as homework, or revision assignments. No

Start of qualifying study

The first day of qualifying study will normally be the day the course begins.

Qualifying study from 1 January or 1 July

In some cases, PES can be paid from 1 January or 1 July because the qualifying study is taken to commence from those dates. Qualifying study is taken to commence from 1 January or 1 July only in limited circumstances:

  • where the person is resuming study after a break of up to

    • one semester, or
    • 2 terms (where the academic year is divided into 4 terms rather than semesters), or
    • more than one semester during the preceding 12 months where the break was due to the person's illness or other circumstances beyond their control, and
    • the student commences their course before 1 April or on or after 1 July
  • where the person is a continuing student and claims by 31 March or 31 July - see explanation and 'Continuing students'.

Explanation: Generally continuing students would never need to claim from one year to the next as PES will continue each year unless they notify that their studies have ceased. However, in some circumstances, a student may be a continuing student who is not receiving PES and so will need to claim. If they claim by 31 March they can be backdated to 1 January.

Example 1: A student had been receiving PES for the previous year but their PES had stopped because they failed to notify at the end that they would be continuing their studies. If they can prove to Centrelink that they always intended to enrol at the next enrolment period they can be considered a continuing student and so can be backdated to 1 January.

Example 2: A student did not receive PES for the previous year because they were not on a PES qualifying payment. They were studying to the end of the second semester of the previous year and will continue their full year studies in the new year (either in the same course or a new one). As they are now on a PES qualifying payment, they can be backdated to the later of 1 January, or the date that they were granted the PES qualifying payment, if they claim by 31 March.

Example 3: A person who undertook a short course in the previous year was paid to the last day of the course. The person then advised that they were intending to undertake a full year course in the New Year.

In general, the person cannot have PES backdated to 1 January as they are NOT:

  • resuming study after a break of up to one semester (or 12 months as outlined above), OR
  • considered to be a continuing student undertaking qualifying study for the period between when they finished their short course and subsequently decided to undertake a full year course.

The start date for PES for students in this situation will depend on when they claim PES and when they are first taken to be undertaking qualifying study for PES.

Under very limited circumstances students may be entitled to have their PES start day commence from an earlier date. Under SSAct section 1061PB(1), if a delegate is satisfied that the person is either enrolled in the new full year course or since completing the short course they have always intended to enrol in the full year course, then the person is taken to be undertaking qualifying study, subject to the other requirements of section 1061PB(1) being met. The start date will depend on when the student enrols, or intends to enrol, in the full year course (this could be from 1 January or an earlier date). Evidence which may inform a delegate's decision may be early proof of enrolment, an indication of an interest in enrolling prior to the relevant enrolment period, or where the short course was a pre-requisite to the full year course and the full year course was not able to be undertaken without prior enrolment in the completed short course.

Act reference: SSAct section 1061PB Undertaking qualifying study

SS(Admin)Act Schedule 2 Rules for working out start day, Schedule 2 clause 31 PES: claim before 1 April, Schedule 2 clause 32 PES: claim before 1 August

Policy reference: SS Guide Start dates for PES qualifying study, Backdated start days - PES

First 2 weeks of a course

A recipient is considered to have been undertaking full-time tertiary study from the start of the course if:

  • they are enrolled in the course, and
  • attend study on at least one day in the first 2 weeks of classes.

Explanation: This allows the student time to sort out timetables and other arrangements at the beginning of a course WITHOUT being penalised for not attending full-time for the whole of the first 2 weeks. It is aimed at students who take some days to settle into a full-time workload for reasons beyond their control and does NOT have any wider application.

Act reference: SSAct section 1061PG First fortnight of classes

Continuing students

A recipient is regarded as a full-time tertiary student, if they are:

  • moving from secondary to tertiary studies
  • in between tertiary courses, or
  • on vacation from the course they are undertaking.

Note: Students continuing study in the same full year course in the next study period (semester or year), and currently paid to 31 December, will automatically qualify for continuing student status unless they notify otherwise. These students, whose course end date is, or should be, beyond 31 December of the current year, and whose circumstances have not changed, will have their payments rolled-over to the next semester/year so their payments continue without a break.

Short courses

Students undertaking short courses are not regarded as continuing students between short courses unless they are undertaking an articulated short courses sequence (1.1.A.270).

To be considered a continuing student, the recipient MUST:

  • have been enrolled in a course, AND
  • be intending to re-enrol at the first opportunity.

Students unable to demonstrate their intention to re-enrol at the first opportunity cannot be considered to be continuing students and can only be considered to be undertaking qualifying study from the date that their studies resume unless backdating rules apply - see qualifying study from 1 January or 1 July above.

The following table outlines when PES becomes payable for continuing/non-continuing students. This applies when either the student advises that they are not continuing their studies then changes their mind, or when they did not advise of their intention to continue studying until after their PES payments are cancelled.

If the student … then PES is payable …
CANNOT prove continuing student status

from the date that studies resume as long as they claim within 4 weeks of that date.

If claim is after 4 weeks of that date, payment is from date of claim.

CAN prove continuing student status and has completed one course and has or will be enrolling in A NEW course

from 1 January if claim by 31 March. There will be no break in PES payments as student will have been paid to 31 December.

Explanation: As student has completed a course (and the last day of study is on or after 15 September) they would have been paid to 31 December.

CAN prove continuing student status and is re-enrolling in the SAME COURSE
  • from date of cancellation - if reclaim within 4 weeks of cancellation.
  • from date of reclaim - if reclaim after 4 weeks of cancellation.
  • from 1 January if claim after 1 January but by 31 March.
  • from start of study if claim after 31 March but within 4 weeks of resuming study.

Explanation: As student is re-enrolling in the same course they would have been paid only to the last day of studies in their course, not 31 December.

Act reference: SSAct section 1061PB Undertaking qualifying study, section 23(10E)-'articulated short course sequence'

SS(Admin)Act Schedule 2 Rules for working out start day, Schedule 2 clause 30 Pensioner education supplement, Schedule 2 clause 31 PES: claim before 1 April, Schedule 2 clause 32 PES: claim before 1 August

Masters & doctorate studies

Mainstream doctorate studies or a qualification of the same standing, or masters courses that are not specified in Schedule 3 of the Student Assistance (Education Institutions and Courses) Determination 2019 (the Determination) are NOT approved courses for PES, with the following exception.

Exception: Part of the following courses CAN be approved, as described:

  • years 1 to 4 ONLY of the Master of Engineering in Information Technology and Telecommunications offered by the Australian Information Technology Engineering Centre, and
  • combined bachelor/unapproved masters degree courses, EXCLUDING the year/s exceeding the allowable length of time taken to complete the approved bachelor degree course.

Eligible recipients qualify for PES during years 1 to 4 of the courses, however, they MUST meet the usual PES qualification requirements, including workload, to be considered a full-time student in years 1 to 4.

As the fifth and sixth years of these courses are considered to be unapproved masters study, recipients who continue past year 4 will NOT satisfy the activity test.

An additional period of assistance under the allowable time rules is available to recipients who do NOT proceed to years 5 and 6 of the course, but instead transfer into an undergraduate level course or an approved masters course.

Students enrolled in unapproved courses (e.g. masters courses not listed in Schedule 3 of the Determination), with lower level approved awards nested within them (e.g. graduate certificate, graduate diploma), are NOT eligible for payment whilst completing the lower level award. A nested course is defined as a single course of study where the student is enrolled in a higher level award, which has clear exit points for receiving lower level awards if the student exits the course early. For example, a student may be enrolled in a 2 year masters course, however exits the course after 12 months and receives a graduate diploma. If the student completes the masters, they will receive the masters degree, however will not also receive the graduate diploma.

Nested courses are distinct from combined courses which are courses that lead to 2 or more qualifications (e.g. Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science).

Students enrolled in courses that result in 2 separate awards, one of which is an unapproved masters course (e.g. Bachelor of Arts/Masters of Research), will only receive payment for the allowable length of time taken to complete the approved course (e.g. Bachelor of Arts).

Note: Doctorate level courses only refer to doctorate qualifications which are Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) Level 10. There are some masters level courses which may call themselves a 'Doctor' course but they may be AQF Level 9.

Example: Juris Doctor is not a doctorate course, it is an AQF Level 9 masters course.

Act reference: SSAct section 1061PB(2) Persons not undertaking qualifying study

Student Assistance (Education Institutions and Courses) Determination 2019

Holders of masters or doctorate qualifications

A recipient CANNOT qualify for PES if they have already completed a course leading to a masters or doctorate degree or a qualification of the same standing. This includes:

  • a masters degree or doctorate or a qualification of the same standing at an Australian institution, or
  • a qualification of the same standing from an overseas institution.

Refer to precedent cases and/or the compendium of overseas qualifications to determine whether an overseas qualification is at a masters or doctorate level. Where doubt exists, consult the Australia Education International - NOOSR (AEI-NOOSR).

Absence due to incapacity

If a person is absent from their course due to incapacity, they may still be considered to be undertaking qualifying study if the institution still considers them to be enrolled.

Act reference: SSAct section 1061PB(1) … a person is undertaking qualifying study if …

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