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. Assessing tertiary study-load for PES


This topic describes the following issues that relate to assessment of tertiary study-load for PES:

  • what makes a full-time study (1.1.F.230) load
  • study-load when the recipient is enrolled in more than one course
  • study-load when the recipient is enrolled at more than one institution, and
  • study-load for flexible study.

Full-time study-load

For tertiary students to be in full-time study, they must be enrolled in, and studying, at least 75% of the normal full-time student study-load. The normal full-time study-load for a year is the amount of work that would be undertaken by a typical student who completes the course in minimum time (1.1.M.140).

Because HECS is based on a normal full-time student load, the HECS weighting of subjects is usually used to measure full-time study in courses that attract HECS. If HECS does not apply, refer to alternative definitions for a full-time student.

If the course … then the student is considered full-time …

attracts a HECS fee

  • if for the period they meet a minimum of 75% of a full-time workload, which is equivalent to a HECS load of 0.375 in a semester.
  • if the HECS load is less than 75% of the full-time study-load for the semester but a HECS anomaly exists, in that the institution considers the student to be full-time and the handbook or official course structure shows the student's study-load is at least 75% of the full-time study-load, they may be considered a full-time student.

Example: Amanda is undertaking practical teaching as well as 2 units in a semester at university. Her HECS load for the semester is 0.280 as HECS is not paid on the practical teaching component of the course. Her institution considers her to be a full-time student, and as a result she may receive PES as a full-time student for PES purposes.

is a non-HECS course

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.

Policy reference: SS Guide PES qualifying study for tertiary students

Study in more than one course

The following table describes tertiary study-load when a recipient is enrolled in more than one course.

If a recipient … then …
is enrolled in an additional subject, or subjects ABOVE the minimum requirements of an approved course (1.1.A.210), and these are recognised by the institution as part of that course the subject is included as study-load.
is studying subjects UNRELATED to an approved course the subjects are NOT considered part of full-time study-load.
is studying a combined course for PES purposes study-load is measured against the normal full-time study-load for the combined course.
is given credit for subjects, units or points completed earlier these do NOT count as study-load.
  • is accepted by an institution as a non-degree student in the first year or semester
  • on successful completion is guaranteed course enrolment, AND
  • completed study is credited to their degree study
this study counts as study-load.

Enrolment at more than one institution

A recipient MAY study at more than one institution and continue to be a full-time tertiary student for PES, however:

  • they MUST study at least 75% of a normal full-time study-load in AT LEAST ONE course
  • studies through a second institution CAN be counted for study-load purposes ONLY if
    • the subjects are recorded as enrolment in the approved course, by the first institution, OR
    • the recipient provides evidence that the subjects will be counted towards the approved course on completion, AND
    • Example: A statement from the main institution that the results will be recognised towards the recipient's main course.
  • they CANNOT add together workloads in UNRELATED subjects which do NOT form part of an approved course, AND
  • both institutions MUST be approved for PES purposes.

Study-load for flexible study

The following table describes tertiary study-load as it applies to various types of flexible study.

Type of study Full-time study-load description

Self-paced courses (1.1.S.80)

The average study-load for a student who completes the course content over the normal full-time duration.

Example: The normal full-time duration for a course requires a student to undertake one module/unit a month for 16 months, or 4 units every 4 months. A student would be considered full-time if they studied 75% of a full-time load, or 3 units every 4 months.

CBT/open learning

CBT/open learning students have the flexibility to structure their own study. The primary consideration for PES is that the student is:

  • formally enrolled as a full-time student, AND
  • seen by their institution to be studying, on average, a full-time study-load over a term/semester.

Example: A Certificate in Fashion course may normally require 24 hours per week of instruction. A CBT/open learning student may structure their study so that less study is done in some weeks, but more in others.

University level units at OUA

Generally, university level units offered by OUA have a credit weighting of one-eighth of a normal full-time study-load for single units or one-quarter for double units.

To qualify as a full-time student, a recipient MUST register in, and study, at least:

  • any 2 single units in any 13 week study period
  • one double open learning unit in any 13 week study period, OR
  • a double unit which runs over 2 consecutive 13 week study periods plus one additional unit in each study period.

OUA TAFE modules

A recipient who studies OUA TAFE modules for a minimum of 160 hours in a study period, will be a full-time student for PES purposes even if their study-load does not fit any of the other full-time criteria.

OTEN courses

While studying through OTEN students must be enrolled in an approved course and be undertaking an equivalent full-time study load (EFTSL). OTEN will generally only enrol students in one or 2 units at a time and the units are measured in hours.

OTEN considers students to be full-time if they are doing 16 hours of coursework a week.

Example: If students are enrolled in one unit that normally takes 48 hours of coursework to complete, they are expected to finish the unit within 3 weeks of starting it:

  • 48 hours ÷ 16 hours = 3 weeks.

OTEN provides a flexible course model which encourages students to complete courses at their own pace with no penalty for not completing work. However, they should complete their study in the normal time it takes to complete the course. In the example above, students would be expected to have finished their unit within 3 weeks and have started the next unit.

Concurrent open learning and conventional study

If a recipient enrols in a single course that combines conventional study and ALSO open learning, then eligibility is assessed for EACH form of study, and they are a full-time student if the normal study-load requirement is met in EITHER form of study.

If an institution accepts open learning study as part of the recipient's primary course, the amount of work in both forms of study CAN be COMBINED. A single university level unit of open learning is equal one-eighth of a full-time HECS annual load.

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