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Changing policy, changing plans: responses to the end of fee-free education

Anna Kent (Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 23 April 2024




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ending of fee-free higher education in Australia for overseas students in the 1980s, and the ways in which the government managed the diplomatic relationships that were affected by this policy shift. The introduction of fee-free higher education in Australia in 1974 was incredibly popular, and the end of the program in the late 1980s created difficulties for individuals, families and diplomatic relationships.


Using a mix of secondary sources and archival documents, this paper has a historiographical element, and an element of analysis.


This research finds that the ending of fee-free education created significant diplomatic issues with a number of Australia’s regional neighbours. It also created issues for individual students and families. The solution to these problems was, in large part, a scholarship scheme called the Equity and Merit Scholarship Scheme (EMSS). The EMSS was designed, in part, to address the issues created by the end of the fee-free program. However, the design of the scholarship scheme also created its own diplomatic issues with a different cohort of nation states.


There is limited scholarly research into the history of international education policy in Australia. This research draws on the work of some scholars of international scholarships, as well as historians of universities and education more broadly. This research adds to a growing body of work in the field of Australian international education history.



The author would like to thank Dr Joanne Barker for her feedback and advice on this article. The author would also like to thank the reviewers and editors for their feedback and encouragement.


Kent, A. (2024), "Changing policy, changing plans: responses to the end of fee-free education", History of Education Review, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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