THE nation's higher education fees debt stands at $26.3 billion - about one-quarter of which is not ever expected to be paid off.
Australian think- tank the Grattan Institute, in its recent assessment of Australian higher education, estimated that the government would not be able to recoup $6.2 billion of the loans, labelling it "bad debt".
The institute found that 1.2 million university students added $5.5 billion to the overall debt last year and it predicted that the figure would grow by $1.5 billion in 2015-16 with increased enrolments.
The Examiner's readers on Facebook last week expressed both nonchalance and stress over their own Higher Education Contribution Scheme debt, while others expressed gratitude for the scheme, saying they would not be able to take part in higher education otherwise.
Jessica Carew said: "I'm not worried about it. It just comes out of my tax refund and I have extra taken out during the year so I still get a small lump sum at the [end of financial year].
"If it wasn't for HECS, I couldn't have attended uni, so I'm grateful for it."
Bridie Youd said: "Without HECS, I wouldn't have a degree, but having $20,000-plus to pay back scares the hell out of me with a family to support."
Launceston university student Justin Merriel will finish an environmental design and science degree this year.
He said graduation would next year serve as a reminder of a $20,000 debt and offer prospects of further university education through a masters degree in architecture or landscape architecture.
"The unfortunate thing is with my specific bachelors, like so many others, it is naturally accepted to continue on to the masters, pushing the final amount well over $100,000, not including interest, with no guarantee of a job in the industry, let alone a job which will be able to pay such a debt," he said.
Mr Merriel said he looked at how courses run by the Housing Industries Association, TAFE and Tasmanian Polytechnic, paired with recognised prior learning from university, would deliver more qualifications without a masters degree adding to a burdensome HECS debt.
"It is an option in which there is a considerable amount more initial up-front costs than university fees, and the sheer size of the study load is insane," he said.
"However, it gives me more qualifications, better prospects of a job that could cope with a large HECS debt, and leaves more options to study."