HECS, no! Athletes leapfrog payback
June 11, 2009
ACCOUNTANTS, engineers and, for argument's sake, warehouse workers all have to repay the cost of their tertiary education — so why don't athletes who go to the Australian Institute of Sport? Especially when the best and most successful — Ricky Ponting, Lleyton Hewitt, Cathy Freeman — earn money that others can only dream of.
The man who designed the HECS scheme to make students pay asks "why not athletes too?" But retired multimillionaire tennis player and AIS alumni Todd Woodbridge has doubts.
Taking up a debate invited by Federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis yesterday, HECS architect Bruce Chapman said there was a case for wealthy sports stars to repay costs.
"I would recognise that most athletes who go through the AIS don't become very rich but there is a case in fairness for those who do to repay some part, or even all, of their debt," said Professor Chapman, an Australian National University economist.
He said that if a HECS-style program was implemented, it would need a higher threshold than the $41,595 that applies to others.
But he said that rather than a student loans program, policymakers should consider a "human capital contract", whereby the Government "owned" a stake in future earnings.
The Canberra-based AIS offers scholarships in 26 sports, with the aim of producing elite sportspeople.
Among others who have passed through the AIS are basketballers Andrew Bogut, Lauren Jackson and Luc Longley and Socceroo stars Lucas Neill and Mark Viduka, all of whom enjoy considerable financial reward.
Hewitt boasts a $3.8 million luxury waterfront villa in the Caribbean tax haven of the Bahamas, but under the rules is not required to repay the costs of his training at the AIS.
Woodbridge, who passed through the AIS in 1989 and went on to earn $10 million in prize money, defended elite athletes against accusations they had it easy.
"As an athlete, your career is on average 10 years' long," Woodbridge said.
"A university student's career can be 40 years' long. Sport is a big income earner for many people but it doesn't have the longevity or the security that an education has."
A panel led by company director David Crawford is to report in two months on alternative sport funding.