HECS has slowly been dismantled over the years - the original system gave all tertiary students the ability to get a "free" education (basically a government scholarship in the form of an inflation-rate loan, repaid via tax, on a regulated-cost education fee).
We have HECS in Australia, Higher Education Commonwealth Support Help, which does two things, it will give a 10% discount on any fee's if they are paid up-front (it was 20% until recently). And more importantly it provides for most courses a government provided interest free loan, that you don't have to pay back until you are earning above a certain amount. It is then paid back through the tax system. So no, in Australia it isn't a luxury, it's an option.
And fair enough too, providing global education is in every-bodies interest. Is anyone still arguing that it should only be available to the wealthy ?
Edit : I believe that in The States there uni system is very different to ours, they have a a much stronger scholarship system than us, because basically we don't need it to get an education. I suppose it's a difference in perspective of who should pay for the nations education ... but that can become a slightly complex discussion in itself for a number of reasons.
In '96, Howard changed the system so that there were only a limited number of students allowed into the HECS system each year, distributed between courses by the weighted "value" of each degree. If you missed out on a HECS allocation then you could only get an education if you had the money.
In '06, Howard deregulated the whole system and HECS became a "legacy system", replaced by "CSP" & "HELP". The number of allowed CSP (HECS) students continues to shrink, while the up-front costs for non-CSP/HELP students continues to rise astronomically.
Also, the discount for voluntary repayments on existing HECS/HELP debts has been reduced to just 5% now.
At this rate, give us another decade and we'll be as bad off as the Americans are. Tertiary education is already becoming a luxury for the rich and talented+lucky only, not a universal option for all citizens -- personally, I have friends who've been denied entry into the 'free' education system.
I do agree though that HECS was a magnificent system, and all countries should strive to implement something like it.