By Emma Wynne
Murdoch and Edith Cowan University have said that students enrolling in second semester will not be affected by the proposed Federal Government changes to university fees.
Professor Ann Capling, Provost of Murdoch University, said the decision will cost the university millions of dollars, but they had decided it was morally right.
“It is really unfair to ask students starting in July this year to commit to a program of study when they have no idea at all what the actual charges are going to be,” Professor Capling told 720 ABC Perth.
“We felt we had a moral obligation to promise students that the current fee regime would apply to them throughout their degree.”
Under the planned changes, which have yet to pass the Senate, universities would be able to set their own tuition fees from 2016, and student loans under the HECS/HELP system will be charged interest rates to reflect the cost of government borrowing.
Previously loans have been indexed to the consumer price index (CPI). The changes will also apply to outstanding loans to people who have already graduated.
Professor Capling said the changes are wide-ranging and complex, and that the university plans to petition against some of the changes.
“The main area that we will want to lobby on will be the changes to the student loan system that the government operates,” she said.
“Our HECS system is widely seen as the very best in the world and, until this point, probably the most equitable.
“The most challenging aspects of the legislation are the changes to HECS and the possibility that students will carry ever-increasing levels of debt.
“Students will not know how much they will owe by the end of their course and the debt will compound over time. That is the area that we are most concerned about trying to effect change in.”
Professor Capling said the changes will affect futures students in future years.
“The people who will be most affected by the changes are still in high school now. Their parents will be struggling to make sense of what it all means,” she said.
Professor Capling says the changes will also have an impact on student enrolments, but it is difficult for the university to know what that will be at this stage.
“We don’t know the impact of these changes to students’ willingness to study, the impact of higher, differentiated fees on student choice and the impact of competition from private providers.
“At Murdoch we have a higher proportion of students who come from low socio-economic backgrounds. We have a higher proportion of students with disabilities and from mature-aged backgrounds.
“Parts of this package, particularly saddling students with unknown levels of debt, are highly problematic and go against that long standing Australian commitment to make education possible for a broad proportion of the population.”
Not all callers agreed. (ABC Perth)