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Universities and students, struggling to see their courses for the fees

Fitzroy High School students

LOCAL universities can’t say how much tuition fees would rise under the Federal Government’s proposed deregulation, but some courses are tipped to smash the $100,000 barrier.

University of Melbourne, RMIT and the Fitzroy campus of the Australian Catholic University would not speculate on how much fees would rise under deregulation in 2016.

But the National Tertiary Education Union estimates that the cost of degrees would more than double on average, with medicine, dentistry, vet science, law and engineering to cost more than $100,000.

“A first degree shouldn’t cost a second mortgage,” union president Jeannie Rea said.

The Government faces a battle to get the reforms through the Senate and may be forced to back down on parts of the package, which also includes:

Higher interest rate on student debts;

20 per cent cut in funding for each student;

Commonwealth support extended to students at private colleges and in TAFE system; and

$1 of every $5 in increased fees dedicated to scholarships for disadvantaged students.

University of Melbourne acting vice-chancellor Margaret Shiel opposed the funding cut and increase in interest rates, but said deregulation would have benefits for efficiency and fairness.

“Duplicated reporting regimes, inflexible rules, and unnecessary government impositions burn up money better spent on teaching and research,” Prof Shiel said.

Prof Shiel said it would also address an imbalance where the taxpayer covered two-thirds of the cost of a dentistry, medicine or veterinary science degree, but only a fifth of the cost for law, accounting, commerce, economics or administration.

The Grattan Institute’s higher education director Andrew Norton said the reforms would likely result in increased specialisation by institutions and more students sitting undergraduate diplomas, which would decrease in price.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the reforms would unleash competition and better courses, better teaching and more competitive pricing.

AT FITZROY High School, year 12 students are angry, confused and stressed about the Federal Government’s proposed higher-education reforms.

Nearly half way through their final year, and studying hard to achieve a high-enough ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) score to get into the university course of their choice, the students said they had no idea what the course would cost, or if they could afford it.

“It’s absolutely horrendous. You already need such high ATARs to get in, now you will need to be extremely smart and extremely rich,” Georgia Bettoli said.

Students who had planned to go to the University of Melbourne or RMIT said they expected fees to rise and would have to consider cheaper alternatives in Victoria or interstate.

Jo Bennet wants to be a vet but fears the University of Melbourne or the cost of moving interstate to study would be too expensive.

Gap years are out. Georgia Whelan said she would no longer consider taking one either before or after university, because study would cost more and be charged higher interest rates.

Lani Gardner raised concerns that women would be hit harder by the increased rates as debt would continue to mount if they took time off to have children or worked part-time.

And Josh Barnes and Maya Del Rio Reddan feared the reforms would be a barrier to less well-off students.

“It’s elitist. It’s treating education as a privilege rather than a right,” Maya said.

John agreed: “It’s definitely making it harder for people to access education.” (Herald Sun)

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