Friday, June 19, 2020

Australia: Cost of priority degrees to be slashed, some fees to soar in funding overhaul

Fees for university courses in health, teaching and science will be cut while the cost of popular humanities, law and commerce degrees will soar under sweeping changes to higher education funding aimed at producing graduates for high-priority employment areas.

The overhaul of student and government contributions to be announced on Friday will fund an extra 39,000 university places by 2023 and 100,000 by the end of the decade in response to surging demand for tertiary education.

The cost of humanities and communications courses will more than double, with a year of full-time study costing $14,500, up from $6684 this year. Fees for law and commerce will increase 28 per cent to $14,500 a year, up from $11,155. A full three-year program in these disciplines will cost students about $43,500 as the government slashes its funding contribution.

Teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, English, languages, maths and agriculture courses will cost $3700 a year, down by 46 to 62 per cent. Fees for science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering will drop 20 per cent, with a year of study costing $7700.

"To deliver cheaper degrees in areas of expected employment growth, students who choose to study more popular degrees will make a higher contribution," Education Minister Dan Tehan will say in an address to the National Press Club, according to a draft of the speech.

"A cheaper degree in an area where there's a job is a win-win for students ... It's common sense. If Australia needs more educators, more health professionals and more engineers then we should incentivise students to pursue those careers."

In anticipation of a backlash to fee increases, Mr Tehan will declare: "This does not mean fee deregulation. This does not mean $100,000 degrees."

Students facing increased costs for law, commerce and humanities "will still pay less for those degrees in Australia than they would for a similar degree in similar countries, like the USA and the UK," he will say.

The government predicts 60 per cent of students will see reduced or unchanged fees. No current students' fees will increase as the changes will be grandfathered. Fee reductions will apply to existing students.

The fees will apply at the unit or subject level, not to the overall degree, meaning students can choose cheaper electives from different disciplines.

"We are encouraging students to embrace diversity and not think about their education as a siloed degree," Mr Tehan will say.

"Students will always have the freedom to choose what they want to study – and because the government continues to offer one of the world's best student loan schemes, no student will be denied a place because they do not have the capacity to pay."

The spending reallocation will allow the government to fund hundreds of thousands of extra university places as demand increases because of economic downturn and a demographic bulge set to hit by 2023.

"To do this, we will address the misalignment between the cost of teaching a degree and the revenue that universities receive to teach it," Mr Tehan will say.

Designated student contributions in different subject areas will be rearranged into four bands based on private returns and national priorities. The government's funding contribution will be sorted into four clusters, with the lowest priority receiving $1100 and the highest priority receiving $27,000.

This article written by Fergus Hunter.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, June 19, 2020

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