Published on June 25, 2020
Government changes to university fees: what you need to know
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Education minister Dan Tehan has recently announced a reduction of costs for degrees that are expected to have more job opportunities. This means that students who undertake courses considered ‘low priority’ will now have to pay more for their higher education.
Humanities degrees, law degrees, communications, politics, and generally speaking the social sciences, will cost more for students while degrees in the STEM field, allied health, agriculture, and information technology will cost less.
For reference, humanities, business, and related art degrees will now cost approximately $14,500 per year as opposed to $6,000.
The new policy also generally adjusts the amount of student contributions and government contributions.
To elaborate, student contributions have risen from 42% to 48%. However, government contributions have been reduced from 58% to 52%.
The minister said that these adjustments were made in the hopes that it would encourage students to choose degrees associated with expected growth in jobs over those that do not.
Along with this, the package aims to increase the number of university places in the future, an extra 39,000. However, the federal government’s decision has attracted criticism from many fronts.
Preparing students for life
Michelle Grattan argues that Australian universities are not simply jobbing factories; they also exist to teach young people how to think, to view the world from different perspectives, and to support the development of their intellectual capabilities.
By restricting the variety of subjects an average student can undertake for the sake of jobs, then they are unable to learn the skills that can support them through the challenges they must face in life, let alone in their career.
Success Associated with Humanities
The Business Council of Australia’s Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacoot, also opposes this change, stating that humanities subjects teach students critical thinking skills that are integral for jobs across many different fields. She also argues that many business leaders took humanities courses themselves, which has supported them down their road to success. Many Australians have taken to social media to highlight how many Cabinet members have arts degrees themselves and pointing out the value of an arts degree in our society.
According to the Department of Education, students who graduate with humanities or social sciences degrees have similar employment rates to those who graduate with STEM degrees.
A spokesperson for the Independent Education Union has agreed with the notion that there are many jobs which require “broad knowledge and multi-disciplinary skills”. He argued that the job market is constantly changing, and that, if the fees are increased, then there will be fewer people in these areas related to the humanities and the arts.
Less demand would mean some of the smaller universities will have to downsize these departments, or even close them entirely. Furthermore, there is the issue of financial inequality; with more expensive humanities courses only open for those who can afford it.
Students Speak Out
Students who had their sights set on a humanities course have also spoken up against the change, saying that this change has only exacerbated education-related stresses caused by the pandemic.
Their excitement has been dashed, with students expressing concern over having to spend their entire career repaying university debt. Not only that, but many of the cheaper courses, like science and maths degrees, involve prerequisites that these students have not undertaken – and which they cannot take now, since they are already halfway through year 12.
Students who are passionate about humanities subjects feel like they have to change to avoid the extra cost, which can impact their enjoyment of the jobs they will choose in the future. Many have also found it unfair that a select number of students have been forced to bail out tertiary education while other students don’t have to worry about it at all.
Focus on STEM Fields
Not everyone disagrees with the changes made. Other students have expressed happiness over the cut costs of degrees such as midwifery and nursing, courses they have always wanted to do. Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive of the Group of Eight universities, says that while the Go8 doesn’t agree with the way government support has been withheld from these degrees, the Coalition recognises the influence of Coronavirus, and that specific measures are needed to counteract its effect.
Ai group Chief Executive Innes Willox has stated that he is happy that there is more of a focus on STEM fields. However, he does not agree with the actions taken to provide this incentive. He believes that an increase in overall funding is needed rather than this new course funding model.
In summary, many commentators have publicly decried the government’s decisions around government funding for university courses. At the same time, other groups believe funding changes to be necessary at this time, though without necessarily agreeing with how the changes have been made.
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