Federal Budget 2014: Counting the cost of education

THE Gippsland Australian Education Union fears deregulation in higher education announced in the 2014/15 Federal Budget will cause a fee increase “blow out” at private providers as seen in the TAFE sector.

The Abbott government has announced funding cuts to university courses by 20 per cent, and remove caps on fees universities can charge.

Graduates will also have to pay back their Higher Education Loan Program debts sooner, with repayments to begin when graduates start earning more than $50,638 from 1 July 2016, down from $53,345.

While Gippsland AEU does not represent employees in the university sector, organiser Jeff Gray said deregulation in higher education follows what happened in the TAFE sector with an expansion in private providers and fee increases.

“I’m concerned that universities will look at unprofitable courses, where the demand is lower and have to look at how to raise money,” Mr Gray said.

“Courses where there is high demand, the universities will be able to set higher costs and impose that on its students.”

Mr Gray said regional students will also be less likely to enrol in university with many struggling to afford travel and accommodation costs.

“Students will have to pick up more of the tab, and the risk that you have is growing inequality in universities.”

Federation University vice chancellor David Battersby said via social networking site Twitter if Commonwealth funding to universities was to decline by 20 per cent, then, “ipso facto” the student contribution was likely to rise by at least 20 per cent.

“Will we see cost increases flow to existing full-fee paying courses for postgrads and international students as undergrad fees rise? Yes.” Mr Battersby wrote.

In a statement, Mr Battersby said there was genuine concern in the lead-up to the Federal Budget that there would be significant cuts to higher education.

“While there are a number of stringencies being put in place by the government, the expansion of the Demand Driven System to sub-degree programs, the retention of key equity initiatives, the Trade Support Loan Program, along with the intention of the government to consult with the sector about a number of these changes ahead of their implementation on 1 January 2016, is positive.”