University fee hike a blow to local students: Professor

It is likely that Gippsland students could be disproportionately affected by the Federal Government’s Monday announcement to raise tertiary education fees while also requiring graduates to begin repayments sooner, a local academic says.

Federation University Gippsland Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Learning Enhancement Marcia Devlin said she was specifically concerned about the impact of the fee increase on local students.

“Students from metropolitan areas tend to have higher socio-economic backgrounds, so the fee hike won’t affect them as much. But when you’re on a strict budget and every dollar counts, small changes can have a big impact,” Prof. Devlin said.

“There are many rural and regional students who are already in dire straits and forced to postpone or go slow on their studies for financial reasons. Sometimes they are forced to leave their studies altogether.”

The budget reforms will add a maximum of $3600 to a typical four-year degree, that is a four per cent increase.

Additionally, graduates will have to repay their education costs once they begin earning $42,000 a year, instead of the current $55,000 a year.

National Tertiary Education Union President Jeannie Rea expressed concerns about potential students’ perception of the cost of going to university as a result of the fee hike.

“We know about students who drop out, but we don’t know about people who never enrolled. I’m concerned that this will deter local people who need to come into universities for an education for the jobs in the region now and into the future,” Ms Rea said.

“The traditional areas of work in the Gippsland region are closing down and many current jobs, as well as those into the future, require people to have a degree.

“As a community, we have an expectation of quite sophisticated levels of education which we might not have had in the past. As a result of price sensitivity, people may be deterred from enrolling, which could have negative impacts into the future.”

Prof Devlin said she hoped the senate would consider these proposed changes in light of the particular circumstances of people in the Gippsland region.

“If we want rural and regional areas to grow and flourish, we need to support rural and regional students… not hit them with larger debts that they have to pay back sooner,” Prof Devlin said.