Fee rises a “slap in the face” for uni students

Molly Willmott. Source: student election poster.
SHARE:
For some university students the dream of studying arts, humanities or communications might be a nightmare now, as they face an increase of student contribution fees of up to 113 per cent. Millicent Spencer reports.

The Federal Government’s plan to more than double the cost of arts, humanities and communications degrees is a “slap in the face” for university students, the National Union of Students says.

NUS national president Molly Willmott said the Government was sending the wrong message.

“This an insult to humanities students, especially as we’re about to go into preferences for university,” Ms Willmott said.

“For the government to come out and say, this set of degrees gives you a job, this set of degrees does not give you a job, when in actual fact that is incorrect,” she said.

“Sixty per cent of the coalition politicians are humanities graduates.”

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan on Friday announced an overhaul of university fees to create “job ready graduates”.

The hardest hit students are those studying humanities and communications units, which will see an increase of 113 per cent in student contributions, followed by law and commerce with a 28 per cent increase.

Agriculture and maths units will have a 62 per cent decrease in fees. Teaching, nursing, English, languages and clinical psychology units will have a 46 per cent decrease.

Degrees such as medicine and dental will not change.

Ms Willmott said this announcement would change many students’ outlook on employment post university.

Molly Willmott 2020 NUS President. Source: ABC/Medium 

“If you go into communications or humanities, and you’re being told that you’re not going to get a job, then you’re going to have a very pessimistic outlook on your degree.”

“It’s about the year 12s, students who haven’t been at university yet. This is going to affect students in a huge amount of ways.

“You also add in low SE [socio-economic] students where HECS debts are a real indicator, ‘am I going to go to university or not?’, and first in families – [it will] affect them quite a bit.”

It is not a bad thing that some fees were being lowered – and in fact it was positive that universities were becoming more accessible – but it can’t be at the expense of tens of thousands of other students, she said.

Communications professional Vanessa Williams said this announcement might dissuade young people who don’t have a lot of money from doing what is a useful degree.

She said, from her experience, all good businesses in the modern world highly valued people with communications degrees.

“I think it’s a bit of a myth that a communications degree is not a useful degree.

“Pretty much every organisation worth their salt highly values the input that a person with a good communications head can have to their overall business strategy.

“Certainly, there’s no politician that I know who doesn’t take their communications seriously and I’m sure the Federal Government would be among them.

They’ve got lots of communications people in their departments, working for their private offices, so they certainly know the value of a good communications person and a communications career

The Covid-19 crisis proved the value of good communications, Ms Williams said.

“Without it, a lot of people wouldn’t have heard those messages about flattening the curve and the importance of staying home,” she said. “There’s no way that Australia would be in the position that is now.”

She said students shouldn’t be penalised for choosing a particular unit. “I think one of the great benefits of education in a country like Australia is that the student gets to choose.”

Mr Tehan said the package was to encourage “job-relevant choices that lead to more job-ready graduates”.

“Students who choose to study more popular degrees will make more of a contribution,” he said.

The changes were not at a degree level but at a unit level. “We are encouraging students to embrace diversity,” he said.

The package aims to increase the number of graduates in areas with more employment demand, resulting in an increase of 39,000 additional places by 2023 and 100,000 places by 2030.

Mr Tehan said this was a “win-win for students” by providing an incentive to study in areas that are expected to have the most job opportunities.

The package also aims to lift educational attainment in regional areas.