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Students and families hit with higher fees, more debt.

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Media Release Jenny MacklinMP

Wednesday, May 13, 2003

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Employment, Education, Training & Science Federal Member for Jagajaga


Students and their families will be forced into massive debt for a university degree under higher education changes announced by the Howard Government last night.

Under Howard Government plans universities will be able to increase fees by 30 per cent. Students will graduate with HECS debts of up to $40,000 or more.

In addition, the number of $100,000 degrees is likely to double with an increase in full-fee places. Universities such as Sydney and Melbourne already charge full-fee students up to $130,000 for degrees in vet science and law.

Students taking out loans to pay for $100,000 degrees will be hit with a 6 per cent interest rate.

And the government has turned its back on the thousands of aspiring students who, despite having the marks, are locked out of university each year because of a critical shortage of places. This year more than 20,000 aspiring students could not get in, but in last night’s Budget the Howard Government provided for just 444 new university places, all of them for doctors and nurses.

In a move that penalises learning, the Howard Government will impose a five-year ‘learning limit’, forcing most students to either quit their studies or pay full fees after a maximum of five years of government support.

Deputy Labor leader Jenny Macklin said the government’s changes were a huge setback for families who valued education and wanted their children to go to university.

“This is a very bad Budget for Australian university students, their families and young people who hope to go to university,” she said.

“$100,000 degrees are already a reality and these changes mean parents will have to begin saving from the moment their child is born if they want them to go to university.”

A family with a annual household income of $45,000 might get an extra $4 a week in tax cuts, but in order to get their children to university they will have to start saving many times this amount.

Ms Macklin said the spending measures announced in the Budget barely began to address the damage caused by $5 billion in Howard Government cuts to universities.

“Our universities have been plunged into crisis under the Howard Government. Class sizes have blown-out, buildings and equipment have been run down, our best and brightest teachers and researchers are going overseas and the morale of the staff left behind has plummeted,” she said.

The 30 per cent increase in fees announced in the Budget means that, under the Howard Government, HECS fees have increased more than 110 per cent. The latest rise will add $32 a week to average student debt.

Full-fee places allow people with the money but not the marks to buy their way into university ahead of students who have higher scores but not the funds to pay very high fees. The Howard Government’s changes will mean double the number of $100,000 degrees and double the number of people who buy their way into university.

Ms Macklin said measures outlined by the Howard Government did not begin to address the problems it had created for regional universities.

“These universities are a vital part of our higher education system, but they will fall behind city universities in the battle for full fee students, they will struggle to attract and retain the best teachers and researchers, and they may lose out in the race for research funding,” she said.

In other measures outlined in the Budget:

• The increase in the HECS threshold to $30,000 in 2005/06 barely begins to address the damage done by the Howard Government by its cutbacks. If the Howard government had not cut the HECS repayment threshold in 1996, it would have been nearly $39,000 by 2005-06; • There is no extra funding for TAFE, nothing to address the critical skills shortage in

Australian industry; • The 444 new places for doctors and nurses falls well short of the minimum 800 extra nursing places recommended by the government’s own inquiry into nurse shortages; • The government has committed $20 million to create a new bureaucracy to track students,

money that should be spent on more places and better universities.

“This package is an enormous hit on Australian students and families and it undermines the nation’s future.

“Where most other developed countries are opening the doors of their universities to more and more students, the Howard Government has hit our students with a massive cover charge.

“Its user pays approach means a university education will become more about what you can pay rather than what you know.”

More information: Adrian Rollins, 0438 950 375