Technology and engineering university courses will be significantly cheaper under a government plan to funnel students into “job-relevant” degrees in sectors where employment growth is expected.
Education Minister Dan Tehan announced the significant changes on Friday, with the Coalition planning to cut university fees for courses focusing on areas where there are expected to be jobs growth, and hiking fees for other degrees.
With lower fees, Australians will be “incentivised” to undertake studies in STEM subjects, Mr Tehan said.
Under the plan, the government will contribute more money in IT, science and engineering courses, with students expected to pay 20 per cent less for these courses from next year. These courses will soon cost about $7700 per year.
Australian universities have been drastically disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the Coalition is using this to justify the changes to the higher education funding model.
“COVID-19 means we must double down on our core mission of educating Australians for the jobs that will be in demand in the future. Our government wants to keep Australians in jobs, and to educate the next generation of Australians to get a job,” Mr Tehan said at the National Press Club on Friday.
“We will incentivise students to make more job-relevant choices, that lead to more job-ready graduates, by reducing the student contribution in areas of expected employment growth and demand.”
As part of the plan, the Commonwealth will fund an additional 39,000 university places by 2023, and a further 100,000 places by 2030. The price to students of humanities courses will double.
Government modelling has found that more than 60 per cent of employment growth in the next five years will come from science and technology, healthcare, education and construction.
These are the areas where the government will further subsidise the cost of university courses in the hopes of more students pursuing careers in the sectors.
“This is part of a long-term structural shift. Universities must teach Australians the skills needed to succeed in the jobs of the future, and we know that people turn to education during periods of economic downturns,” Mr Tehan said.
Fees for law and commerce degrees are expected to jump by nearly 30 percent, while humanities will be pushed up to the highest price band, becoming as expensive as studying medicine.
The costs for nursing, psychology, English, languages, teaching, agriculture, maths, science, health, environmental science and architecture will fall under the plan.
Mr Tehan encouraged students pursuing these courses to consider taking a class in one of the soon-to-be cheaper areas.
“If you want to study law, also think about studying IT,” he said.
Current students will not be impacted by the changes with fees to be grandfathered, while the cheaper courses will be on offer from next year.
The Coalition may face troubles getting the legislation through the Senate and has previously been unable to pass other higher education reforms.
The changes, mainly the increases to courses such as humanities, have been widely criticised.
“The National Union of Students condemns this move – universities are not job-factories and tailoring fees around that premise will hurt our sector in a time where we are already facing billions of dollars lost and hundreds of staff cut. We need funding, not attacks on students,” the union said.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has also responded with skepticism to the announcement.
“They don’t seem to understand that education benefits not just an individual, it benefits the nation. And we think that if someone studies hard and does well enough to be eligible to go to university, then a society like ours should be encouraging them to do so,” Mr Albanese told the media on Friday.
“This government seems to always be prepared to sit back and watch those people who frankly don’t need government support. They will always do okay – people who are wealthy enough to pay high fees. But what it will do is discourage working people from going to universities.”