Plan to boost university admissions and increase fees divides opinion

Mixed response: Opinions are divided on the government's plan to raise university student numbers by readjusted the fee structure.
Mixed response: Opinions are divided on the government's plan to raise university student numbers by readjusted the fee structure.

A federal government proposal to adjust the university fee structure in order to boost tertiary student numbers has received a mixed response.

The government wants to see an additional 39,000 students in university by 2023, but would force those intent on studying humanities to pay more for their education in order to achieve this.

Western Sydney University - which has a large, popular campus in Campbelltown - is supportive of the move, while one of the region's politicians is against it.

University vice-chancellor and president Professor Barney Glover said, while the finer details of the proposed reform were still being assessed, it was encouraging to see the government promoting links between university education and industry for large-scale job creation.

He said the plans recognised the critical role universities like WSU played in driving economic growth.

"These extra university places will be critical in addressing the increased domestic demand for higher education during this period of economic downturn," he said. "The reforms are particularly important for Western Sydney, a region likely to experience higher youth unemployment and general underemployment in the near term."

Professor Glover said more job-ready graduates in priority areas would be a major boost to some of Australia's largest infrastructure projects currently under way in the region, like the Western Sydney International Airport, rail corridors and more.

He said the university would take the time to closely review all other elements of the proposal, including the change in funding models.

"While we recognise the importance of aligning university courses to future employment opportunities, we need to ensure we continue to have a diverse range of graduates entering the labour market and what impacts this will have on the economy over time," Professor Glover said.

Education Minister Dan Tegan told ABC television that the idea behind the plan was to "make sure that we skill young Australians so when the jobs are there, they can take them".

To achieve that, course fees for study areas the government deemed more readily suited to producing job-ready graduates - like IT, teaching, nursing, science, health, agriculture, maths etc - would be cut, while traditionally cheaper degrees in the humanities, for example, would more than double in cost for students, from about $20,000 to $43,500. Law degrees would also become more expensive.

"We want students to be able to critically think," Mr Tehan said. "So if you are going to do philosophy, we want you to think about doing a language. If you are going to do ancient Greek, do IT with it. Just make sure that you are thinking about getting the skills that you'll need to get a job beyond your degree."

The National Union of Students said "this move is at the expense of hundreds of thousands of young people who have chosen to study a degree that the government does not deem worthy enough".

Werriwa MP Anne Stanley - whose electorate is partly in the Macarthur region - criticised the plan.

"These changes make absolutely no sense from an economic or educational perspective," she said. "Unfortunately, those that will be hardest hit will be young people in our region and institutions like WSU. Our kids deserve the same educational opportunities as those that were afforded to [Morrison cabinet members]."