Australian Senate | 23 September 2014
Following is an extract from the submission by the University of Western Australia to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014. In its submission, UWA discloses that, if fee dergulation proceeds, it proposes to set “an annual fee (student contribution) of $16,000 commencing in 2016 for domestic (Commonwealth-supported) students per annual fulltime enrolment”.
Studies and various Government reviews have shown that Australia has historically underinvested in university education. Australia is significantly under-investing in tertiary education:
- A variety of funding reduction measures totalling $3.3 billion were announced by the previous government. These included the reduction of payments to universities as well as measures affecting loans and scholarships, and other benefits for students;
- Australia ranks 25th out of 30 OECD countries for public investment in tertiary education and is investing 32 per cent less than the OECD average in tertiary education;
- Real public investment in tertiary education grew 65 per cent over the 1995 to 2010 period for average OECD countries, compared to 22 per cent growth in Australia; and
- Expenditure per tertiary student decreased by 0.12 per cent per annum in Australia between 1995 and 2010, whereas, on average across the OECD, expenditure per student increased by 0.9 per cent per annum in real terms over the same period.
Since the May budget there has been extensive commentary and speculation about the budget measures, including claims they will herald the arrival of hefty university fees that will impose significant debt on students. Such speculation is alarmist and unhelpful.
It also is important to acknowledge the success of the HECS system which has meant we can ensure that academic ability, not personal circumstance, is the only barrier to university entry.
UWA is one of only two universities in Australia to recently change its course structure bringing it into line with other leading international universities. UWA offers three-year undergraduate degrees across four fields of study—arts, commerce, design and science—together with a specialist undergraduate research pathway (the Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours)) for the very highest achieving students.
Having one of the most modern, flexible and internationally recognised course structures in the country allows the University of Western Australia to develop a simple and innovative pricing structure – should fee deregulation occur.
Based on the current legislation, UWA proposes to set an annual fee (student contribution) of $16,000 commencing in 2016 for domestic (Commonwealth-supported) students per annual fulltime enrolment (48 points of credit) in any of our five undergraduate degrees (BSc, BA, BCom, BDesign, BPhil(Hons)). The price will be subject to annual indexation.
The University of Western Australia has developed this pricing proposal based on the following points.
- The pricing is commensurate with UWA’s standing as one of Australia’s leading universities, and one of the world’s top 100 universities.
- The proposed pricing scheme is simple, and easily understood. Each (6-point) subject unit will incur a HECS charge of $2000.
- All UWA undergraduate degrees lead to a range of professional degrees at the postgraduate level, each with a high level of flexibility.
- Student choice of units will not be influenced by differing prices per unit of study. Instead subject choice will be academically-motivated, by interest and career plan.
- While the cost to deliver units will vary, with higher delivery costs for laboratory-based disciplines, the cost disparity will be offset by different levels of Commonwealth contribution per funding cluster.
- The pricing addresses reductions in cluster funding proposed in the current legislation, as well as reductions in funding imposed by the previous government, and funding deficits identified in the Bradley and Lomax-Smith Reviews.
- Undergraduate degree fees will need to rise by on average 30 per cent to simply maintain the current funding level. For example, in the case of UWA’s most popular course – science, including engineering science majors – the University’s fees would need to rise to $14,213 just to compensate for the recent funding cuts without raising a single extra dollar for the University.
- 20% of the increased revenue will provide additional support for disadvantaged students (including rural and indigenous students). Additional funding will also be directed to improving the quality of education and the student experience at UWA.
The University has decided to be among the first in the country to signal its pricing intentions through this submission to counter much uninformed speculation about possible fee levels. The University of Western Australia is offering future students the possibility to obtain a three year undergraduate degree from one of the world’s top 100 universities for under $50,000.
In addition, the University feels compelled to announce its fees strategy at the earliest opportunity to provide greater certainty to current and prospective students regarding its pricing plans in a deregulated market. However, this fee pricing strategy would need to be reconsidered should the Senate amend the Bill.