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$100,000 degrees? Sure thing!

   24 September 2014

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Initial reporting on the University of Western Australia’s proposed fee structure, announced to a Senate committee inquiry, was tentative, ambiguous and/or wrong: for example, ABC News reported it as a fee increase of “30%”.  In the absence of any documentation, The Scan noted “we don’t know whether that’s the total price (student contribution plus commonwealth subsidy) or the proposed student contribution.  If the former, that’s an increase of around 30% for a degree in humanities disciplines , if the latter…. that’s an increase of 160% (based on the 2015 student contribution of $6152 pa – $18,456 over three years)”.   We were soon able to confirm it was the 160% scenario.  We agree with The Australian that UWA’s presentation of this has a “tinge of insincerity” to it, proclaiming that “UWA is offering future students the opportunity to obtain a three-year undergraduate degree from one of the world’s top 100 universities for less than $50,000” – leaving out the material fact, that, under current arrangements, you can get an undergraduate degree from UWA in the humanities for under $20,000 or in science for about $26,000. UWA’s media statement points to the fact that “all UWA undergraduate degrees lead to a range of professional degrees at postgraduate level with a high level of flexibility” ,which leads directly to the “$100,000” degree outcome which education minister and advocates of full fee deregulation have consistently decried as “scaremongering”.  This is neatly explained in The Australian’s High Wired blog, which as always cuts to the chase, with a bit of edge.  One point:  High Wired calculates the current cost of a law at UWA as $82,198: we  think it’s somewhat less, with an Arts degree followed by law currently coming in at $65,646.  This is not cheap:  students who are currently studying for  in an arts-law or economics-law combination at most other Group of Eight universities, such as Monash, Sydney, Queensland or Adelaide, would pay around $53,000).

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High wiredFirst off the blocks: UWA put its hand up to be the first university to set out what its fees would be under deregulation. Just why they would do that beggars belief, especially since the news is not so great for students. Sure a flat $16,000 charge across all of its five broad undergraduate areas sounds politically palatable, but as with everything, the devil is in the detail.

Because protestations by Christopher Pyne that speculation of $100,000 degrees is merely scaremongering, guess what, UWA will be charging $100,000 for a law degree — and a lot more for medicine, dentistry and the like. It works like this: UWA’s curriculum model means that students must complete a broad undergraduate degree, and then a two-year masters program if they want professional accreditation as a lawyer, or architect or teacher — just like the Melbourne model. So student who hopes to become a lawyer, for example, would pay $48,000 for their three year undergraduate program plus two years in a masters of law program. UWA’s current fees for that program are $23,610 a year — or $47,200. In other words, $95,220 to become a lawyer at UWA….. $100,000 degrees?  Sure thing!

But there’s more: A student who aspires to be a schoolteacher at UWA in 2014 pays $18,456 for their bachelors degree, then $12,088 ($6,044 for two years) to complete their masters of teaching. That’s a grand total of $30,544. However, that would increase to $60,000 under the new fee structure. Somehow, that is not going to be an easy sell.

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