“We want you to think about not just looking at your degree as a silo. Look at it as an opportunity to diversify across disciplines.”
Mr Tehan said the funding system would be fairer because the government was matching government and student contributions to universities with the actual cost of teaching courses.
“Students also need to understand that the cost of degree here in Australia is less than the cost of a degree in the UK and US,” he said.
“And also that 60 per cent of Australian taxpayers have never been to university and they still make a contribution which is greater than 50 per cent to higher education.”
Under the shake-up, the cost of humanities and communications courses will more than double, with a year of full-time study costing $14,500 from next year, up from $6804. Fees for law and commerce will increase 28 per cent to $14,500 a year, up from $11,155.
Teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, English, languages, maths and agriculture courses will cost $3700 a year, down by 46 to 62 per cent. Fees for science, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering will drop 20 per cent, with a year of study costing $7700.
In a message to staff on Monday, UNSW vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs said he lamented the “stress that the prospect of extra fees will place on the already burdened shoulders of Year 12 students” following the disruption of COVID-19.
“Many students in Years 11 and 12 have selected HSC subjects with a prospective degree in mind; courses whose prices may now be inflated. This same dilemma is true for Year 12 students who have made their preference choices – only to now be thrust into a different educational environment,” Professor Jacobs said.
The changes are intended as a price signal to funnel students into key disciplines but higher education experts predict access to interest-free HECS-HELP loans will blunt the impact and people will still make choices based on their own interests.
The fee changes will commence from 2021, subject to the legislation passing Parliament. Current students will not face a fee hike as the increases will be grandfathered. But fee reductions will apply immediately and benefit existing students.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull labelled the fee increase for law and history courses “puzzling” and “baffling”.
“I can’t see the rationale for doubling the cost of humanities degrees,” he told the ABC on Tuesday.
Universities are concerned the package, which seeks to fund an extra 100,000 places in the university system by the end of the decade in response to surging demand, also cuts government funding for engineering, science and other courses the government is seeking to encourage.
The sector is anticipating a cut of about $700 million to their direct teaching budgets, with the funding going to new higher education initiatives supporting disadvantaged students and business collaboration.
Some critics fear there will be a “perverse financial incentive” to enrol extra students in high-fee paying humanities courses to raise revenue.
Mr Tehan predicted students would respond to lower fees for science, technology, engineering and maths courses and noted the fees designated by government were caps and universities had the flexibility to subsidise those courses if they wanted.
“We have to remember also that the caps are caps, so any university can offer subjects at discounted rates if they think that best suits their institution,” he said.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald