Australia University students face thousands of dollars in extra fees
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University students are being hit with thousands of dollars in extra fees for switching degrees despite politicians promising existing pupils would not be affected by law changes.
The federal government last year passed legislation raising the cost of certain degrees in a bid to get Australians to choose careers that would fill 'essential' job shortages.
In June, then federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said those already enrolled in a tertiary course would not be impacted.
'No current student will be worse off. No current student will pay an increased student contribution,' Mr Tehan said.
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But Matt Gerrard, 21, a fourth-year student at University of NSW, was recently told he would have to fork out an additional $6332 if he wanted to swap his double degree from Law-Music to Law-Science.
Despite changing just one part of his degree, Mr Gerrard will be considered a 'new enrolment' and have to pay for the course under the fees set in Parliament last October.
'There was the promise and intention that existing students weren't going to be affected by this,' Mr Gerrard told.
'Even though you’re not a new student, the systems think you are.'
Under the amendments to the Higher Education Support Act (2003), university fees for arts and law subjects were increased, while the price for in-demand courses, such as teaching, nursing, maths, science and engineering, were slashed.
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Although the cost of science has dropped, law fees have climbed, meaning Mr Gerrard will be forced to foot the price difference from when he first enrolled.
He said the situation was a 'strange catch 22' because if he studies science over music, it would align with the aim of the legislation.
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The problem stems from fine print in the law, which differentiates between 'grandfathered' and 'current students'.
If a student changes courses, they are no longer considered 'grandfathered' and are subject to the new rates.
Andrew Norton, a researcher at the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods, said about 10 per cent of current students might choose to swap courses during their tertiary education.
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This year, about 20,000 Australians will commence bachelor degrees and more than 60,000 bachelor students will be in combined bachelor degrees, according to data from the Grattan Institute.
However, Mr Norton said the fee changes work two-ways, and those who choose to pick up, or transfer into, a STEM course will pay less.
A UNSW spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia the university changed fees in January under the advice the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
'UNSW Sydney has written to all impacted students who have been approved for an internal program transfer in Term 1, giving them the opportunity to reverse their program transfer if they were financially disadvantaged by the change in program,' she said.
Last year, Mr Tehan said the reforms would incentivise students and universities to align with the needs of industry to meet the skill demands for the new economy that will emerge from the pandemic.
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'This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain,' he said.
'It will also provide a revenue stream for universities and private providers to assist their financial stability.'
A Department of Education spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia students who change courses are regarded as new enrolments because they are not remaining in an 'ongoing course', as defined in the Higher Education Support Act 2003.
They added that students could avoid additional fees by staying in their course.
Alternatively, the departmental spokesperson suggested students could reduce the cost of their degree by studying subjects with new, lower rates, which will now apply to anyone in those courses regardless of when they enrolled.
Mr Gerrard has penned a letter to Alan Tudge, the federal Minister for Education and Youth, requesting revisions be made to the legislation.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Mr Tudge for comment.
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