Melbourne plans full fees

February 28, 1997

The University of Melbourne has become the first Australian university to unveil plans to charge some home undergraduates full-cost fees of up to Aus$22,000 (Pounds 11,000) a year.

If plans by Alan Gilbert, Melbourne's vice chancellor, are implemented, the university could generate close to Aus$5 million next year from its full-fee regime.

A discussion paper released within the university suggests that by the end of the decade Melbourne could be earning Aus$13 million from an estimated 2,000 Australian fee-paying students.

The discussion paper implies that some students would be willing to lay out up to Aus$100,000 for a Melbourne degree in dentistry or veterinary science (the government has banned universities from charging medical students full fees so as to restrict enrolments). Those studying science, engineering, architecture or agriculture would face annual fees of Aus$14,000, commerce and law students Aus$11,000, and arts, education or music students Aus$9,000-10,000.

These charges are up to four times the amount that students currently enrolled face under Australia's Higher Education Contribution Scheme.

Although Professor Gilbert believes the majority of the Australian fee payers will be first-year undergraduates, his paper indicates that more than 250 students enrolled in other universities may also switch to a fee-paying course just to get a qualification from Melbourne University.

And more than 100 students are expected to be willing to pay fees if opportunities are provided for them to complete their courses in a shorter time, such as through summer semesters.

Students at the university warned last week that they would try to prevent Professor Gilbert from imposing full fees next year. The student union said it would attempt to block the scheme when it goes to the university council. The union is also planning to mobilise students "to show disdain for the university and the government's agenda".

Union president Jacob Varghese said it was disturbing to see Melbourne allowing wealthy students to "buy their way in": "This is what is known as the 'thick and rich' option."

Mr Varghese said that annual fees of up to Aus$22,000 for some courses would clearly exclude thousands of students who did not have wealthy parents. As an "elite" institution, Melbourne knew it could get away with high fees and still attract enough demand for its courses.

In its first budget last August, the conservative government of prime minister John Howard announced that public universities would be able to charge Australians full fees in 1998 provided all Commonwealth-funded places were filled and the numbers did not exceed 25 per cent of enrolments in any course.

It will be the first time since 1973 - when the Whitlam Labor government abolished tuition fees - that universities will be allowed to charge full fees. Academic and student organisations described the moves as the most regressive reform on Australian higher education ever attempted.

But universities are facing a serious decline in demand from school leavers and it seems likely that only the top eight or ten will attract significant numbers of students who miss out on a government-funded place - and who can afford to pay far in excess of what the average student is required to spend.

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