Tough course ahead for university students if fees rise

INCREASED university fees could cripple Gladstone students' ambitions to enter tertiary education as the Federal Government considers de-regulating university fees.

But on Wednesday Central Queensland University vice-chancellor Scott Bowman moved to quell any assumptions that a de-regulation would lead to students in the Gladstone area being slammed with a massive hike in course costs.

"It'll only hit students hard at CQU if we put fees up a lot, and I'm not sure we would put the fees up if there was de-regulation," Professor Bowman said.

He was of the opinion that de-regulation could help boost student numbers at the local institution.

If larger campuses were to start charging double or even triple the standard rate, he believed it may drive students to look further afield for quality, affordable degrees.

"We've got so much going for us now. Our students are getting jobs much more easily than others and if you said we've got all that and we're cheaper then, yeah, I think we'll have people flocking here," he said.

While quick to point out he would not guarantee there would be no increase in fees if CQU was able to name its price, the vice-chancellor believed if fees rose, it would not be a significant increase because the institution would not want to drive away its students.

"If they de-regulated tomorrow, we would not see substantial increases in fees," he said.

"A lot of our students are from low socio-economic backgrounds. A lot are the first in their families to go to university."

CQU external business student Troy Whitaker says increased fees will cause issues for students.
CQU external business student Troy Whitaker says increased fees will cause issues for students. Scott Sawyer

Making ends meet is a tough business for students

EXTERNAL business student at the Gladstone CQU campus Troy Whitaker reckons it's tough enough as it is to scrape through university, without having to cough up extra to improve his education.

"Yeah, it's pretty tough how it is already," he said.

"I've got a part-time job, about $300 a week, but my Mum pays all my student fees. I'm just getting my HECS loan for the course."

The 17-year-old is in his final year of studies, and said if fees were to jump, it may cause issues for a number of students at the local campus.

"Yeah probably a few students. I mean my Mum, we're finding it hard as it is now so if it was to go up it'd be worse," he said.

Being an external student enables Troy to come and go as he pleases, but he said an increase in study costs would drive him to work more hours, cutting into valuable study time.

CQU Stats

  • Currently hosts about 20,000 students
  • Student numbers expected to swell to about 36,000-37,000 by July 1, when the merger with CQ TAFE is completed
  • As of 2009, 52.73% of the 19,500-odd enrolments were female

Free market plans strengthen

FEDERAL Education Minister Christopher Pyne has given the strongest signal yet that he intends to open university fees to the free market.

On Monday night Mr Pyne addressed the UK's Policy Exchange on his intentions for Australia's higher education system.

As speculation mounts the Abbott government is preparing to allow unis to charge students what they want, Mr Pyne said he wanted to "set our universities free".

He said as well as a "laser-like focus on quality", his reform agenda was focused on competition, flexibility and the "resilience and diversity to meet demand".

"My view is that Australia must aspire to have no less than the world's best higher education system, with several of our universities ranked among the very best in the world," he said.

However, Mr Pyne's speech sparked concerns from regional universities that any deregulation of the fee system would disproportionately affect regional students.