The cost of studying nursing at university is set to be slashed by almost half from next year, but fees for others courses such as humanities and law will soar, under sweeping federal government reforms aiming to create more “job-ready graduates” by steering young Australians into sectors projected to experience the highest employment growth.
Under the plan, announced last Friday by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, students studying nursing, teaching, clinical psychology, English, maths and languages will pay $3,700 a year.
The move means nursing students will pay 46% less for their degrees, with annual fees tumbling from $6,804 to $3,700.
Students who study health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering will pay 20% less.
Conversely, fees for courses such as humanities, law, commerce and communications are set to spike under the proposed changes.
The cost of a humanities degree will jump from $6,804 to $14,500 per year, while a law degree will increase by more than $3,000.
There will be no change for medical, dental and veterinary science students.
Course fees for current students will be grandfathered, with the new funding model applied to students who commence their studies from 2021, with no current student paying increased fees.
Existing students enrolled in courses set to gain from the policy will be able to do so from next year.
As part of the government’s attempt to incentivise students to make more job-relevant choices, it will fund an extra 39,000 university places by 2023 and an additional 100,000 places by 2030.
The government will also provide $900 million for a National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund to encourage universities to produce job-ready graduates that local industries and employers need.
Announcing the policy during a speech at the National Press Club last Friday, Mr Tehan said the government’s reshaping of Australia’s higher education system was designed to drive economic growth in a post COVID-19 world.
“If we give universities the right tools now they will educate the next generation of job-ready graduates to help power our economic recovery,” he said.
Responding to a question about the potential broader and long-term impacts of the plan, Mr Tehan claimed the government was not instructing students not to study certain courses but rather aiming to foster a wider skill-set.
“Study arts, study humanities, but think also of your job prospects at the end of your degrees,” he said.
“If you want to do history, think about teaching as well, or you can teach history. If you’re wanting to do philosophy, which will be great for your critical thinking, also think about doing IT so that u can help in a new and emerging area where we know that there is going to be jobs.”
Asked if the proposed higher fees for certain degrees would price some students out of pursuing careers in those fields, Mr Tehan reiterated his view that students would still be able to undertake courses such as the arts, but that he recommended they “not silo their degree” to one area where jobs may be limited.
“What we don’t want to see is students entering the higher education system, undertaking study and then not have the skills that they’ll need to take these jobs of the future,” he said.
“This is the biggest economic shock that this nation has faced since the Great Depression. So we want to make sure that our students have the right skills to grab the jobs that will be there and that’s what this package is designed to do.
“We know we’re going to need more teachers. We know we’re going to need more nurses. We know we need more people in allied health. We know we need more engineers. We know we need more clinical psychologists.”
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Federal Secretary Annie Butler welcomed the government’s proposed reforms and increased investment in the profession but stressed the plan must take into account the need for proper workforce planning and policy to ensure student nurses had access to quality clinical placements and pathways into graduate jobs, especially in areas of need such as aged care and primary healthcare, at the end of their degrees.