University students will soon pay much more for law and arts degrees under controversial changes set to pass the Senate.
The cost of humanities courses will skyrocket in an apparent attempt to push future students towards “job-ready” qualifications such as nursing and engineering.
The contentious higher education changes will be passed with support from Centre Alliance, which has delivered the Morrison the final vote required.
Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie said the legislation would deliver funding certainty for the university sector while giving disadvantaged and regional students greater access to education.
She is confident the changes will motivate students to study in fields with skills shortages.
“It is ridiculous that year after year we churn out thousands of law graduates, many of whom will never work in law, and yet we import engineering graduates,” Ms Sharkie said on Tuesday.
“Something has to change.”
Critics of the bill argue it will increase fees for some courses by up to 113 per cent, cut billions of dollars in funding for teaching, punish struggling students and force universities to do more with less.
To secure support from Ms Sharkie and her Senate colleague Stirling Griff, the government has apparently committed to pump extra funding into universities in their home state of South Australia.
Students who fail subjects in their first year are also expected to receive better protections.
But the National Tertiary Education Union is furious the minor party has agreed to support the bill, warning it will lump a generation of students with overwhelming debt and deter many from seeking a university degree.
“This legislation does nothing to address the funding and jobs crisis that is smashing our universities, with over 12,000 jobs lost and a revenue shortfall of nearly $3 billion,” NTEU national president Alison Barnes said.
“Rather than stepping in with a robust support package, the Liberals and Nationals have pushed the cost of the crisis onto students and the university workforce.
“The bill will strip $1 billion of funding from universities, more than double the cost of many courses, in particular arts and humanities, and make it more difficult for many students to go to university.”
Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie fears the changes will hit poor people hardest and has challenged claims the package will lead to 100,000 new university places by 2030.
She took aim at Centre Alliance for supporting the changes despite conceding the bill was not perfect.
“It’s a bill that creates no new uni places, makes them more expensive, gives 10 per cent off coupons to rich kids and tells poor kids to go dream elsewhere,” Senator Lambie said.
“Every uni in SA loses, every student in SA loses. Not perfect? My word.”
Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the university fee reforms were a cruel blow at the worst possible time for year 12 students, who have already suffered through the hugely disruptive coronavirus pandemic.