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Kiwis rail against fee changes at Australian universities

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English says Kiwis are 'pretty unhappy' about the fee changes. Source: Shutterstock/360b

New Zealanders studying in Australian universities will have to fork out up to three or four times the tuition fees from next January, a prospect that has New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English and prospective students enraged.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the fee subsidies for permanent residents and New Zealanders will be scrapped from next year, which means these groups will have to pay up to quadruple the amount they are paying for their degrees now.

“We’re pretty unhappy about it,” English said bluntly on Tuesday, referring to Australia’s sudden sweeping change to the two countries’ special arrangements for expatriates and students.

The Australian federal government announced on Monday one of its biggest reform package for the higher education sector in recent years, with an aim to cut federal funding to universities by AUD2.8 billion in a bid to make the sector more “sustainable”.

Along with a 7.5 percent fee hike by 2021 for Australian students, students from New Zealand will have to pay the full rate to study at Australian universities, instead of the subsidised rate they pay now.

Rights group are going one step further than English’s “pretty unhappy” comment about the announcements that have left them “gobsmacked”.

“They’re trying to sell this as some great act of generosity when it’s really an act of bastardry to New Zealand and New Zealanders. I’d say a lot of the families affected would say this was offensive to sell it as some act of generosity,” advocacy group Oz Kiwi chairman Tim Gassin said to The Guardian.

Gassin was referring to the other aspect of Turnbull’s education reforms package meant as “compensation” for the fee hikes – under the changes, New Zealanders would be able to access the Higher Education Loan Programme, where they can defer paying their fees and repay the loan once they start earning income regularly.

Australia’s Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the change would allow around 60,000 new students to study in Australian universities as they will not need to pay fees upfront anymore.

“Access to student loans could attract some new students for whom upfront payment was a disincentive to study, leading to an estimated 60,000 additional [full-time students],” the government contended in a policy paper.

But Gassin said the policy was “absurd” as it would leave students to graduate with high levels of debt instead. The Australian government’s website says there will be a 25 percent loan fee for undergraduate courses of study.

“I’ve had messages from people who saw the news today and almost cried. They don’t want their kids to leave uni with these huge debts that are completely unexpected,” Gassin said.

Researchers said coupled with the recent changes to the skilled migrant visa system, the new reforms to the higher education sector will result in fewer students heading over to universities Down Under.

Henry Sherrell, researcher at the Crawford School of Public Policy, says while big fee hikes do not typically influence students, the same cannot be said when the policy targets a specific group of people. It is improbable more prospective students will choose to head to Australia for their degrees, unlike what the government is anticipating from these changes.

Higher prices “will be a disincentive, even if it is an income-contingent loan, even if it goes through HECS,” Sherrell said.

As well as having fewer Kiwis heading to Australia, parents are also foreseeing more New Zealanders crossing the ditch to head back home as a result of these new changes.

The Guardian reported affected parents took to social media to express their displeasure on the changes.

On Facebook, Deidre Robb, a parent from New Zealand, said she would be sending her two teenagers back to New Zealand to study and expects “a huge influx of people going back to NZ because of this”.

One Lisa Schofield said the reforms would be “devastating and will be life-changing for so many families like my own”.

Yesterday, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) called the recent changes a “double standard” as Australian students in NZ are entitled to domestic fees, but the same benefit will no longer be extended to Kiwis studying in Australia. The student loans offered are said to not be enough to cover the additional costs of paying full fees.

“New Zealanders will be left short-changed as a result of these changes, forking out thousands more dollars to study in Australia,” NZUSA national president Jonathan Gee told Scoop.

More than 12,000 Kiwis are currently studying in Australia. Across the Tasman, a few thousand Australians study at New Zealand universities.

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