University fee restructure creates fear for arts degrees among students

An Australia-wide university fee restructure can be seen as a direct attack on critical thinking, says Western Sydney University PhD candidate Roseanne Peak.

Ms Peak's comment follows the Federal Government's June announcement that from 2021 fees would rise for humanities, commerce and law, while those for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (stem) units will decrease.

Hiked fees: Macquarie MP Susan Templeman and WSU PhD candidate Roseanne Peak outside Western Sydney University Hawkesbury. Picture: Supplied

Hiked fees: Macquarie MP Susan Templeman and WSU PhD candidate Roseanne Peak outside Western Sydney University Hawkesbury. Picture: Supplied

Education Minister Dan Tehan stated the price for some units would more than double, while others would nearly be halved.

The Government contribution towards units will also change, altering the amount of funding for certain courses and projects.

Ms Peak, who studies social psychology, said she feared higher fees would translate to less opportunities for future students.

"I think that it is an attack on creative and analytical thinking," she said.

"That's what the humanities encourages, especially in relation to social issues.

"In my degree I've learnt a lot in how to problem solve and think creatively. I'm very grateful for the opportunity that I've had."

Ms Peak raised her concerns with Macquarie MP Susan Templeman.

Ms Templeman, who holds an arts degree, said the fee hike seemed to suggest humanities units were of lesser importance when it came to a career.

"I happened to major in journalism, but it's an arts degree," she said. "I had no idea that it would prepare me for running a business for a quarter of a century, but it was a fantastic foundation."

"You just can't pick a sector and say 'that's it, they're the ones that are going to cost as much as a medical degree in some institutions' ... there isn't the expectation that the earning potential for arts degrees will be that high.

"Arts degrees lead to all kinds of things. They're a stepping stone for some and they're an end in itself for others."

Ms Templeman said she believed the decision was short-sighted and wanted to see the arts added alongside the stem disciplines.

"We should be encouraging people to study the stem subjects, but it is not going to be the pathway for everybody," she said. "What we should also be including is the 'a', talking steam rather than stem.

"Steam means putting the arts in there, which is encouraging creativity, because you want creatives who are going to think beyond the basics.

"We should be looking up what are the issues facing a sector and how do we ensure that it is well funded, so that people can study the things that we need them to be studying, to do their jobs in the future."

In the Government's announcement Mr Tehan said that the changes are to be at a unit level not a degree level, and that students could avoid some costs by studying electives from other disciplines (maths, science, IT).

Sydney University student and Hawkesbury resident Emily Tyrell, who studies English and Law, said she is confused and frustrated.

"I know that being an Australian literature major I also have to take history units to be able to understand those English units," she said.

"Now the Government is telling me that I'm going to have to pay more for those history units but not those English units even though they are so closely intertwined.

"The unit by unit thing they have tried to sell doesn't make sense when you look at the content that crosses over between these things."

Ms Templeman said she feared the restructure would negatively impact on those currently studying their HSC.

"What we are hearing from students across the Hawkesbury is real concern and reservations about whether they can now afford to do the degree they thought they'd do," she said.

"These year 12 kids are going through the toughest ever HSC year and now we are creating massive questions for them about the viability of them starting a degree that can lead them anywhere.

"It creates even more uncertainty for a group of people who are already under a lot of pressure."

Ms Templeman encourages anyone that is affected by the fee restructure to contact her at susan.templeman.mp@aph.gov.au.

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