Future students who study humanities, social sciences and communications at the University of Newcastle will pay more than $60 million in extra debt under the federal government's proposed course fee restructure, a new analysis shows.
Department of Education data analysed by Greens education spokeswoman Dr Mehreen Faruqi found that if the university's humanities, social sciences and communications students who enrolled in 2018 were subject to the new system - estimated to be 2700 full-time equivalent students - they would collectively pay an estimated $62.1 million more for their degrees.
More than 70 per cent of the additional debt would be borne by female students.
Under the government's proposed Job-ready Graduates Package, students in selected humanities, social sciences and communications courses faced fee hikes of up to 113 per cent for their degrees. Other courses including law and business face a 28 per cent fee increase.
Senator Faruqi said the fee hikes and funding cuts would force students to pay millions more in fees and owe millions more in debt.
"The weight of debt will get heavier and heavier to bear, weighing on graduates' take-home pay, savings and home loan eligibility for decades as they try to get started in life," she said.
"If this fee overhaul proceeds, University of Newcastle students will go much further into debt and spend much longer paying it off."
The Greens' analysis involved obtaining Department of Education data on University of Newcastle enrolments at the discipline level, and national enrolments at the narrow field of education level, to estimate student numbers affected. Impacted courses were identified by cross-checking department data with changes to funding clusters and student contribution bands announced in the government's policy package, as well as the Commonwealth Grant Scheme guidelines.
The party has called for the Hunter to be made a priority hub of economic and social activity, where investment in higher education is a catalyst for post-pandemic recovery.
"But what we will see under this government's perverse plan for universities is yet more young people struggling to make ends meet," Senator Faruqi said.
"Shamefully, it's women who will bear the brunt of these fee hikes as they account for more than two-thirds of the students in the affected courses.
"Higher education needs an overhaul, but the government's plan is a joke. The right price for a degree or TAFE qualification is zero dollars."
The government argues that it will provide an additional 39,000 university places by 2023 and 100,000 by 2030.
"We will also incentivise students to make more job-relevant choices, that lead to more job-ready graduates, by reducing the student contribution in areas of expected employment growth and demand," Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said.
The government projects 40 per cent of students will end up paying more for a university education, while most will either have fees reduced or stay the same.
National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes said the government had failed to provide a funding plan to secure the critical research and learning.
"While we welcome expanded students places and lower fees in some disciplines, Minister Dan Tehan appears to be going out of his way to avoid properly funding universities. Instead he has outlined a plan to massively hike fees for humanities, law and commerce, asking students in those disciplines to bail out the government and do its job for it," she said.
"Australian universities have seen more than $4.5 billion in revenue destroyed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In their greatest ever crisis, the Minister appears more interested in fomenting controversy than grappling with this difficult reality.
"The future of Australian research and learning demands a substantial funding package, not a cynical attempt to gouge certain cohorts of students for more money.
Universities Australia Chair Professor Deborah Terry supported the ambition to fund an extra 39,000 university places by 2023.
"As a nation, we will need a skilled, educated workforce to help drive Australia's post-pandemic economic recovery," she said.
"University provides an excellent path to a good job. A university qualification is one of the best investments you can make. Younger women with a university degree still earn almost $14,000 a year more on average, and younger men $12,000 more than school leavers."
"We also welcome the focus on improving participation and attainment by Indigenous, regional and remote students. Redressing disadvantage is a core aim of all of our universities and we support the new measures to assist with the goal."
Universities Australia has also welcomed the establishment of the regional-industry research collaboration fund.
"We are also pleased to see that universities and students will have a buffer, with grandfathering for current students, and a transition fund for universities," Professor Terry said.