Fee rise anger

By JENI FAULKNER

GETTING an education is about to get even harder for students on the North Coast, and it won't matter whether you're considering courses at university or TAFE.

An increasingly 'show me the money' strategy towards university education will no doubt turn away potential students, but even more worrying is the talk of TAFE institutions also suffering a fallout from budget and teacher cuts.

The student representative of the University Council at Southern Cross Unviversity (SCU), Neville Neal, said there was a grim outlook for the university students of the future.

"SCU had no choice but to increase its HECS fees by 25 per cent on Friday because of the Howard Government's policy impacting on it," Mr Neal said.

Depending on the course taken at SCU, a student could, from next year, pay about $100 more for each subject, or up to $1000 every year.

The fee increases will hit 77,000 university students across NSW by 2008, and it means a student who wants a science degree may pay $20,000, while someone studying law will fork out up to $40,000.

"For HECS students this is then indexed every year after they start working and people can be faced with a huge debt by the time they want to start a family," Mr Neal said.

On a local level Mr Neal said the North Coast, in particular, has a lot of HECS paying students and also the highest number of HECS debtors as well as the second highest number of absolute student debt in the State.

"This is because there is a casualness of jobs here and if young people want to pay off debt and buy a house they will leave the area," he said.

But Mr Neal said Southern Cross, as a whole, was doing well with graduates.

"SCU has a pro-active roll to reduce up-front costs by helping students with text books and general expences, but what we could see is rich people getting an education because they can pay up-front, while others will live through life in debt."

The Vice-Chancellor for SCU, Professor Paul Clark, said the decision to increase fees last week had taken much deliberation.

"In real terms, since 1978 thelevel of funding to the sector has fallen 14 per cent, while costs have continued to rise," Mr Clark said.

And it appears if you are a potential student then a TAFE education may also pose financial challenges.

This week the Opposition's spokesman for Skills Development and Training, Don Page, said the recent State Government Budget had meant almost 500 TAFE teachers' jobs would be axed.

He also said course fees at TAFE colleges would jump by $7 million over the next year, rising from $61 million to $68 million. TAFE students will be forced into bigger classes and pay much higher fees, Mr Page said.

"In some cases classes may be cancelled altogether because of teacher cuts," he said.

Students enrolling in manufacturing and engineering fields have dropped significantly since 1999, and Mr Page said this latest Budget exacerbates the situation.

"Cutting technical teachers when we have a serious skills shortage is scandalous and shortsighted," he said.

"Bigger class sizes means students have less one-on-one time with teachers in the classroom ? despite them now paying more money to go to TAFE."

However, the Minister for Education and Training, Carmel Tebbutt, said last week's Budget actually contained increased expenditure on TAFE, increasing to almost $1.5 billion.

"The increase will help fund up-grade and expand TAFE colleges to provide more training places," Ms Tebbutt said.

n So how much does it really cost to be a unversity student?

The Coffs Coast Advocate will be exploring the fees, debts and expenses of going to university next week.

To find out more read Monday's paper.



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