HELP hike for HASS students: it hasn’t hit yet

The coalition government’s hikes and cuts in student fees for different disciplines under the Job Ready Graduates model has sod-all impact on overall student choice, according to new research by Maxwell Yong, Michael Coelli and Jan Kabatek (all Uni Melbourne) – but it’s not great for history, philosophy and legal studies.

On the basis of NSW Universites Admission Centre data they report,

* fee increases led to 1.52 per cent of students electing courses they would not have chosen under the previous cost structure

* final enrolments were in-line with this, “implying universities did not respond in a manner consistent with revenue maximisation”

Overall, of the 27 study-fields, student demand changed by 5 per cent or less for 20, less than 3 per cent for 14.

However there were 7.3 per cent drops in preferences for history, philosophy and legal studies, among the disciplines where students pay most and government least. The 2024 contribution rates for them are $16 323 by students and $1 236 by government. In contrast, demand for agriculture was up 9 per cent (student contributions for 2024 are  $4495, while the Commonwealth kicks-in $30 395).

They warn that it is early days and that the figures might reflect trends already in place and that price sensitivities may increase but that so far, “reform-induced changes of students’ preferences were relatively minor.”

As for institutions pilling students into disciplines where they pay significant amounts of money, there is little evidence of public institutions doing this across the board, so far.

These results are not great news for HASS lobbies that have campaigned against indisputable price discrimination – for most of their subjects demand has not collapsed, leaving their egos hurt rather than student base reduced.

But the authors point out,  if the JRG model continues it will be bad for students in fields where they can run up $43 000 in debt for a three year degree. “larger debts mean repayments will stretch over many more years,” they write.

“This may affect decisions regarding purchasing a home, getting married and having children. The underlying inequities in this policy change are quite stark.”

The paper appears in-line with Mr Yong’s 2022 findings that course demand is inelastic, “if the government wants to control university enrolments across different fields of study, it should not use price as an incentive for students,” (Campus Morning Mail, October 20 2022).

Maxwell Yong, Michael Coelli, Jan Kabatek “University fees, subsidies and field of study,” Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, Working Paper No. 11/23



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