UNCERTAINTY surrounding how much university students will pay and how long it will take to clear any loans has forced Charles Sturt University to offer a $2 million contingency fund.
CSU acting deputy vice-chancellor Professor Toni Downes said the government was yet to finalise deregulation of university fees and increased HELP interest rates, and the contingency fund would increase certainty for students enrolling for the coming year.
“For the students wondering whether they should enrol or whether they should delay, we’re saying yes, enrol and if the legislation gets through parliament, we will have funds for them to access,” she said.
She said rural and regional students would suffer under any changes because they often completed courses slower, meaning greater interest would accrue on their HELP debts, and graduates working in regional areas typically earned less.
“Sometimes they have to do a few less subjects due to problems on the farm, so it might take four or five years to complete a degree,” she said.
Asked whether the blame would fall on universities for setting their own fees, Professor Downes said the federal government had forced the universities’ hands by cutting funding by 20 per cent.
“For our agricultural degrees, they used to pay quite a lot, so 20 per cent of that is a lot of money,” she said.
CSU will not decide on its new fee structure until the changes pass through parliament.
Member for Calare John Cobb congratulated the university on its business acumen for supporting its students.
“This allows students to have breathing space while CSU makes its decisions about what to charge and how and when they will do this,” he said.
However, he said it would be up to the university to set its own fees.
“If universities set their fees too high, they will put themselves out of the market and face empty lecture theatres,” he said.
Mr Cobb said the capped 6 per cent interest rate for HELP loans still represented good value for students.
He said students who enrolled or had accepted an offer as a Commonwealth supported student on or before May 13, 2014, would not be affected provided they finished their studies by December 2020.