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Medical degree fees may skyrocket to $250,000, Australian Medical Association warns

Warning graduates could be driven towards specialising in high paying areas like plastic surgery rather meeting the community's need for general practice doctors, Julieanne Strachan reports.

Doctors have warned that the federal government's planned changes to university fees could send the cost of six-year undergraduate medical degrees skyrocketing to $250,000 or more.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Stephen Parnis said the proposed fee changes would have enormous impacts on the future health workforce because graduates would be driven towards specialising in high-paying areas like plastic surgery rather meeting the community's need for general practice doctors.

Concern: Lauren O'Rourke is the president of the ANU Medical Students Society and is worried about the impact of ...
Concern: Lauren O'Rourke is the president of the ANU Medical Students Society and is worried about the impact of deregulation on fees. 

Dr Parnis said recent talk of $100,000 medical degrees was too conservative and underestimated the combined impacts of deregulated fees and reduced government support for course places.

"We expect some medical schools would charge in excess of $250,000 if you base it on what they are charging full fee paying students," he said.

"If you lare looking at a Government subsidy of $18,000 per year on a total cost of $50-$60,000 per year for the course, that leaves $40,000 per year for a six-year degree - six times $40,000 is $240,000. "   

The AMA has warned combining a Bachelor of Medical Science degree with a Doctor of Medicine degree would see students face a bill of $259,000 plus interest.

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Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the government's higher education reform agenda, particularly deregulation, had strong support from many universities.

However, he indicated on Friday he may be open to some changes in the government's plan, saying he would consider feedback provided to a Senate Committee hearing into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014.

"I have keenly listened to each of the submissions and the various suggestions for strengthening the reform package," he said.

A spokeswoman for the ANU said the university offered only post-graduate medical degrees which was an already deregulated market and she did not expect the changes to affect Canberra students. 

However, ANU Medical Students Society president Lauren O'Rourke said she was worried the government's proposed changed would have a flow-on effect to the four-year post-graduate course costs.

"It currently costs around $40,000 for a domestic student to obtain a medical degree at the Australian National University," she said.

"With the projected increase in medical education costs as a result of fee deregulation, it is difficult to see how this would not impact on student decisions."

Ms O'Rourke said the further impact of proposed changes to interest rates on HECS loans was also worrying.

"Entry into medical school should be based on merit, not financial capacity," she said.

The Group of Eight, of which the ANU is part, told the senate committee it was in favour of deregulation and was concerned over the consequences of not acting upon it soon.

"If the Bill is not passed, there is no plausible default," it warned in a written submission.

"No real growth in government funding per student with no flexibility for higher education providers to set tuition prices means, inevitably, erosion of educational quality."