Dickson College year-12 student Abigail Nelson said she wanted to further her studies at university next year but was worried about the cost. Photo: Graham Tidy
School leavers turned out in large numbers to university open day activities around Canberra on Saturday, but the Australian Education Union has questioned how many of them will end up enrolling given proposed changes to course fees.
"We believe fees will rise very significantly across a large number of degrees and it will be a disincentive for students to enter into tertiary education, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds," AEU ACT branch spokesman Tom Greenwell said.
Dickson College year-12 student Abigail Nelson said she wanted to further her studies at university next year but was worried about the cost.
"I'm thinking of doing a teaching course next year, probably at the University of Canberra," she said.
"I don't think I necessarily want to be a teacher – maybe one day. I want to go overseas and teaching is a good way to open up lots of opportunities."
Ms Nelson said she had also considered becoming a social worker or working in business focused on helping others.
"The proposed changes to the costs of studying at university worry me a lot," she said.
"It's not a good thing at all. I think a hiking up of fees will eliminate some people's opportunity to go to uni and I don't think that's fair."
Australian Catholic University's Canberra campus dean, Associate Professor Patrick McArdle, said it was difficult to predict the outcome of the bills before Parliament, but if they did pass it would affect all students enrolling in 2015 for the 2016 university year.
"Universities will have the flexibility to set fees – but since they will experience a 20 per cent cut, they will need to recoup those monies at least," he said.
"At ACU we are conscious that many of our students are the first in their family to attend university and may also come from rural areas.
"We are also aware that the kinds of academic programs that ACU offers do not lead to employment with very high incomes. For this reason any fee increase will be kept to the minimum the university requires to keep its operating budget intact."
The university's most popular courses are the Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Paramedicine and Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary).
Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young said he did not believe the changes would lead to enormous fees increases, but he had concerns over proposed changes to interest on HECS.
"The deregulation debate here has resulted in what I think are highly unlikely claims of enormous fees that will saddle students with debt for life," he said.
"I must add for the record that the government needs to reconsider the impact of charging a real rate of interest on that debt."