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90% Of Rural Students Would Be Forced To Take A Gap Year If Deregulation Was Introduced

It ain't pretty.

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Ally is a second year education student at regional Newcastle University. She already has a $48,000 HECS debt and is worried she will have to drop out if the government pushes ahead with plans to deregulate uni fees and the cost of her course goes up.

@allygory / Via Twitter: @allygory

"I am already at $48,000 and the idea that deregulation would end up with an American style loan system where we have to pay regardless of circumstance with higher interest rates terrifies me," Ally told BuzzFeed News.

"The rhetoric used with us [at Newcastle Uni] at the moment is to just put everything on HECS and you 'won't notice' the payments come out because they don't fully impact your life... but [none of my friends] would come to uni if they had to pay $60,000 for their degree."

Regional students like Ally would become significantly more isolated and have fewer opportunities if university fee deregulation was introduced, according to a study of rural and regional Year 12 students, parents and teachers done by Edith Cowan university.

ECU / Via Facebook: ECUjourney

"I have not thought about what to do, and may reconsider university education," one student surveyed said.

"I would consider an alternative pathway or may consider going through the defence force," said another.

"Earning a degree with a debt concerns me, and [I] may consider taking a gap year to work hard and save some money for uni," was a common sentiment along with "I may go to the uni as a mature student".

Nearly 90% of students said if partial deregulation was introduced they would have to take a gap year to save money, or defer university to a later date.

SCU / Via Facebook: southerncrossuniversity

But almost all of the students who said they'd consider taking a gap year were concerned it might end their university education dreams.

Teachers echoed students' sentiments, saying the already low level of interest in university study in regional areas would become much lower if fees increased as a result of deregulation.

70% of students surveyed said they would ask their parents or family members for money if deregulation was introduced.

The remainder were concerned there wasn't enough government support, such as scholarships, available to regional students.

92% of regional students interviewed barely knew anything about deregulation and, more disturbingly, neither did 60% of regional teachers.

Simon Scott / Via Facebook: unearmidale

A majority of teachers knew little about deregulation and were unsure of the policy’s implications or how soon they could come into effect.

The introduction of partial fee deregulation for universities through flagship courses was first floated by the Turnbull government during the May budget. The PM confirmed during the election campaign that his government planned to introduce the measure, which would allow universities to set the fees for some of their degrees.

The cost of these “flagship courses” would be uncapped, meaning universities could charge up to 20% of their total student body as much as they like for their degrees from 2018.

Partial deregulation would offset the government’s planned $2.5 billion cut to the higher education sector.

But a majority of Australia’s universities have rejected the proposals, blaming a breakdown in trust between the government and the sector.

The Impact Assessment of University-Fee Deregulation on Prospective Regional University Students report found that the isolation and lack of opportunity that currently exists for rural and regional students would be increased significantly if deregulation was introduced.

UNE / Via Facebook: unearmidale

The vast majority of students surveyed said university fee deregulation would exacerbate rural and regional isolation and that the government had not considered their plight when writing higher education policy.

Regional students have less opportunity to study courses of their choice in universities, on top of higher living and transport costs, which leads to higher attrition rates than metropolitan students.

Specifically, the study found deregulation would deter female, mature age, low socioeconomic and medical students from pursing higher education.

The Regional Universities Network has publicly come out against partial deregulation on behalf of the seven regional and remote universities it represents.

USQ / Via Facebook: usqedu

RUN is against any cuts to university funding because it argues allowing universities to set their own fees through a partial deregulation of flagship courses won’t be enough to keep regional universities operational.

“Such a scheme may be viable for a few, high demand courses, particularly in elite universities. However, in an environment where there is a significant reduction in Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding, and no other source of funding to replace this, regional universities would not be able to recoup significant funds via flagships,” it said.

But RUN says it will support other changes, including the indexation of HELP-HECS repayment thresholds to CPI rather than average weekly earnings, an introduction of a household income test for HECS-HELP repayments and the recovery of debts from deceased estates.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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