Friday, October 29, 2004

Uni entry eased if students have the money

[Ed - Although this is not an article on IT, I still believe it is important for uni students to be aware of such issues]

Uni entry eased if students have the money
By Gerard Noonan, Education Editor
February 3 2003

Students wanting to get into a combined law degree at the University of NSW and prepared to pay up to $75,000 in cash can gain entry with a ranking 5 per cent lower than other students applying for the course.

The combined law degree is one of 160 courses at three NSW universities that allow the controversial two-tier entry system to operate. Data released by the Universities Admissions Centre today for late-round entry into courses for 2003 shows UNSW, the University of Sydney and the Australian Catholic University take in students under the scheme.

At UNSW, students applying for the highly competitive combined law degree would normally need a universities admissions index (UAI) of 99.30 to gain a place but could get in with 94.45 if they paid fees up-front. Over the five years of the course, the $15,000 annual fees would amount to $75,000.

Other students taking the course would typically defer payment through the higher education contribution scheme (HECS) and pay back the fees when they began earning wages.

Today's late-round release shows universities in NSW and the ACT have tightened the total number of places to non-fee paying Australian students for the second year in a row. The director of the admissions centre, Andrew Stanton, confirmed that the total number of offers to all classes of students was down by almost 700 to 58,880.

"This is a reflection of the trend which began last year and which has continued for the 2003 admissions," he said yesterday. "Universities need to manage their student populations without jeopardising the quality of teaching and learning. For some universities this has meant a reduction in the number of new places available."

This year, a HECS student enrolled in arts at Sydney University needed a UAI of 83.25 but a student prepared to pay the $11,000 annual fee required a UAI of just 78.25. Similarly, students needed a UAI of 99.30 to get into the Bachelor of Engineering in Aerospace at the same university but could enter as a fee-paying student with a UAI of 94.30.

Critics of the scheme, which has operated since 1998, argue that it gives richer students an unfair advantage. They also say many of the 2500 fee-paying students already in the system switch in second year to a HECS-funded place, thus denying another student entry.

However, the universities argue they must exploit every source of income and that the five-point UAI difference is only marginal in many cases.

The majority of universities in NSW and the ACT do not take part and Charles Sturt University in Bathurst dropped out last year.

In June the university governing council at UNSW narrowly decided to abandon its involvement in the scheme on the casting vote of the university chancellor, Dr John Yu. But the arrival of a new vice-chancellor at UNSW in mid-year resulted in the matter again being debated at the university council. Professor Rory Hume succeeded in convincing enough waverers on the council to restore the university's involvement.

Internal university research to date shows the academic performance of fee-paying and HECS students is comparable.

Professor Hume has argued privately that although the scheme is unpopular, the Federal Government's imminent review into the future of universities is likely to shake up the entire fee structure anyway.

[Ed - Most of the time universities are not to blame, they have rising costs to keep up with to provide a certain level of education to its students, and they aren't getting more money from the government. This plan to lower requirements for money is an easy way to get the vital funding.

Doing a science or technology degree is usually the best value in terms of funding. Why? Because subjects like business or law require little resources - just hire a lecturer and put them in a room of students with the same textbook.

Whereas hi-tech subjects require millions of $$$ for equipment and ongoing costs. Science, computer and electronic laboratories are very expensive to acquire and maintain in comparison. Software and harware needs to be purchased and maintained, some specialised software titles cost thousands per copy. Every year the course needs to be revised and updated with a rapidly changing world of technology.

The cost of running, say a Business degree is probably ten times lower than say a Computing degree.

One major source (if not the only one) of funding problems is the government, with the introduction of the GST they have raised much more funding, but have not placed an emphasis on higher education.

They have forced education providers such as TAFE and universities to charge fees, and now to raise them and consequently reduce the opportunity for all people to gain a better education. Some believe that education should be free. Should the government not be investing in its own people who will be paying tax? I mean if we get more education, we can get a better job, which means more money for us, and more tax for the government. Right?

The financial divide is widening and improvement doesn't look to be comming soon. Everyone should have equal access to education. Disadvantaged Australians will find it harder and harder to get more education to advance their careers. But those determined enough will find a way. There are limited numbers of scholarships offered by universities and professional associations for people in genuine financial hardship. Centrelink also has "Youth Allowance" to support Australian students while they are studying full-time at uni or TAFE, they have opportunities for apprenticeships which provide work and free TAFE courses, and those on support can enroll in many normal TAFE courses for free.]