‘We will leave’: Kiwis and permanent residents reeling from uni fee hike

Students enter the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney on Thursday, 22 Sept 2016. (AAP)

Exclusive: The Turnbull Government’s university reforms will see permanent residents and New Zealand citizens pay the full price for attending Australian universities.

By James Elton-Pym – SBS

Eighteen-year-old Matilda Boyce was the dux of her high school.

The bright New Zealander is enjoying her first year studying chemistry, geology and Japanese at the University of Western Australia.

But news of the Turnbull Government’s new university reforms came as a shock to Ms Boyce’s family.

“If the changes are passed then we will probably leave Australia.”

Her course costs $9,000 per year under the current system, but would cost $36,000 per year under Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s proposal.

The new system, if changes pass the Senate, will see New Zealand citizens and permanent residents pay full international student prices for Australian degrees. [Kiwis will pay domestic full fees, not international fees].

The department says the changes will not affect the roughly 20,000 permanent residents and NZ citizens already enrolled.

University students to ‘pay more’

But they could affect Ms Boyce’s younger brother Harvey, who is in Year 12.

“If the changes are passed then we will probably leave Australia,” Matilda’s mother, Deidre Robb, said.

“[He] was hoping to study environmental science/conservation land management next year. The cost of the fees will now make that impossible.”

The reforms are not all bad news for the New Zealand and permanent resident students, who will for the first time be eligible for government student loans, just like Australian students.

The government estimates the access to HELP loans will actually incentivise more students to come to Australia.

“Access to student loans could attract some new students for whom upfront payment was a disincentive to study, leading to an estimated 60,000 additional EFTSL [equivalent full-time students],” the Turnbull Government’s policy statement reads.

But Ms Boyce says her family, and many others, would prefer to pay a smaller fee upfront than be shackled with a large student debt.

“I would have had $100,000 or more in debt,” she said. “You’re never going to be able to travel or buy a house or get ahead in life with that sort of debt.

“The enrolment rate’s just going to plummet for many universities.”

Matilda Boyce was the dux of her high school

The president of a student society for New Zealanders at the University of Melbourne said the changes would have a “big impact” on the 480 New Zealanders currently studying at the university.

While the changes would not affect their current courses, Melbourne University encourages a two-step process where students first undertake a generalist degree, then a more specialised one.

“We’re disappointed. It came out of nowhere,” the club’s president Jordan Zhang told SBS News.

Mr Zhang is himself in his final year of a commerce degree, but says he would not be able to afford a planned law degree next year if the changes go ahead. “We’re hoping the Senate blocks it,” he said.

Australia’s most prestigious universities have responded to the Turnbull Government’s latest higher education reforms saying “there is no pain relief and no reform”.

Rebecca Pacey, another NZ citizen, now faces the possibility that her planned PHD at UNSW next year, which would have been absolutely free under a Commonwealth supported placement, could now cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete.

“My fees just went from literally $0 to $126,000 if this bill is passed,” Ms Pacey said.

“I work 30 hours a week in the work force, paying tax. If this bill passes I pretty much can’t afford to do it. And it’s disgusting that I should have a $126,000 HECS debt if I want to.”

The Oz Kiwi community group, which represents New Zealanders living in Australia, is urging its members to write to their local MPs and voice opposition to the reforms.

The group’s spokeswoman, Joanne Cox, described the news as a “blindside”, and said their members had reacted with “anger, frustration and confusion”.

The changes also drew criticism from New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Bill English.

“We’re pretty unhappy about it,” he said.

“We want a serious discussion with them about where they’re headed with this policy, rather than announcements that are made either without telling us or with short notice.”

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee will travel to Australia next week for meetings with Australian counterpart Julie Bishop.

The criticism comes just weeks after Mr English described the Australian Government’s changes to immigration as “disappointing”.

Permanent residents now need to wait four years before they can apply to become Australian citizens, and immigration minister Peter Dutton confirmed there would be no exemption for New Zealanders.

[Read the SBS article].

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