Vets, nurses, teachers warn of Pyne’s debt trap

The Senate higher education inquiry today has heard that deregulation will create crippling debt burdens and threaten the supply of graduates in vital professions.

Representatives of veterinarians, nurses and teachers all told the inquiry that under the Government’s proposed changes to higher education the cost of studying to enter their professions would become prohibitive for many students, especially women.

Dr Debbie Neutza, National Strategy Manager for the Australian Veterinary Association, said that the changes would particularly affect veterinary students because of the length of study required and the high cost of delivering vet courses.

“For example, at Melbourne University to become a veterinarian you need to do a science degree of 2-3 years, followed by a 4-year doctor of veterinary medicine,” Dr Neutza said.

“In 2015 the cost of the 4-year component for domestic fee-paying students is $207,000. University fees approaching $200,000 are a reality the veterinary profession is facing.

“We also have mostly female graduates, and significantly lower lifetime earnings than similar courses. With an average total income of $77,000 they will not be able to repay their loans in their lifetime.”

Ms Lee Thomas, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Association, said that Australia was facing a shortage of up to 109,000 registered nurses by 2025.

“Ninety-two per cent of nurses are female. When you take into account the part-time nature of women’s work and also the time that women often have off to have children and to manage family responsibilities, it would be no surprise that we do not support these changes for the impacts that they potentially have on nursing.

“The disincentives are great. That, at the individual level is a real concern to us, but more broadly it is a massive concern to us in terms of the health of the community.”

In a statement issued before he gave evidence, the Federal President of the Australian Education Union, Mr Angelo Gavrielatos, said that the changes would make it harder to attract students to teaching courses and harder to keep teachers in the profession.

“Cutting funding to universities by 20 per cent and uncapping fees must lead either to greater debts for students or cuts to course quality,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

“We need to be lifting the ATAR scores of teachers by encouraging talented university students into teaching. Increasing student debts and allowing for-profit providers to offer cheap, lower-quality courses will put further downward pressure on entry scores for teaching courses.”

Shadow Minister for Higher Education Kim Carr said that the evidence showed that the Pyne plan would deny opportunities to aspiring veterinarians, nurses and teachers, and severely retard Australia’s future growth.

“The evidence we’re hearing just confirms that tinkering at the edges won’t take the sting out of these changes,” Senator Carr said. “The plan is rotten to the core and should be rejected in its entirety.”


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