A proposal by eight of Australia's top universities that law students pay higher tuition fees in order to deal with funding gaps in tertiary education has drawn criticism from student bodies.
Under the proposal submitted to the Higher Education Base Funding Review (the review) by the Group of Eight (Go8) it is suggested that fees for domestic students, starting with fees related to the "cluster one" disciplines of business, economics and law, be deregulated.
The Go8 includes the University of Western Australia, the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW and the University of Queensland. This move could potentially increase the maximum amount students pay for a law or business degree from $9080 to $13,600, a jump of 50 per cent.
The Australian Law Students Association (ALSA) responded to the Go8's proposal by making its own submission. One of the primary concerns is that the Go8 proposal actually undermines the aims of the review.
"The objective of the review is to try and have a more rational approach to funding in tertiary education," said Melissa Coade, ALSA's vice-president education.
"While all the different factors that must be considered in terms of reforms are very complex, and while more money needs to be put into tertiary institutions to ensure quality education, simply hitting students up isn't the best way to go about it."
According to Coade, part of the rationale behind the Go8's proposal is that cluster one students should be targeted first because, even though fees would likely increase, there would still be a significant demand for those areas of study.
Another rationale, said Coade, is an erroneous perception that graduates from cluster one groups of study go on to earn more money than other graduates.
"More and more we are finding that fewer graduates actually go on to practise law, and of the small amount that are retained within the legal profession, not all of them go on to well-paying jobs in big corporate firms," she said.
"There are statistics in place to indicate that the perception that law graduates go on to become society's elite, with the most lined pockets, is actually quite wrong."
Law students already cover more than 80 per cent of their tuition costs, while the government only contributes around 20 per cent of that cost.
The Council of Australian Law Deans (CALD) has also made a submission to the review, in which it argues that this ratio is already too high.
"CALD is of the view that there should be a balance between the government and student contributions to the funding of undergraduate law education," it reads.
"Under the current funding arrangement our view is that the government contribution is too low and the student contribution is too high and that there is a clear imbalance between those two main sources of funding. The current arrangement has the discipline of law at the very bottom end of Commonwealth contribution (a position which, until recently, it occupied alone) and the student contribution ... at the highest percentage end."
Another issue raised by ALSA is that increasing fees would only serve to widen existing equity gaps between students.
"One of the objectives of the review is to ensure that equity is met within the student demographic, and the point should be made that if cluster one is targeted and deregulated in the way the Go8 proposes, you won't just be alienating people in lower socio-economic groups, but you'll be further pushing the divide between the middle class and the elite class as well," she said.
"It doesn't just undermine equity in terms of people from a [low socio-economic] background, but a huge proportion of what is our current student demographic."
ALSA also wants to see curriculums grow and evolve in an innovative way so as to keep up with international competition.
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