Karen Lomas
August 8, 2016

Equity in University Courses

books-magazines-building-schoolUniversity course fees may yet be deregulated, based on government intentions to save money on the cost of tertiary education. One of the plans set out in the recent budget “Options Paper” is to allow universities to highlight particular courses as their ‘Flagship’ offering. The concern here is that if fees are indeed deregulated, the ‘Flagship’ courses are likely to be priced rather like a designer handbag – highly inflated!

‘Flagship’ suggests best or most important, so arguably some university courses are already deemed so. Certainly RMIT University’s Bachelor of Public Relations is hailed as unique and “up there”, to such an extent that the ATAR has historically always been punishing. To allow universities to look at such a course, formally ‘Flagship’ it and then up the fees accordingly, surely means another barrier to entry. Indeed, University of Melbourne’s Gwylim Croucher, in The Conversation ,asks probing questions about equity issue that this raises. He raises the concern that many students are likely to be disadvantaged by such differentiation.

Right now, year 12 students and other applicants are scanning VTAC and other State admission centres’ websites and publications, knowing full well that there are factors that impact their chances of an offer. Again, the ATAR being main determinant. I hope that, in future years, students will not be forced to skim past certain courses when they’re applying for tertiary study, on the basis of newly inflated prices. There are already cost differentials, so why allow another layer?

As Croucher states, the policy might actually mean there will be innovation in new course design. We have to wait for more details to come out. But many universities have already expressly stated that they are wary.

I always recommend that students and their parents do their research well just in the same way that they might in fact be shopping around for a car, or handbag. It’s an investment, and so do expect there to be a cost implication. But if a university course is going to be marketed as ‘Flagship’, check that it isn’t just a new title for something that’s been around for years. You’ll be wanting to get your moneys worth – assuming you can afford it in the first place.



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