CHARLES Sturt University could double some course fees to cover a gaping financial hole left by proposed higher education reforms.
The university fears the federal government program is being pushed through “way too fast”.
But it hopes a wider public backlash could force the government to the negotiating table to come up with a more workable program.
Charles Sturt vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Vann said initial calculations were that its agriculture course fees would have to go up by 48 per cent, science by about 62 per cent and environmental studies a massive 114 per cent.
“But having said that, this might not be how we set fees because we’ve also got to work out how that stacks up against graduate earnings and to what extent we might be able to cross-subsidise,” he said.
Professor Vann said that was quite a complex process.
“We’d have to lift our fees by 23.5 per cent on average to fill the financial hole the government is leaving,” he said.
University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis warned that the changes were akin to a “social experiment without precedent in Australia”.
Professor Davis said students from poorer backgrounds would be hit by fees soaring by up to 60 per cent.
That concern for poorer students is especially pertinent for Charles Sturt, given it is the second highest ranked university in Australia for lower socio-economic students.
Professor Vann said some of these students might be deterred from applying.
But the university holds out some hope that the changes are not set in concrete.
“We think the government will have to compromise.”
Professor Vann said it might turn out to be a waiting game to see the model the government was eventually able to settle on.
At that point, Charles Sturt would be able to determine if certain disciplines become unviable, or if some courses had to be closed.
“We just don’t know where it’s going to land, so it makes it very, very difficult,” he said.
“Our students can afford it a lot less than the students who go to the University of Melbourne.”
The university has already had to start setting its 2016 fees for students who enrol after last month’s budget.
Professor Vann said the Commission of Audit had recommended there be a year’s consultation period before fee deregulation was looked at.
“The government has ignored that and has gone straight to implementation,” he said.
“We’re very worried that the government may get the settings wrong on this and that it might cause severe damage to the system.
“We would really hope that we’d be able to hold these reforms back, have some good discussion and understand what it all means and — assuming it goes through — do a much better job of getting the settings right.”