The Morrison government is offering universities more places for expected soaring numbers of undergraduates, but at a cost to students.
It wants to steer young Australians into degrees that lead to jobs and will more than double the cost of humanities studies to do so.
Universities are anticipating record numbers of applications for study in 2021 as the reality of the coronavirus-driven recession bites young people worst of all.
Youth unemployment has soared to 16.1 per cent, with young people’s jobs making up 45 per cent of those lost in May.
Education Minister Dan Tehan will outline the coalition’s latest plan for rejigging university funding in a speech to the National Press Club on Friday.
He is offering to increase the number of university places by 39,000 over the next three years, rising to 100,000 more by 2030.
The coalition had effectively capped places over the past couple of years by freezing its funding at 2018 levels.
The trade-off in the new deal is changing what students and taxpayers pay.
A three-year humanities degree would more than double in cost for students, from about $20,000 now to $43,500.
The government’s contribution would drop to $3300.
Fees for law degrees, typically four years, would jump from $44,620 now to $58,000.
Conversely, the government would pay more and charge students less for courses it says are more likely to lead to jobs.
Agriculture and maths fees would drop from nearly $28,600 over three years to $11,100.
Fees would also be cut for teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, science, health, architecture, IT, engineering and English courses.
Those doing the more expensive degrees will be able to cut their costs by taking up courses in the cheaper, more “useful” areas.
“We are encouraging students to embrace diversity and not think about their education as a siloed degree,” Mr Tehan will say.
“So if you want to study history, also think about studying English. If you want to study philosophy, also think about studying a language. If you want to study law, also think about studying IT.”
Mr Tehan will seek to head off scare campaigns like those seen when his predecessor Christopher Pyne sought to deregulate university fees by promising there will be no $100,000 degrees under the plan.
No existing student will pay more.
He is putting pressure on universities to back the plan, which he says was designed in consultation with leaders from the sector.
The National Union of Students condemned the government’s plan, saying universities were not “job factories”.
“While the lowering of fees in specific degrees is a positive opportunity for some students, this move is at the expense of hundreds of thousands of young people who have chosen to study a degree that the government doesn’t deem worthy enough,” the union said in a statement.