USyd to offer more combined Bachelor and Masters degrees

USyd attempts to circumvent changes regarding the distribution of Commonwealth Supported Places.

Pink-washed image of University of Sydney's quad building, with cartoon-style graphics of two graduation caps in the foreground with a plus sign between them. The cap on the right is significantly larger than that on the left. Image: Justine Landis-Hanley

The University of Sydney is considering expanding the number of combined Bachelor and Masters degrees for undergrad students after the government announced a new model for distributing postgraduate Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs).

From 2019, the Australian government will allocate CSPs for postgraduate study directly to students for use at the university of their choice, according to its recently released Higher Education Reforms Package. For students with a Commonwealth Supported Place, the Australian government subsidises their degree by paying part of their fees directly to the university. Almost all undergraduate domestic students at public universities are enrolled in a Commonwealth Supported Place.

Only domestic students can apply for a CSP in postgraduate degrees (and are guaranteed CSPs for undergraduate degrees), which significantly reduces the fees they will need to pay. For example, a domestic student undertaking a Juris Doctor at USyd without a CSP would have to pay over $100,000, whereas a student with a CSP would pay little more than $30,000 for the same degree. Currently, the government rations out CSPs for postgraduate courses to universities across the country, which they in turn award to students based on merit.

“The piecemeal allocation of CSPs for postgraduate study, at different times and according to different criteria, has resulted in an incoherent distribution of places,” the government report explains. “A large proportion of places is allocated to a small number of universities and the take-up rates of these places can be haphazard. For example, some universities were over-enrolled in 2015 while others were under-enrolled.”

Instead, the government plan consists of awarding postgraduate students scholarships to the value of the CSP that they may use at an institution of their choice, with requirements in place to ensure recipients aren’t dismissed in favour of full-fee paying students. By offering more combined undergraduate and Masters programs for incoming domestic students, USyd hopes to allow them to use their automatic CSP for the undergraduate degree to complete postgraduate study concurrently without incurring the full fee.

“At least at the moment, it is our understanding that when we configure a program as one of these Bachelors/Masters programs, the student are awarded the Commonwealth Supported Places at an undergraduate level. They can have a CSP the whole way through and we don’t have to worry about the limitation of the government’s proposal,” USyd Deputy Vice Chancellor (Registrar) Tyrone Carlin told Honi.

“The undergraduate component could be a science degree or an arts degree or a business degree … undergraduate training that can equip students to go into a postgraduate level with a more professional focus.”

The move would allow more undergraduate students to undertake further studies without incurring the significant costs associated with a full-fee postgraduate degree.

“We are very mindful of the shifting landscape of the funding domain and making sure that, to the best of our ability, the decisions we make don’t adversely impact students by exposing them to a completely different fee regime.”

While Carlin says “nothing is particularly set in concrete,” a recent survey sent around to USyd students stated “the University of Sydney will introduce integrated Bachelor/Masters degrees prepare students to undertake a PHD” in 2018, with the benefit that “the integrated degrees will be supported via Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) instead of a full-fee Masters degree as occurs in the end-on-end Bachelor/Master model”.

The Government will also cut around 3000 postgraduate CSPs from January 2018.

The proposed changes pose a threat to enrolments at the University of Melbourne and University of Western Australia. Both universities follow the American degree structure which sees students studying general bachelor degrees in fields like arts or science. Degrees such as law, medicine or engineering are only available at a postgraduate level. “The Government will also negotiate appropriate transition arrangements with the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Australia, given their current funding agreements support the broad bachelor and professional Masters models adopted by these universities,” the Higher Education Reform Package states.