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Current students hit with higher fees if they transfer degrees

Several students entering law, commerce and arts, have seen the price of their degrees double.

Former Education Minister Dan Tehan promised that "no current student would be worse off."

USyd students face higher fees if they transfer into a different course this year, despite government guarantees that “no current student would be worse off” under their fee hikes legislation.

Several students who have entered affected courses, including law, commerce and arts, have seen the price of their degrees double, with many saying they were caught out by a lack of information from the government or the university. 

The change affects students who have transferred from a single to a double degree, a double to a single degree or who have changed one degree in their double degree (e.g. from Commerce/Law to Arts/Law). 

For example, one student who transferred from Arts to Arts/Law found that the cost of their Arts subjects doubled, even though they had been studying the same major in Arts for one-and-a-half years. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that UNSW students have faced similar price hikes.

The legislation applies price changes on a subject-by-subject basis, not by degree. It also does not discriminate between students who undertook an ‘allowable’ internal transfer, or those who made a more rigorous internal course application.

One student who transferred from Arts/Law (majoring in Economics) to Economics/Law, without any change in the subjects they would have taken, saw per-unit prices rise to approximately $1800, compared to $1000 last year.

The change does not affect students entering Honours, either through USyd’s Bachelor of Advanced Studies program – including students in a double degree, who had to suspend one degree and re-enrol in Advanced Studies – or a traditional appended Honours degree for students who commenced pre-2018.

Under the legislation, current students are ‘grandfathered’, avoiding fee increases. In June 2020, then-Education Minister Dan Tehan promised students that “no current student will pay an increased student contribution”.

But that only applies if students remain in their current course configuration (including those who commence Honours in the same field). 

USyd is not able to modify how much they charge for degrees, and has limited scope to code their degrees to avoid the changes. 

Students have told Honi that USyd provided little to no notice in the transfer process, including on Sydney Student, that they would be affected, with many expressing that they would not have transferred had they known.

One student said that it was only through “following the fee hikes closely” by themselves could they calculate that changing from Arts/Law to Visual Arts would cost them $15,000 more, and that only received important information about the cost of their major “after I enrolled and got my financial statement, which was frustrating.”

A USyd spokesperson said that as the fee hikes legislation was “rolled out quickly late last year”, they updated their webpages and “link[ed] directly to Government advice to ensure any impacted students were receiving accurate and up-to-date information.”

USyd was against the changes last year. In a September submission to a Senate Inquiry, USyd said the Bill proposed “rushed, highly complex and radically disruptive surgery” to existing arrangements, and would “entrench a new set of perverse incentives” that would degrade the quality of education at Australian universities.