Surprise fees imposed upon Veterinary Medicine international students

The aftermath of an administrative error has left 31 international students forced to pay $15 000 more in 2019 tuition fees

Screenshot of the increased fees displayed on Sydney student, surrounded by a graphic of a stethoscope and a pile of coins

31 international students studying Veterinary Medicine have been asked to pay $15 000 more than their 2018 tuition fees after an “administrative error” was discovered and corrected in January 2019. The error meant that students were undercharged for their tuition fees in 2018, which had to be corrected before the commencement of 2019 studies.

In 2018, the students were asked to pay approximately $47 000 for their final year of a Bachelor of Veterinary Biology, and $49 500 for the first year of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) – both necessary components in the students’ six-year degree. In December 2018, after those entering and continuing the DVM program were initially asked to continue to pay $49 500 for their 2019 studies, students found a revised expected payment of $64 000 in their Sydney Student portals on 15 January 2019. This meant that students expecting to pay a semester fee of $24 750 by the census date, now owe $32 000 by 1 March.

A university spokesperson stressed to Honi that the students will not be asked to make up the outstanding difference in their 2018 tuition fees. However, the University has decided to enforce the full amount for the students’ remaining years. The students’ original offer letters supposedly listed the full and proper amount. USyd cited this fact to justify the enforcement of the extra costs to the sum of the full fee amount.

Although USyd claims to have apologised to the affected students via email, as alluded to in an anonymous tip-off made to Honi, none of the students Honi interviewed said they had received any correspondence from their faculty explaining the error. Several students explained that the only proof they had of the changes were screenshots of their Sydney Student account indicating an increase in payable fees.

Screenshot of Sydney Student displaying fees at $49 500
Screenshot of Sydney Student displaying fees of $64 000

Screenshots of Sydney Student confirming that the fee change was made, provided by a student who asked to be kept anonymous.

“I wasn’t contacted at all about the increase in fees — I just happened to check the Sydney Student website right before uni started again, and I noticed the price increase,” one student said.

A post on USYD Rants made 26 February described students feeling like they had been “treat[ed] like ATMs [by the university],” after coming to USyd internationally because they didn’t have a veterinary medicine course in their country, and “using my family’s savings to pay my tuition.”

Many of the students Honi spoke to suggested that the fee adjustment and the lack of guidance provided by the University have been sources of anxiety for them.

“Since it was my first year of postgrad[uate studies], with the majority of students being new to the university itself, we were not aware if the fees regularly changed,” another student told Honi. “I was really shocked [when I found out that it was wrong], and I had to ask my mum to send me more money to pay for my uni fees.”

A third student noted that although assumptions exist as to the wealth of international students at USyd, the financial realities of many students meant that the additional fees would detrimentally encroach upon their ability to provide for themselves.

“[I pay using] my savings. I applied with [the original] tuition fee estimation. However, I’m broke, [and I] definitely cannot pay the [new] fee…I know most… international students are from rich families…but I’m not. I don’t have any backup.”

The University told Honi that they had created a payment plan to help amend for their error.

“We have offered an extension until 1 January 2020 to make the outstanding payment as a lump sum or in installments, and with the option of a further extension, if required,” the spokesperson explained.

However, it is unclear whether all the affected students have been informed of these plans. None of the students Honi spoke to were aware of these arrangements.

The University provided no further clarification as to the nature of the “administrative error” responsible for the incident. The spokesperson claimed that USyd has “amended our processes to introduce checks to reduce the risk of this occurring in the future.”