Australian universities may have the highest tuition fees in the world as students stand to pay more once they become deregulated. Keeping university fees down may be a higher tax burden for politicians in major parties, according to reports.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has conducted an international comparison of tuition fees. Its report revealed that Australian universities are ahead of the pack among the top 500 of the QS World University Ranking. With Australian fees averaging $7500 a year, only universities in the U.S., England, Japan and Ireland have higher education costs.
Reports said once fees have become deregulated, the NTEU said Australia will move further up the rankings with average fees possibly reaching $15,000. If this is true, only students in U.S. and England pay more for their education.
The NTEU clarified that many European countries like Scandinavia and Germany charge no fees while other countries have regulated fees to keep costs at $5300 a year.
Grattan Institute higher education expert Andrew Norton said countries with low tuition fees have high taxation. According to 2011 data, the Australian government had 26.5 per cent of GDP in tax. Compared with other countries, Germany has tax of 37 per cent, France with 44 per cent and Denmark with 47 per cent.
Norton, who is also a fee deregulation advocate, said there was no single right or wrong solution when it comes to funding higher education but unless taxes rise in Australia, students may feel the burden of higher fees.
According to Norton, the problem lies in Australia not having a bigger tax base to support the country's spending needs. He said higher fees in social services including higher education are not surprising.
According to a previous report from Universities Australia, more than two-thirds of the student population is worrying about their tuition fees and other finances. The current figure is a big leap coming from just half of university students reportedly under financial stress in 2006.
Based on the longitudinal study of student finances, two-thirds of college undergrads earn less than $20,000 a year while 21 per cent earn less than $10,000. Despite the small income, their average annual expenditure is $37,020. College student spending rose as housing, food and utility costs also increased.
The study also revealed almost one in five students couldn't afford to buy food and other basic necessities due to financial hardship. Money for textbooks is the most difficult to acquire as students don't know where to fit it in their meager budget. About 11,700 college students participated in the survey of Universities Australia.