The ‘costs’ of University

Amidst the Government debate over uncapping university fees and places, ACER, the Australian Council for Educational Research has released startling statistics that show that not only do we have a problem with ‘professional students’ amassing enormous debts, but “getting students to stay” is also a real problem.

ACER’s survey showed that 30% of undergraduates choose to leave their course before finishing it. Some of ACER’s most startling results show that:

  • 45% First-year Engineering students drop out
  • 29% of Beginning nursing students were considering dropping out
  • 57% of students studying Humanities give up after their first year as they think they are wasting their time.

Rest assured that Medical students appear to be the most content with their courses (only 17% were finding it too hard after the first year and less than 1% drop out). The issue is not the money, but an array of different psychological reasons such as “interests, aspiration and ennui” (according to Matchett), being bored or wanting a change of direction or study-life balance, not to mention a range of personal reasons and trouble with the workload. It appears that the students feel these personal ‘costs’ outweigh the benefits they are obtaining with through their studies and experiences at university. As these reasons are predominantly psychological, ACER states that one of the possible ways of improving the current predicament is to provide more support, particularly through the academic staff. Unfortunately an increase the support networks at university are only going to add to the ever increasing cost of tertiary studies (See Stephen Matchett’s blog “Uni loses appeal in first year”).

Speaking of the ‘costs of university’, you may wonder where it is that all of your hard earned money goes. A professor at ACU found that the universities contribute approximately $8000-$9000 of private and government funds to various teaching costs, and yet the cost to complete a course is actually around $30,000. Where is all of this additional funding going? The answer – Research. In Australia 28 of our 36 universities are classified as ‘research intensive’ because they are choosing to spend over 50% of their revenue on research. You have to wonder if it is fair for the universities to charge the government and students exorbitant fees claiming that it is contributing to their education, when it is actually going into the university’s research. Medical schools ranking and UMAT news related articles provide further insight.

Are university students in Australia really getting the most out of their dollars?