Rockliff seeks university help

STATE Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff is pushing for a special deal for the University of Tasmania to limit the damage of the Commonwealth's higher education reforms.

Mr Rockliff has requested an urgent meeting with his federal counterpart to discuss the predicament of the university, which is facing a $30 million loss in annual funding from the Commonwealth.

``I put to you that Tasmania is in a unique situation and therefore the University of Tasmania requires a specific solution,'' Mr Rockliff wrote in a letter to federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne. 

The university is considering all options to deal with the massive hit, including course fee hikes, cutting courses or research and even closing campuses. 

Allowing universities to set their own course fees and the average 20 per cent reduction in the Commonwealth's contribution could see UTAS course fees almost double.

Modelling conducted by the Greens, using a formula developed by the Grattan Institute's Andrew Norton, shows the annual cost to study nursing at the Launceston campus would jump from $18,120 to $36,000, while one year of an engineering degree would rise by $16,000 to add more than $50,000 to a student's debt. 

The Greens' modelling also showed it would take more than 20 years to pay off student debts for some courses.

Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said he was worried Tasmanians would be priced out of higher education. 

``Not only is it going to cost more to go to university each year, with the increase to interest on fees, the overall repayment over a lifetime will skyrocket,'' Senator Whish-Wilson said. 

``The thought that Tasmanians might turn away from the pursuit of a quality higher education is deeply disturbing.''

In Federal Parliament, Mr Pyne has played down the impact of the fee rises, arguing competition between institutions will limit fee increases and estimating the repayment of a HELP debt of $40,000 would only rise by an average of $5 a week.

 Vice-chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen also told students and staff in an email last week that he did not expect to make up the loss of Commonwealth funding by significantly raising fees due to the economic circumstances of the state.

The National Tertiary Education Union's Tasmanian branch has written to the vice-chancellor seeking more details about the university's response after a series of staff briefings this week did not ease the level of uncertainty.

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