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24 Jun 2014

Medical students face graduating with debts of more than a quarter of a million dollars under the Federal Government’s decision to deregulate university fees and reduce support for course places, undermining the attractiveness of specialities like general practice and exacerbating doctors shortages in rural and regional areas, the AMA has warned.

In a forthright letter to Education Minister Christopher Pyne, AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler has cautioned that the changes were likely to lead to much higher medical course fees, encouraging aspiring doctors to select specialties and work locations that are better paid, and discouraging many students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from entering medicine.

Under the Government’s changes, university fees will be deregulated from 2016, the Commonwealth’s contribution to course costs will be cut by an average of 20 per cent, and interest on student loans will be raised from the current CPI level to the 10-year Treasury bond rate (with a maximum annual rate of 6 per cent). Universities will be blocked from charging domestic students any more than they do international students.

A/Professor Owler said that, given the strong demand for medical school places, it was reasonable to expect domestic students will be asked to pay the same course fees as international students, offset to a reduced extent by the Commonwealth’s course contribution.

“This would leave a medical student with a debt of over $259,000 plus interest once they have completed both the significant effort that has been made by the Commonwealth to expand doctor numbers, as well as attract graduates to work in underserviced communities and specialties.”

In addition, the AMA President expressed concern about the future composition of the medical workforce under the Government’s fee changes.

He said one of the strengths of Australia’s medical education system was the selection of students from diverse backgrounds, given that entry to medical school was based on merit rather than financial capacity.

There was good evidence, A/Professor Brian Owler said, that the prospect of high fees and substantial debt deterred people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from entering university.

“If we are to deliver a medical workforce that meets community needs, it is important that we strike the right balance in who is selected for medicine so as to ensure that people from different backgrounds are well represented,” he said.

The AMA has asked for a meeting with Mr Pyne to discuss its concerns and work on ways to avoid perverse outcomes from the deregulation of fees.

Adrian Rollins


Published: 24 Jun 2014