Uni fee changes to hit law students; face possible challenge

The cost of becoming a lawyer is likely to dramatically increase under the Commonwealth budget’s deregulation of university fees. An advisor to the Abbott Government on higher education, Andrew Norton, predicts that fees will almost quadruple to equal the price charged to international students: “This would see annual fees for a law degree rise, on average, from $9792 a year to $37,831 a year.” While other estimates are lower, they nevertheless predict that “we can expect fees to rise more steeply in degrees with high private benefits and strong international demand, such as law”. The increased fees will mean law students are in debt for much longer: “The payback period for a four year professional degree such as Law will stretch from 14 years now to 20 to 25 years, depending on which university you choose.” Students will also be required to pay a higher rate of interest over the life of the debt. However, some of the plans might not be easily implemented. The government says the new interest arrangements will apply retrospectively to former students, but Monash law professor Justin Malbon questions whether that would be legal: “At its heart there’s an arguable case that it is a contract, and there’s an arguable case that taking into account the terms of the original legislation that they cannot later come along and unilaterally vary the contract to add in terms that never existed in the first place.”