How much would you pay to become a doctor?
Following the release of the Federal Budget, a big question high school students around the country are asking is, “how much would you pay to study medicine?”
Currently, the student contribution to medical education costs are capped at $9792 a year. This amount means medical graduates are left with a manageable HECS debt on completion of their degree.
But this picture is set to change.
In its Budget, the Government announced it would cut its contribution to course fees by 20 per cent, while the interest rate on student loans would go up. Furthermore, tertiary education fees are to be deregulated.
If market forces are applied, universities will be able to set their own prices. For courses such as medicine, high demand and the low supply of places will mean that course fees have the potential to skyrocket. The Grattan Institute estimates that medicine course fees could rise by as much as 270 per cent, pushing the annual cost to $37,000 and putting the total bill for a medical degree at $180,000.
In 2008, the Australian Government placed a legislative ban on undergraduate full-fee domestic places. Postgraduate courses, such as at the University of Melbourne, were exempt from this ban. It is already the experience of medical students that the admission thresholds of postgraduate full-fee places are lower than that of equivalent Commonwealth Supported Places, due to financial barriers to access.
Medical school entrance should be a meritocracy, not a socioeconomic hierarchy.
For many high school students, a potential $180,000 debt may lead them to question medicine as a career option.
If they do manage to find or borrow the money, the outlay and debt may significantly affect their future choices. There are already stories of parents mortgaging homes to fund their children’s medical education. Students struggle financially though medical school already. Long contact hours and huge workloads mean it is very difficult to maintain part-time employment while studying medicine. Combine this with inadequate income support programs, and the result for many is life below the Henderson poverty line.
Pushing up the cost of a medical degree could also exacerbate imbalances in the medical workforce.
The potential for heavy course debts to influence specialty choices is concerning. Studies have shown that increased debts from medical school influences graduates to favour higher paid specialty pathways, and away from fields where there may be greater community need.
Beyond the inequity, this political move may lead to a sacrifice in the quality of medical school admissions.
The 2008 Bradley Review of Education found that rural, remote, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, as well as students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, already face significant barriers to tertiary education.
If we want a representative workforce, we need to work to remove such obstacles to access.
Following the Review, the-then Government committed to the goal that 45 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 years would hold a bachelor’s degree or higher by the year 2025. The changes in this Budget are likely to significantly hamper efforts to reach this goal.
For many current doctors, medical education was heavily subsidised or even free. I wonder if, had you had your time again, what would have been your debt threshold? How much would be too much?
For more information, please see AMSA’s Official Policy homepage at: https://www.amsa.org.au/advocacy/official-policy/
Jessica Dean is the President of the Australian Medical Students' Association. Jessica is a 6th year Medicine/Law student at Monash University. She is currently completing an Honours Project in Bioethics at The Alfred. Follow on Twitter @AMSAPresident or @yourAMSA