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The Cost of an Australian university degree compared to the rest of the world

Posted 27 June 2014 by Paul Kniest (NTEU National Office)

Some of the more questions frequently asked about the impacts of Christopher Pyne’s proposed changes to higher education include what impact they are likely to have on the cost of getting an Australian university degree and how this will compare to the rest of the world.

While we do not know exactly how much the cost of university degree in Australia will increases as rest of the government allowing universities and other providers offering Commonwealth supported places to charge whatever price they think the market will bear.  The NTEU’s analysis of factors determining likely prices rises and what impact this will have on students is the subject of a fact sheet called  How much will a uni degree cost?

The purpose of this note however, is compare how much it costs to undertake an undergraduate university degree in Australia compared to the rest of the world.  In order to ensure that we are comparing universities of similar standing we have used data on university fees included in QS World University Ranking Top 500 for 2013.  The data presented in Figure 1 (also see Table 1) show both the average fee charged to undergraduate students by universities in the Top 500 in each country with at least 3 universities in the top 500.  It also shows range (top and bottom) of average fees charged by the different universities in each country.  

 

You will note that there are two entries for Australia, the first (Australia) of which relates to fee information included in the QS rankings (in order to ensure comparability across countries and consistent exchange rate conversions).  The second Australian entry (Australia*) is the NTEU estimate of the likely impacts of policy changes, where we have assumed the average cost will double and the range is based on the analysis presented in   How much will a uni degree cost?

There several issues worth noting from the data presented in Figure 1, including:

  1. Even under current regulated fees Australian university students pay amongst the highest fees in the world. 
  2. There are a large number of European countries where an undergraduate university education is free or regulated to kept to $US5,000 or less per annum. 
  3. With the exception of the USA, Japan and South Korea, there is very little variation in the fees charged, largely because in most the countries we compete against, and especially those in Europe university fees charged are regulated.

The data also clearly shows that the USA not only has the highest average fees, it is also the country with the greatest variation in fees between institutions.  As readers will be aware the USA has a large number and great variation in the types of higher education institutions varying from world leading universities such as Harvard and MIT to small community colleges.  Therefore in order to get a better understanding of the different types of institutions, the data presented in Figure 1 has data covering all US universities in the Top 500 as breaking that down between elite private universities and other universities (which included state universities including Chicago and UCLA for example).  As the data shows there is considerable variation with average fee charged by all universities being $22,100 a year; the average fee for elite private universities $39,600; and, other Top 500 universities being $13,400.    

Taking the NTEU estimates of what we consider is likely to happen to the average price and range of university fees charged by Australian universities in the Top 500 after fee deregulation (Australia*) note that it looks very similar to that of US universities excluding elite private universities.  

In summary it needs to be emphasised that Australian universities already charge amongst the highest university fees in the world.  Secondly, the likely increase in fees resulting from deregulation means that the level and range of fees charged by Australian universities will result in a system that looks more like American than anything in Europe or even Asia.   While it might be true that the US has some of the leading universities in the world, it is also true that American students have the highest debt in the world with the latest data indicating total debt now exceeds $US1trillion.

Table 1 Average university fees for QS top 500 universities by country   2012/13

Country

Average Tuition Fees Local Undergraduates $US

Number of Unis in QS Top 500

Highest

Lowest

Average

Austria

$0

$0

$0

5

Belgium

$0

$0

$0

7

Brazil

$0

$0

$0

5

Denmark

$0

$0

$0

5

Finland

$0

$0

$0

8

Germany

$0

$0

$0

39

Norway

$0

$0

$0

4

Saudi Arabia

$0

$0

$0

4

Sweden

$0

$0

$0

8

France

$0

$3,000

$200

22

India

$1,000

$0

$700

7

Portugal

$0

$1,000

$700

3

China

$1,000

$0

$800

19

Switzerland

$1,500

$0

$800

8

Indonesia

$1,000

$1,000

$1,000

3

Malaysia

$1,000

$1,000

$1,000

6

Taiwan

$5,000

$0

$1,000

11

Italy

$1,000

$5,000

$1,100

14

Spain

$3,000

$1,000

$1,100

14

Argentina

$5,000

$3,000

$2,700

5

South Africa

$5,000

$3,000

$2,700

3

Israel

$3,000

$3,000

$3,000

4

Netherlands

$3,000

$3,000

$3,000

13

Scotland

$3,000

$3,000

$3,000

5

Columbia

$8,000

$1,000

$3,300

5

New Zealand

$5,000

$3,000

$4,100

7

Hong Kong

$5,000

$5,000

$5,000

6

Northern Ireland

$5,000

$5,000

$5,000

3

South Korea

$12,000

$0

$5,200

13

Russia

$9,000

$3,000

$5,300

6

Canada

$7,000

$3,000

$5,500

20

Chile

$7,000

$5,000

$5,700

3

Australia

$5,000

$9,000

$7,100

25

Ireland

$9,000

$3,000

$7,300

7

Japan

$0

$17,000

$7,600

20

USA - (Ex Elite   Priv)

$41,000

$5,000

$13,400

67

Australia *

$6,500

$50,000

$14,200

25

England

$15,000

$15,000

$15,000

42

USA - Top 500

$59,000

$5,000

$22,100

100

USA  Elite Private

$59,000

$33,000

$39,600

33

* NTEU Estimates of   Post Budget Fees

     

Source: QS World University Rankings with tuition fee information  http://www.university-list.net/rank/univ-110066.html

       

Paul Kniest, Policy & Research Coordinator     

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