Coalition accuses Greens of scaremongering over university fee website

Prospective university students have been urged not to be deterred from taking a university place by  predictions about the cost of a degree under a deregulated system contained in a popular website.

The government has accused the creators of the website - the Greens - of scaremongering and the higher education analyst whose figures form the basis of the website's calculations says the website is more about politics than education choices.

Over 400,000 people have used the website, 'What will my degree cost?', since it was launched on Wednesday afternoon. The website was so popular it crashed shortly after going live.

The website estimates an arts degree will cost $46,000, up from $18,000 currently, and will take 32 years to pay off rather than 17 years now.

The website's calculations are based on international student fees compiled by Andrew Norton, a higher education policy analyst at the Grattan Institute, but he is not a fan of the website.

Mr Norton said the fees are the "upper limit of what is plausible for domestic students".

He said anyone thinking about going to university should still do so.

"People should not make decisions about university based on the figures of the website – fees are likely to be much lower than the website estimates and there will be a lot of differentiation across the market," he said.

"I would advise anyone against paying $46,000 for an arts degree."

Mr Norton said some elite universities could charge fees similar to that estimated on the website but he expects fees at most universities would be far cheaper.

He said students should wait until universities release fee schedules for 2016, when fee deregulation is proposed to be introduced, before making any decisions.

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the website was "terminally flawed".

"In a deregulated environment all higher education providers will have to compete for students," he said.

"They will need to carefully consider the price point for their courses and what they offer, because students will have more power than ever to pick and choose the course that is right for them."

Earlier this week Mr Pyne released modelling showing typical university graduates would pay just $3 to $5 a week extra in loan repayments.

Mr Pyne's modelling estimated a $67,848 starting salary – higher than the Greens' $44,000 for an arts graduate - and salary increases of 10 per cent for three years.

Mr Pyne's spokesman queried the Greens' estimated annual pay rise of two per cent after inflation, saying this was too low.

Greens higher education spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said the website's estimates were realistic and called on the government to release its own detailed modelling.

"We have been transparent about our methodology and assumptions - which is more than can be said for Mr Pyne," she said. "We welcome feedback and challenges to those assumptions. Our calculator has been designed to give everyone the opportunity to adjust variables, including their own estimation of student fees, to determine the impact of the Coalition's proposed changes.

"This information should be being provided by the government - not left up to Universities Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union, academics and the Greens to explain."

Modelling released by Universities Australia this week found an engineering graduate working full time could "reasonably expect" to accumulate a debt of up to $119,000 under a deregulated system, which could take 26 years to pay off.

This compares to a debt of $49,000 now.

This story Coalition accuses Greens of scaremongering over university fee website first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.