Wednesday 4 November 2009

How much will going back to uni cost me?

While I'm waiting to find out if I'll even be offered a place in the JCU Master of Astronomy course for next year, I tried to work out how much I should budget for the course costs. The MoA consists of 6 subjects each worth 0.25 "EFTSL" (equivalent full-time study load). You can either do the course in 1.5 years full-time, or 3 years part-time (either way the course is delivered via the Internet as "Distant Education"). The course has "some" commonwealth-funded places available, but I couldn't find out how many funded places are available, or how many students were enrolled in the MoA in 2009. If I have to enrol as a fee-paying student it will cost $2,500 per subject, but I think there is a chance that I'll end up only having to pay the government-subsidised HECS-HELP rate of fees. The subjects for this course are offered by the JCU school of Engineering and Science, and for HECS purposes the subjects appear to be classified in the "engineering" band (2), which determines how much the government pays JCU (and the maximum fee the uni can charge the students). This is based on the course cost being quoted as $11,350 by JCU, which corresponds to the Band 2 maximum fee rate. I guess the MoA subjects have been classified by JCU as engineering rather than as science so JCU can get a higher payment per subject from the federal government. From my point of view it would be better if the subjects were deemed to be "science", as that is one of the current "national priority" categories where the commonwealth subsidy is higher (and hence the student fee is lower).

I'll be choosing to pay any HECS-HELP fees "up front" as my "repayment income" would be so high that the full amount would fall due with each tax return anyhow. By paying "up front" I'll get a 20% discount on the HECS-HELP fee amount, so the total cost for the MoA course (based on 2010 HECS-HELP fee rates) will be $9,080 (plus textbooks etc.), rather than the $15,000 as a fee-paying student. If I get a HECS placement the commonwealth government will pay $22,734 in subsidy to JCU (I'm not sure if the 20% "up front" HECS-HELP discount is also paid by the government to JCU). Overall, it looks like I'd end up paying around 26.6% of the "full cost" ($34,084) of the MoA course if I get offered a HECS-HELP place.

Based on the $2,500 "full fee" rate per subject, it would appear that JCU makes a "profit" of at least $19,000 for every HECS-HELP place (ie. the $22,734 amount of government HECS contribution to JCU plus the student's HECS fee payments, minus the $15,000 of notional "full fee" payments). I assume that the $2,500 per subject charged to domestic fee-paying students is more than the actual cost of delivery for each subject. With the course being delivery via the Internet, the incremental cost to JCU for each student must be fairly low (just the cost of some admin overheads, plus marking of the exam and assignment work).

Doing the MoA will consume 1.5 of my remaining HECS-HELP SLE (Student Learning Entitlement). Fortunately the uni study I had done prior to 2005 didn't affect my initial standard entitlement to 7 years worth of full-time study assistance. To date my SLE balance has only been reduced by 0.625 for the subjects I attempted for the GradDipEd course I dropped last year, so I currently have 6.375 SLE remaining. In additional, it appears that if you're over 27 years old there will be an extra 0.25 SLE added each years from 2012 onwards, aimed at encouraging "lifelong study".

Aside from HECS fees, the MoA will probably cost me another $1,000 or so for textbooks, and a small amount for miscellaneous items. There may also be unexpected costs for software (eg. Hearne's "Origin" app for data analysis and graphing would be nice, but it's not worth the $1,000 cost) and there will probably also be some additional expenses associated with the literature review and research subjects.

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