Opposition steps in with pledge as fees hit A$237K

Australia's opposition Labor Party says it will bar universities from charging home students full tuition fees if it wins next year's federal election.

The pledge coincides with the disclosure that students who pay the full cost of tuition for certain degrees will face fees of up to A$237,000 (£95,000) next year.

This promises to be a key election issue. Labor will point to a promise by Prime Minister John Howard in 1999 that there would be "no A$100,000 degrees under this Government". When Mr Howard announced that universities would be able to offer full-fee places to Australian undergraduates, he said a loans scheme would be established.

But the loan limit is capped at A$100,000 for a medical degree, which will meet only half the charge imposed by some universities. The limit was lifted in this year's budget from A$50,000 to A$80,000 for other disciplines.

Julie Bishop, the federal education minister, accused Labor of class warfare and said the ban would "rip more than A$500 million" from their incomes over the next four years.

In 2007, more than 90 Australian degree courses will have fees of A$100,000 or more, and five will cost more than A$200,000, according to the Australian Good Universities Guide .

Jenny Macklin, Labor's education spokeswoman, said the figures in the guide revealed that some degrees would cost more than an average house mortgage.

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