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Coffs could lose doctors if a degree costs $200,000

COFFS Harbour, as a key training ground for health professionals, would be severely disadvantaged under the Federal Government's Higher Education Reforms, the Australian Medical Students' Association has said today.

There are concerns the amendments introduced by Education Minister Christopher Pyne will see the cost of medical degrees skyrocket to $200,000 increasing the maldistribution of doctors in regional areas.

Mr Pyne has urged the Senate to pass the reforms either this month or in March.

He said the government would consider a call from independent senator Nick Xenophon for a capped increase in fees to help boost university revenues.

"We will consider every suggestion by the crossbenchers because the fundamental core of this reform is the deregulation of universities," Mr Pyne said.

On a local level, the AMSA says the reforms would impact on medical students studying at the University of New South Wales' Clinical School, based in Coffs Harbour.

The television and radio advertising campaign rolled by the Abbott Government spruikes that: "Uni graduates can earn 75% more than school leavers and have more career opporunities" and stating "that's why the Australian Government will continue to pay around half your undergraduate degree and HECS covers the rest" so "you pay zero course fees up front."

Medical Student's Association president James Lawler said the fee deregulation would translate into inequitable access to tertiary education creating a ripple effect that will impact on primary healthcare in regional centres.

"It is important for the Government to recognise the Higher Education Reforms will affect more than just students - there are detrimental follow-on effects for rural populations who already suffer from medical practitioner shortages," Mr Lawler said.

A study released by the University of Queensland Rural Clinical School last month found medical students with a rural background were more likely to practise in regional and remote areas.

"Estimates indicate that a four-year medical degree will go from costing a student $40,954 to between $149, 000 - $227,000," Mr Lawler said.

"This will drastically limit our ability to recruit students from remote and regional backgrounds.

With the criticism over HECS fees, AMSA also praised the Federal Government for its comittment to investing in rural health workforce.

The student's association called on the government to abandon this legislations or modify it to mandate a carp on student contributions to medical education.

Originally published in the Coffs Coast Advocate on 5 February 2015. Read article online here.