REFORMS to the higher education sector will make some fields of study inaccessible to prospective students, a La Trobe University Bendigo academic says.
Senior lecturer in history Dr Ruth Ford said plans to increase the cost of humanities subjects by 113 per cent would restrict students' choices and options - particularly those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
La Trobe University expressed concerns when the reforms were announced on Friday, but said it was too early to say more about the impact they might have on the Bendigo campus.
Announcing the reforms, the federal government said it was incentivising students to make more job-relevant decisions about their education.
Studies in humanities, law and commerce would become more expensive for pupils starting studies from 2021.
Costs would be reduced for courses in teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, English and languages, agriculture, maths, health, architecture, environmental science, IT and engineering.
Education minister Dan Tehan told the National Press Club the changes would apply at a unit level.
"This means that students studying arts can still reduce their total student contribution by choosing electives in subjects like mathematics, English, science and IT within their degree," he said.
La Trobe University Bendigo student Natasha Joyce said increasing the costs associated with studying humanities could be a disincentive for prospective students, regardless of initial fee help schemes.
"I know all of my colleagues also studying at the moment, one of the things they look at is the cost because they want to know how much debt they're going to be lumped with down the track," she said.
"Because interest is applied, and that's quite often what's not considered.
"I looked at that when I was doing a degree... so it will be in the future for other students."
Ms Joyce said the choices she made about where and when she was going to study made it possible for her to become the first person in her family to complete a degree, let alone do honours and attempt a PhD.
She came from a low socio-economic background.
Dr Ford said a high proportion of the students she taught at regional campuses such as Bendigo and Shepparton were from low socio-economic backgrounds.
"All the research shows arts graduates have got equal employment outcomes to students in other disciplines, including science and technology, and arts graduates go into a really wide range of professions," she said.
She said the message the government was sending with its reforms did not reflect the research.
Dr Ford said arts degree graduates often went on to complete postgraduate studies.
"So if you want history teachers, having an arts degree is one way of them becoming a teacher," she said.
The areas of study the government was trying to draw students to were already in demand at La Trobe's Bendigo campus, according to Dr Ford.
"So it's not as if masses of students aren't going into those areas, but certainly this is cutting out options for students that are really interested and passionate about the humanities," she said.
She also questioned the timeframe of the changes, suggesting it might have been fairer on current VCE students to consider "at least a three-year timeframe".
"It feels like a real kick in the guts by the government," Dr Ford said.
"It's trying to cut down on the opportunities for students to have access to different information, to be able to learn to critically think, to question what past governments have done.
"I see it as an attack on history."
Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters called on the government to focus on the current crisis and increase funding to the sector.
"Save the jobs we currently have," Ms Chesters said.