Australia’s elite universities opposed to compromise on Higher Ed de-regulation bill

Thursday, 2 April, 2015

Australia’s ‘Group of 8’ (Go8) consortium of universities has announced that it is opposed to any ‘watering down’ of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014 to allow it to be passed into law.

The legislation – which would allow universities to set their own course tuition fees without caps (as per the United States’ user-pays system, but with HECS and government subsidies remaining) – has been voted down twice in the federal senate since it was introduced last year.

In a press release the Go8 stated: “The Go8 is concerned that a number of other proposals being floated as solutions do not tackle the core issue of long-term funding satisfactorily.”

“For the past three years, the Go8 has consistently stated that the current funding model for Australian Universities is “broken”.

“It is for this reason that we have just as consistently supported the proposal for the deregulation of higher education fees as the only long term sustainable solution on offer.”

However, the Go8 appears reluctant to further amend the existing legislation, instead proposing an alternative ‘de-politicised’ process for reviewing current funding arrangements.

Under the current model, research is cross-subsidised by tuition fees from coursework students.

Support from universities has been crucial to the federal government’s efforts to get the legislation passed through parliament.

Labor and the Greens, along with key senate crossbenchers, are opposed to the proposal to de-regulate the sector.

UMSU Education Public Affairs officer Conor Serong agrees that the tertiary education system needs funding reform, but argues that de-regulation is the wrong approach.

“There is undoubtedly a funding crisis for universities, and this is something we implore the government to address without the implementation of a deregulated university system.”

“UMSU have been vocal advocates for greater base funding to universities from the Government for some time … it is the role of government to prioritise this funding, as education is overwhelmingly a public good, and the financial and broader social benefits of education are many and varied.”

The Group of 8 represents Australia’s eight ‘elite’ universities, including the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, and other sandstone universities around Australia.

Universities Australia – a consortium of all Australian universities, has also previously supported de-regulation.

However, Conor Serong argues that any benefits of de-regulation are likely to be unequally distributed, with less prestigious universities competing on uneven terms with Go8 institutions, and women and students from lower-socio-economic backgrounds most likely to be disadvantaged by fee increases.