The Federal Government’s controversial fee deregulation proposal has been defeated by the Senate for a second time, significantly altering the balance of the Australian higher education debate.
The bill would have allowed universities to set their own fees.
“We’re definitely celebrating a year-long campaign against fee deregulation by students and the NUS,” said National Union of Students (NUS) President Rose Steele.
Proponents of the measure argued that the bill would have created more competition, increased education funding and quality, and created a fairer distribution of fees. Opponents argued that it would have led universities to dramatically hike their fees, making higher education unaffordable for many, or burdening them with debt.
“It’s a grossly unfair policy that places an unreasonable burden upon students, whilst allowing the government to deprioritise funding to sectors that are critical to society,” said UMSU Education (Public Affairs) Officer and deregulation opponent Conor Serong.
“The status quo is simply unsustainable, we need a strong improvement plan that includes expanding higher education to 80,000 people at the sub-bachelor level and new scholarships,” said Australian Liberal Students’ Federation spokesperson, University of Melbourne student and deregulation proponent Matthew Lesh.
The bill, backed by the Liberals and Nationals, also received the votes of right-leaning crossbench senators Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm and John Madigan, but was ultimately defeated 34 votes to 30. Labor and Greens senators, as well as senators Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus, Ricky Muir, Nick Xenophon and Zhenya Wang, voted against.
The future of the education debate is unclear.
“This is a great day for students – I wish we could say this is the last we’ve seen of deregulation, but we will continue to oppose this bill in every form,” said UMSU President Rachel Withers.
The NUS says it will focus on continuing to fight measures such as deregulation, as well as asking for a higher rate of base education funding and better income support for students.
Matthew Lesh said his movement will continue fighting for changes such as deregulation. “Rejecting necessary reform means dooming our vital higher education system,” said Lesh.