Go8 rejects Birmingham’s flagship course deregulation
Jul 27, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
Australia’s leading universities have rejected a Government plan to charge higher fees for flagship courses.
The deregulation is part of a suite of savings measures proposed in the Government’s post-budget discussion paper on university reform.
It would give universities the freedom to set their own fees for a limited number of prestigious and heavily-subscribed courses.
But Australia’s top-ranked Group of Eight universities (Go8), which stand to benefit most from the move, claim it will create a "significant layer of complexity" while failing to solve the sector’s funding issues.
The Go8 is backed by the Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN), which argues lifting fee caps for flagship courses could “devalue existing degrees and create a two-tiered university system”.
The Regional Universities Network says the move may benefit elite universities but holds “little value” for the rest.
An explosion in student numbers triggered by Julia Gillard’s introduction of a demand-driven university system in 2012 has left the Government struggling to contain spending within the sector.
In May’s budget, education minister Simon Birmingham announced the abandonment of controversial Abbott government plans to slash direct funding and allow all universities to set their own course fees - a proposal the Go8 initially supported and then backed away from.
In a submission prompted by the release of the latest discussion paper, the Go8 has tabled its opposition to the new deregulation plan.
“There is a risk that such a proposal could distort incentives for universities and entrench a two-tiered system of university education between flagship courses and others - both between and within universities," it says.
The Government now faces blanket opposition among vice-chancellors, with even those universities due to benefit most arguing that the plan seems to offer no encouragement for disadvantaged and regional students to sign up for courses.
The ATN has instead proposed linking fee and enrolment increases to performance targets, so universities with strong competition and high graduate employment rates would have the right to charge more for courses and enrol more students.
Senator Birmingham has flagged a 20 per cent cut in direct funding as part of the discussion paper proposals, which also include recovering HECS payments from deceased estates, lowering student loan repayment thresholds and cutting back on recreational degrees.
The senate twice blocked Abbott’s attempts at university reform, indicating Senator Birmingham will need cross-bench support to push through any changes to higher education.