Changes to University Fees: Setting Our Universities Free


WORDS | Kristina Cavanna

Last year, in an attempt to “free” higher education institutions, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced plans to cut red tape and deregulate universities. He claims that the extensive reporting requirements set by past Governments have lead to duplication and inefficiency in the university system.

However commentators have argued that this move could compromise higher education quality standards. They question how the government will be able to achieve a fair balance between maximising quality and transparency, whilst minimising red tape burden. Pyne rejects these concerns, claiming that softer regulation by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) will ensure that quality is maintained. Many prominent education figures have agreed.

In an interview with The Australian, the University of NSW’s Vice-Chancellor Fred Hilmer went as far to say that red-tape “should not be a binding threshold standard but a guiding reference point…” Red-tape regulation, it is believed, can lead to waste in the allocation of university resources, diverting funds away from the core business of universities – teaching, scholarship and research. Pyne statesd in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that by reducing regulation, education providers will have “more autonomy and… [will be able to] map out their futures according to their strengths”.

However, Warren Bebbington, University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor, noted in The Australian that although there will be a “wider range of choice and price…. that won’t help our position in international rankings which are based on research performance, not teaching.” Indeed, TEQSA Chief Regulator, Carol Nicoll, warns of the consequences of “light touch” regulation commenting in The Australian that, “it may signal overseas, particularly in Asia, that Australia is not regulating higher education.”