Words by Kristina Cavanna
The debate over deregulation continues, with the Federal Government announcing that proposed reforms will “for the first time, enable competition amongst Australian universities based on quality and innovation…”
Australian National University spokesman and supporter of deregulation, Ian Young recently addressed the National Press Club of Australia, outlining the potential gains deregulation could have for students. “Deregulation may generate diversity,” he said. “It will allow universities to differentiate, to play to their strengths…deregulation should provide students with a real choice.”
Southern Cross University Vice-Chancellor, Peter Lee agrees, believing that the deregulation reforms will also play a critical role in making universities look closely at the quality of their courses and teaching.
However, the deregulation debate was turned upside down in late July, with leading education economist Bruce Chapman declaring that, under the governments new funding plans, poor graduates would be paying up to 30% more for their degrees.
Indeed, the new funding models for universities have left many concerned that deregulation will be adversely affected, and in turn will adversely affect students. Lee, who is also the Chair for the Regional Universities Networks, is one with such concerns, having already identified potential problems for regional universities and students. And whilst the Government has made assurances to regional universities that they will “flourish”, Lee notes that his “unease lies in the sub-text of why we will flourish.”
“Because we will charge less than sandstone, metropolitan universities,” he says. Lee fears that regional universities, under this new model, will be seen as to “offer a cheaper product that soaks up those who cannot access or afford a more ‘upmarket’ experience…
University of Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis agree, urging the Government to “reconsider deep cuts caused by the change in funding clusters…”
Young echoed these concerns, emphasising that “academic ability and not financial background should be the only barrier to university entry…” “We want to achieve diversity in education and fees,” he said. “Which are not complicated by harsh funding that produces competition that is based solely on price.”