Australia’s opposition Labor party has called for alternatives to fee deregulation, criticising “nine months of silence” from the government on its tuition fee plans.
The Australian government shelved its plans to deregulate fees and let universities set their own fees in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull took over leadership of the Liberal Party and the country from Tony Abbott.
However, a 20 per cent cut in university funding that would have been plugged by higher fees remains in the government’s budget plans.
Plans to deregulate fees on “flagship” courses were then floated in a discussion paper prior to the 2016 election, when the Liberal-National coalition was returned to government.
Tanya Plibersek, Labor’s shadow minister for education, told The Australian that since then “there has been nine months of silence from the government with no information about what to expect next".
“Universities have one-year funding agreements. A panel has been appointed to help the government review the 1,200 submissions to their options paper with no indication that the panel will produce a discussion paper or advise the minister.
“It’s quite extraordinary to have a panel and then have no public report about their deliberations.”
Simon Birmingham announced the shelving of deregulation after taking over as education minister from Christopher Pyne, who had led on the plans to raise fees.
Ms Plibersek said the former “was brought in deliberately by the government to calm things down after Christopher Pyne made such a hash of it".
“But he is working in a system where he has been told what his funding bucket is and what savings he needs to achieve.
“It’s pretty hard for him to do anything better than what Christopher Pyne was proposing.”
Ms Plibersek said that one risk was that universities will “continue to over-enrol in cheap-to-teach courses to make up for funding cuts”, particularly to fund research.
“There needs to be a secure and identifiable source of support for research that doesn’t force universities to accept things like deregulation,” she added.