Proposals by the Group of Eight universities in Australia to reintroduce student number controls have been described by other vice-chancellors as “cancerous”, “selfish” and “crapulous”.
The group of prestigious research institutions has released a paper calling for a “moderation” of the demand-driven system that allows universities to enrol as many students as they want, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The Group of Eight’s move follows the thwarting of its hopes that the government would lift the cap on tuition fees – and is driven by concerns over pressure on the higher education system from the uncapping of places in 2012.
The proposal to reintroduce caps was rejected by Simon Birmingham, the education minister.
But the Group of Eight’s position will be viewed with interest in England, where student number controls were abolished in 2015. While the UK government has trumpeted the policy as aiding social mobility, it has been criticised by the Russell Group, the UK equivalent of the Group of Eight.
Michael Spence, Group of Eight chair and University of Sydney vice-chancellor, told The Sydney Morning Herald: “Simply enrolling more students in underfunded places is not in the best interests of the country.
“We are on track of meeting the goal of 40 per cent of young people with an undergraduate degree by 2025.
“It’s time to declare victory on university participation and focus on the core problems for university funding.”
But Mr Birmingham, rejecting the plan, said: “The alternative to the demand-driven system is to return to a world where Canberra bureaucracies decide what university places should be available and where.”
Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, said: “The Group of Eight has no interest in equity or opportunity for students – this is all about money.
“This is a group of profiteers who would do anything for their own self-interest.
“The politics of this are cancerous.”
Andrew Vann, Charles Sturt University’s vice-chancellor, was reported to have questioned the Group of Eight’s motives, noting that university enrolments appear to be stabilising after an initial steep rise following the removal of numbers caps.
“This is a selfish idea, because they have been naked about the fact they want to shift the money into research,” he said.
The Australian reported that Professor Craven had also said he was publicly revoking his support for university fee deregulation – the position backed by the Group of Eight – in response, and had described the research-intensive group’s position as “crapulous” and “sheer greed”.
Speaking to Times Higher Education last month, Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, one of the Group of Eight, said that “in the last five years the further growth in the sector has left government unsure how to pay for it and looking to push more of the cost on to students, but not sure how best to do that”.