A future Labor government in Australia would create more than 40,000 new places for university students and boost spending on higher education by A$2.34 billion (£962 million), party leaders have promised.
Launching Labor's response to plans by the Conservative government of prime minister John Howard to reform the university sector, opposition leader Simon Crean said Labor would provide a secure tertiary education funding base that did not rely on A$100,000 degrees and driving students into massive debt.
Mr Crean said that under the Howard government, talented Australians were being turned away from post-school education because there were not enough funded places. Students with low marks could buy their way in to university if they could afford fees as high as A$150,000, he said.
"Our university system is in crisis because of the Howard government's attacks, (and its) simplistic response is to force students and their families to pay more."
Under Labor proposals, there would be no rise in charges imposed through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, no deregulation of Hecs fees and no introduction of a real rate of interest on loans for postgraduate courses as proposed by the government.
Federal education minister Brendan Nelson said Labor's policy would deny universities the flexibility to vary Hecs fees within a set range and would prevent students willing to support themselves from taking a full-fee place.
Mr Crean said Labor would meet the costs of its programme by redirecting the Howard government's A$1.5 billion package of reforms and abolishing tax breaks for foreign executives.