ANU leader urges senators to enable fee deregulation

Vice-Chancellor of the ANU Ian Young told the Press Club Senators should support fee deregulation, but not interest on HECS. AAP

ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young has urged the Senate to pass fee deregulation, proposed in May’s budget, but stopped short of supporting the government’s plans to impose an interest rate on HECS.

In a speech at the Press Club in Canberra today, Young, who is also Chair of the Group of Eight, said Australia had no outstanding universities and in order to be brilliant, universities needed freedom from government.

Young said the outcome of fee deregulation being blocked in the Senate would be “a great tragedy” for the nation, for universities, and for future generations, leaving universities with “no reform, harsh funding cuts and the likelihood of ever-declining funding for research and education”.

“That outcome would mean ever bigger universities, ever bigger classes, more casual staff, less internationally important research.

"It will mean decay of our system and the potential loss of one of our most successful export industries – international students,” he said

However, he conceded that deregulation was not the “whole answer,” and students couldn’t carry the full burden of the cost of their tuition.

He came out against the government’s plans to impose an interest rate on HECS, saying the impact of this measure needed to be reconsidered.

Young said when the changes to university were scrutinised in the Senate in the coming months, some “sensible compromises” needed to be reached.

Up for consideration, he said, should be “what magnitude of funding cuts is sustainable for universities in a constrained public budget,” and what options are available that would maintain the “brilliance” of the HECS scheme.

He said while many were worried fee deregulation would put higher education out of reach for all but the wealthiest, we must remember “we have HECS. The US does not”.

Young said the present lack of diversity in higher education had evolved because while governments and taxpayers wanted everyone who wants a tertiary degree to have access, they don’t want to fund it to be “anything more than good”.

“If Australia was a student, our report card for education and research would be a ‘B minus - can do better’,” he said

“The one constant in Australian higher education over the past 20 years is that the per student funding has decreased in real terms – a 14% decline since 1996.

"Deregulation will enable universities to differentiate. To play to their strengths,” he said.

Read the full speech here.

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