E & O E
CHRIS UHLMANN: The peak body for Australia’s universities is calling on the Federal Government to delay the deregulation of course fees announced in last week’s budget.
Universities Australia favours full fee deregulation but says there’s not enough time to introduce the complex changes before next year as planned.
Its chairwoman professor Sandra Harding spoke to AM’s Samantha Donovan.
SANDRA HARDING: Well while the new system takes effect ostensibly from the 1st of January 2016, the decision was made that really there’s a 14 May 2014 start date.
So students enrolling from last week, effectively, to start their studies in the middle of the year can be subject to fee hikes from January 2016. And that means that universities now need to take implementation seriously at this moment because we need to be able to advise students about what it is they’re going to be facing come January 2016.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: And are you in a position to do that; to advise students what the full fee picture may be?
SANDRA HARDING: Well that’s another issue. The challenge right now is that universities therefore are being asked to set fees in an unprecedented market environment. We just are not in a position to do that with any good sense.
So there are couple of options. Universities might choose to match their domestic student fees with international student fees. That’s the only undergraduate market at scale that we have experience of.
Or alternatively we have to have a stab and make a decision about what we think the market might bear. Now the market, as you can appreciate, is going to have new players in it. There are new offerings. There are new conditions around debt repayment, new scholarship opportunities.
There are so many moving parts here, it’s going to be really a matter of some good fortune rather than good management if anyone lands precisely on the right market decision for their university.
All universities will be having to figure out what their market position is and what fees they can and should charge to take account of the cut in the Government contribution for student fees, but then also to express what it is the university itself wishes to be and the place it wishes to fill in the firmament of higher education.
And for us to try and do that and give students entering from the middle of this year information about what they’re going, what lies ahead for them in 2016, we just can’t do that in six weeks.
This is a major change to higher education in Australia and what we need to do is make sure we get the design right. We shouldn’t be rushing it.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: What response then have you had to these concerns from the Federal Government?
SANDRA HARDING: Look, I think the Federal Government is listening hard at the moment. Clearly there’s a lot of noise and excitement out there in the community about these changes.
I think the sense is that if we are going to make a major change to higher education in Australia – and this is major change, be in no doubt about it. This is a radical change in the true meaning of that word. We’re going a place we have never been before. If we’re going to do that, we need to take the time to get this right in everyone’s interests.
CHRIS UHLMANN: The chairwoman of Universities Australia, professor Sandra Harding, speaking with Samantha Donovan.