Wollongong student association defends university fee caps

The Wollongong Undergraduate Students' Association has hit back at a proposal to scrap caps on course fees, saying this would lead to "collusion" among universities and a poorer deal for students who chose less prestigious degrees.

Australia's Group of Eight universities is leading a push towards "removing arbitrary limits on fees", with group chair Ian Young this week calling for deregulation as a way to boost quality at Australian universities and bring them within competing distance of world-renowned institutions like Harvard and Stanford.

But Wollongong Undergraduate Students' Association president Mitchell Bresser said lifting caps would have a negative impact on many students.

"I'd imagine there would only be a small number of courses where competition would be created [by lifting caps]," Mr Bresser said.

"Universities that want to seem prestigious will only care about courses that are seen to be prestigious.

"I think you'd probably see a lot of colluding, and less of a variation in the courses [on offer]."

Under existing regulation, equivalent degrees are priced identically across Australia's universities.

Mr Bresser said the Group of Eight proposal was based on an "elitist" ideal, which could raise financial hurdles for students in courses such as nursing.

"A course like nursing is an expensive course for the university to run - they use a lot of resources and materials, and students have to practise on expensive dummies and use test equipment.

"But the benefits of nursing to the wider community are massive, so HECS is kept low, because a nurse's salary is not very high.

"If a university was allowed to uncap fees and charge what it actually costs them to run those courses, then you'd see fees for things like nursing, science and engineering degrees increase dramatically, and it would be a very large deterrent for people to enter into those courses."

Group of Eight chair Mr Young, who is also Vice-Chancellor of ANU, said deregulating fees would allow universities to reduce class sizes and offer highly specialised degrees.

In a written statement, University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings did not indicate his stance on the issue.

"Deregulation of university fees is one of a very large number of ideas proposed to the Kemp/Norton review (of the demand-driven system for higher education), and the government may decide to establish a review of funding at a later date," he said.


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