Wollongong opponents of higher education reforms have responded with suspicion to the government’s partial backdown on some of its most controversial proposals.
Fairfax Media revealed on Friday the government was prepared to reduce its cuts to course funding from 20 per cent to 12-15 per cent, in order to secure crucial cross-bencher support to allow universities to set their own fees.
The government also pledged to delay by three years the eligibility of private colleges for Commonwealth funding; fund a structural adjustment package to help universities transition to a free-market system; and abandon plans to charge students real interest on their university debts.
John Passant, of protest group UOW Uncut, said the concessions were a temporary measure designed to persuade undecided senators.
‘‘This is a strategic retreat - one step back to enable to war to continue,’’ Mr Passant said.
‘‘The real game is fee deregulation. The moment they get that up, then over time they can increase the funding cuts and start to think again about real interest rates.’’
UOW Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings declined to comment on the development.
The government announced its sweeping reforms - including that it would deregulate university fees - in the May budget.
National Tertiary Education Union branch committee member Alexander Brown welcomed the government’s move away from the plan to peg student debts to the 10-year government bond rate, but remained critical of the reforms.
‘‘It’s good to see Christopher Pyne is starting to back down, but he’s still talking about fee deregulation and that is the key problem with these reforms,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m hopeful [the reforms] won’t go through.’’
Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association president Mitchell Bresser welcomed the government’s backward step, but not its continuing commitment to deregulation.