Australia universities 'must set their own fees'

Students protest against university fees in Melbourne. 12 Sept Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Changes to university funding have sparked protests by students

Australia's leading university has urged the Senate to pass government proposals that would allow institutions to set their own fees.

Prof Ian Young of the Australian National University said that without the changes, universities would have to rely on fees from foreign students.

"This is a landmark time for Australian education," said Prof Young, the ANU's vice chancellor.

The legislation is set for debate in the Senate on Wednesday.

"I am calling on the senate to pass this legislation," Prof Young told reporters in Canberra.

With Labor and the Greens opposed to the reforms, the government might have to delay or even dump some of the most unpopular parts of its higher education package.

In its May budget, the government said it would deregulate university fees, apply a real interest rate to student debts for the first time, cut university course funding by 20% and extend funding to private colleges.

The changes are the most radical reforms to higher education policy since the introduction of the Higher Education Loan Programme repayment scheme 25 years ago.

'Worst-case scenario'

The government will have to rely on support from Palmer United Party (PUP) senators and a number of independent senators.

PUP leader Clive Palmer has said he does not want fees to be deregulated.

"It's bye-bye for the education retrospective refit that they're trying to do," he told ABC Radio.

Prof Young said he had not been able to secure a meeting with Mr Palmer but had spoken to some of his staff.

"They have always listened very politely to the views we have put forward. I have not been able to get a clear reading of their views," he said.

Prof Young said the worst-case scenario was that course funding would still be cut by 20% but university fees would not be deregulated.

He said that would be bad for Australia, bad for universities and very bad for students.

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