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Students Protest Against University's "Embarassing" Pro-Deregulation Stance

"We all know this proposal is full deregulation by stealth and that ultimately it burdens students with more debt."

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Flinders University students in South Australia have petitioned their vice chancellor to come out against the government's higher education proposal to create more expensive degrees, saying the university's support for partial fee deregulation is tarnishing its reputation.

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Vice chancellor Colin Stirling confirmed to students in a heated meeting last week that he is in favour of the government's proposal to allow universities to uncap fees and charge as much as they like for "flagship" degrees, in a move aimed to offset the government's planned $2.5 billion cut to the higher education sector.

The Flinders University Student Association tabled a petition with 395 signatures from campus staff and students calling on the vice chancellor to change the university's "embarrassing" stance on deregulation.

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The petition asks the university board to "come out against the proposal for flagship degrees and burdening students with further debt" and "oppose the 20% cut to higher education in the budget".

Malcolm Turnbull visited Flinders University during the election campaign to announce $43 million in funding for rail projects in South Australia, but failed to address the concerns of local students about the cost of courses after deregulation.

“The vice-chancellor of Flinders University has failed to stand up for students by refusing to oppose flagship degrees," student president Caleb Pattinson told BuzzFeed News.

"We all know this proposal is [full] deregulation by stealth and that ultimately it burdens students with more debt. Until recently, Flinders prided itself on being an institution dedicated to social justice and equity – in two short years Colin Stirling has tarnished that reputation."

Pattinson says this is the latest in a string of changes affecting the student body, including a proposal to cut students and staff from peak decision-making body, the University Council, and the sacking of hundreds of staff.

"Students at Flinders are embarrassed by the lack of action from the vice chancellor in failing to call out flagship degrees as an attack on students. Being one of only four universities around Australia to still be supportive of these measures hardly aligns with our ‘student centred ethos’."

Flinders University is a member of the Innovation Research Universities group, the only group to have voiced its support for deregulation.

Flinders University / Via Facebook: FlindersUniversity

“Rather than simply reject the concept, IRU supports the idea of some flexibility in charges tied to additional investment in a course as an option for students”, the group said.

“To be viable universities would need to ensure that students considering whether to pay more under the proposal would have clear information about the extra benefits they will receive in return for the higher charge, and evidence of its provision.”

A majority of Australia’s 39 universities have rejected the proposals, and written to the education minister asking the government not to pursue the changes, which are due to be rolled out in 2018.

At the time of publishing Flinders University didn’t respond to BuzzFeed News' requests for an interview.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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