A Majority Of Universities Have Rejected The Government's Plan For Deregulated Flagship Courses

    Twenty out of 39 universities have come out against the plan.

    The government's plan to allow universities to partially deregulate "flagship courses" has been rejected by a majority of vice chancellors from around the country.

    Julian Smith / AAPIMAGE

    Submissions to the Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Higher Education discussion paper closed on Monday, and it turns out education minister Simon Birmingham's plans do not have much support from Australia's universities.

    The discussion paper, released during the May budget, flagged possible changes to the higher education sector including allowing universities to set their own fees for "flagship courses", in which up to 20% of the student body is enrolled.

    These courses would allow universities to offset the government funding cuts planned for the sector.

    Other ideas for raising funds included introducing a “household income test” for the repayment of student loans, introducing a baseline ATAR for courses, and collecting HECS debts from deceased estates.

    Three lobby groups representing 20 of the 39 universities in Australia have written submissions to the discussion paper outlining their objections to the government's plan.

    Many say there's been a breakdown in trust between the government and the sector, which has left them with no option but to reject the proposals.

    The Group of Eight represents 23% of Australia's domestic undergraduate students.

    Brendon Thorne / Getty Images

    It is comprised of:

    The Australian National University

    Monash University

    University of Adelaide

    University of Melbourne

    University of NSW

    University of Queensland

    University of Sydney

    University of Western Australia

    The GO8 is against the idea of partial deregulation because it says there's a risk flagship courses would distort incentives for universities and create "a two tiered system of university education between flagship courses and others – both between and within universities".

    Instead the GO8 wants an increase in investment in research, changes to the demand-driven system, more support for low socio economic and Indigenous students to study, and the creation of an independent expert group to advise the government on higher education.

    The GO8 was in favour of the Abbott government's proposed fee deregulation (but not funding cuts), but fears the proposed flagship courses would decrease enrolments rate for students from low socio economic, Indigenous, and rural and regional backgrounds.

    The Australian Technology Network educates almost 20% of Australia’s university students and 22% of Australia’s international students.

    Brenton Edwards / Via Facebook: UniSA

    The group is made up of five industry and research driven universities:

    Curtin University

    RMIT

    Queensland University of Technology

    University of South Australia

    University of Technology Sydney

    The ATN also thinks flagship courses could create a two-tiered university system that locks out disadvantaged students.

    It fears the proposals have the potential to "create perverse consequences" by making university unaffordable and inaccessible to large groups of young people.

    ATN executive director Renee Hindmarsh says her focus is getting the government to restore funding to the research sector and programs that support disadvantaged students to complete their higher education degrees.

    “We understand the government faces fiscal constraints, however student needs should always be at the forefront of any reform."

    Regional Universities Network is made up of seven regional and remote universities.

    USQ / Via Facebook: usqedu

    That includes:

    Central Queensland University

    Federation University Australia

    Southern Cross University

    University of Ballarat

    University of New England

    University of Southern Queensland

    University of the Sunshine Coast

    RUN is against any cuts to university funding because it argues allowing universities to set their own fees through a partial deregulation of flagship courses won't be enough to keep regional universities operational.

    "Such a scheme may be viable for a few, high demand courses, particularly in elite universities. However, in an environment where there is a significant reduction in Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding, and no other source of funding to replace this, regional universities would not be able to recoup significant funds via flagships," their submission reads.

    But RUN says they will support other changes including the indexation of HELP repayment thresholds to CPI rather than average weekly earnings, an introduction of a household income test for HELP repayments and the recovery of debts from deceased estates.

    Other groups, including Innovation Research Universities, plan on making late submissions to voice their concerns about the government's plans.

    Julian Smith / AAPIMAGE

    University students protest the threat of funding cuts in the CBD of Melbourne, Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING

    The government will need the support of Labor, the Greens and the Senate crossbench to reform the university sector, which they plan to take effect from the start of 2018.

    Lyndon Mechielsen / AAPIMAGE

    The government was criticised for not taking a higher education policy to the federal election, but insisted it wanted to hear from the sector before making any decision.

    The submissions to the discussion paper are being collated by the Department of Education and will then be given to the minister for consideration.

    From there the government will draft legislation.

    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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