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The Liberals Accidentally Let Slip They'll Deregulate Uni Fees

Surprise!

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"We are not going to deregulate fees entirely. As you know, the minister, Simon Birmingham, has announced that what we will seek to do is to offer the universities the ability to deregulate fees, if you like, for a small number of flagship courses so that they can compete, so that you do get more competition between universities," Malcolm Turnbull said during Friday's Facebook leaders debate.

The only problem is the Coalition hasn't previously announced that it will deregulate fees. Instead, it has told voters that it won't take a higher education policy to this election.

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Instead, since the Budget the Turnbull government has told voters it would consult with the higher education sector and wait until late 2016 or early 2017 to announce its reforms. It plans to make its higher education changes in 2018.

Partial deregulation is where universities would be able to set their own fees for a few courses but lose out on public funding.

For example, say a university chose to deregulate a three-year Arts degree and charge $40,000, as the dollar amount of the degree goes up, the dollar amount the government contributes to that university would go down.

The deregulated degrees would be called “Flagship Courses” and would start in 2018. So it’s bad news for anyone who wants to start uni in two years. To make sure fees don’t blow out to $100,000, the sector would be monitored by a group like the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Education minister Birmingham has previously told BuzzFeed News the government was considering partial deregulation, where universities can charge more for some degrees.

“There is a mature and constructive conversation to be had about reforming higher education to ensure that it is fundamentally fair and sustainable and encourages innovation, differentiation and collaboration,” Birmingham said.

The Coalition twice failed in its bid to deregulate the university sector, despite former education minister Christopher Pyne famously dubbing himself “the fixer” for the reforms.

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Turnbull's comments come only a few days after treasurer Scott Morrison told ABC's 7.30 that "deregulation of fees is not something that we’re doing".

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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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