Opinion article* published in The Conversation written by Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen at the University of Newcastle.

The National Commission of Audit released yesterday has made a recommendation to government in line with proposals from some Group of Eight vice-chancellors that university fees should be deregulated, increasing student contributions and removing caps on how much universities can charge.

Deregulation is a seductive word. It has such pleasant associations of throwing off the shackles of bureaucratic restraint to let institutions and the market run free. While many universities, including the University of Newcastle, welcome the reduction in administrative burden signalled by the government’s reforms to the higher education regulator, TEQSA, we might pause before embracing proposals to deregulate fees and the sector with unfettered enthusiasm.

On the face of it, allowing universities to charge what the market can afford for their courses appears to provide much greater freedom for institutions to realise the true market value of their degrees, particularly in a constrained funding environment. Put aside for a moment the vexed issue of the impact of fee deregulation on student equity, access and participation. The proposition of a boost to base funding seems particularly attractive as universities balance investment in teaching excellence with investment in world-class research and innovation.

It is the capacity of our universities to deliver on all these fronts that has underpinned the reputation and global competitiveness of the Australian higher education system. With government funding at risk, it is possible to see fee deregulation as a “lighthouse” signalling the way to a more secure and sustainable future for higher education funding. But will this signal lure Australia’s universities onto jagged rocks?

Read the full article in The Conversation