There are reasons for regulations and government funding. In the case of Australian university fees, they serve to make positions more affordable and accessible, at least for local students. Why? Let’s ask the government’s own National Commission of Audit:

Commonwealth investment in the universities sector promotes quality, equity of access and national consistency for higher education. This, in turn, contributes to a more productive workforce that is skilled and flexible, leading to higher wages and lower unemployment resulting in higher tax revenues, reduced unemployment expenses and improved international competitiveness. However, a large proportion of the benefits accrue to the individual – usually through higher lifetime incomes.

Cue the dun-dun-DUN music.

The first step in the wrong direction was HECS. Introduced by former treasurer Peter Costello (who received a free university education), the system provides interest free Commonwealth loans for students. It’s far preferable to the American for-profit student loan racket, but it still masks the true cost of university fees which have been rising higher than inflation since.

During the last Labor government we got Gonski, which funded high schools with higher education cuts. This ensured high schoolers get a better education to get them into university that… oh, nuts. Seemingly both sides of the isle lost the plot.

Now we have Tony Abbott’s first budget, which proposes deregulation of univeristy fees. This would allow them to set the numbers and cost of their courses, independently from government interference. It’s free market capitalism at work; more demand for a course will lead to it being more competitive, and prices will rise. For courses that have less interest, fewer positions will be made available and prices will rise.

My university’s Vice-Chancellor reported the change in an email, though he was quick to assure us that only future students will be negatively impacted by this newfound freedom.

On 1 January 2016, the Australian higher education system will be deregulated, if legislation passes the Senate. This means that for the first time, Universities will be free to set their own fees for domestic students. [..] The Government has specified in the budget that “currently enrolled students will continue under current arrangements until 2020”. I will be seeking assurances on your behalf about this commitment.

For an example of what to expect from free market universities, just see how much they charge my international student friends. But that’s for another post.

Fortunately, there may still be hope. According to ABC PM’s James Glenday:

Many bits of Abbott’s first budget face an uncertain future in the Senate. It doesn’t have the numbers in this upper house, or the next one. In particular [..] deregulation of university fees [..]

Suffice to say, selfishly, I’m relieved I’m finishing up studying now. As a co-worker put it, the flow on effects of this will be scary to watch unfold.

The above screenshot from K-On!! was by Kyoto Animation. This is such a sad topic, I needed something cheerful/cute.