By Justin Brosnan. Edited for online by Joseph Cooney.

A shake-up of the university funding system is being announced today, which may allow universities to set their own fees for students.

It has prompted concerns among students and universities that Australia will follow an Ivy League structure similar to that of the United States.

Christopher Pyne today supported the changes. Photo credit: Policy Exchange
Christopher Pyne today supported the changes. Photo credit: Policy Exchange

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne foreshadowed price competition in a speech at Monash University today.

“If universities and colleges were able to compete on price, it would mean they must have a greater focus on meeting the needs of students,” he said.

He says if price competition were allowed universities would be forced to continuously improve the teach and learning offered in order to attract students.

Scholarship funds will remain

But Vice Chancellor of QUT Professor Peter Coaldrake says if deregulation is allowed and government reduced, higher fees will be the result.

“The main effect will be on students because if government support pulls back. the money’s got to come from somewhere, and universities might not have the opportunity to fill that void,” Professor Coaldrake said.

However, he says price competition will not restrict students from low socio-economic backgrounds from attending QUT, as the university will continue to provide a number of scholarship funds for applicants.

“You can be sure that QUT will be maintaining its commitment to that fund,” Professor Coaldrake said.

“Of course it’s QUT’s own commitment, it’s the commitment of our staff, and alumni and other supporters.”

‘Elitist university structure’ concerns

National Union of Students spokesman Laurence McLean is worried the changes will make it harder for students to repay their debt.

“I think it’s a really bad thing because it’s going to result in universities raising the fees to ridiculously high levels where people won’t be able to pay back their HECS debt at the end of their degree,” Mr McLean said.

He thinks the changes are a move towards establishing an elitist university structure.

“Students being able to go to certain universities and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds being able to go to different universities – I don’t think that’s a good thing in the long term,” Mr McLean said.

“I think the system we have at the moment, while not ideal, is alright, where all students can attend all universities.”

He says implementing price competition in the public university sector will not have a positive affect on students or standards of education.

“I don’t think competition in the public university sector is a good thing,” Mr McLean said.

“University is a right, not a privilege – everyone should be able to access education no matter where they’re from and no matter their background.”