AS Australia’s top universities prepare for a possible windfall under changes proposed by the federal budget, Charles Sturt University (CSU) fears it could spell disaster.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday that leaked documents showed the country’s elite metropolitan universities, such as the University of Melbourne and the University of NSW, stood to gain millions if the changes were introduced.
The proposed legislation would allow universities to set their own fees and allow the government to increase interest rates on loans and slash course funding by 20 per cent.
CSU acting vice chancellor Professor Garry Marchant admits he is worried about the changes, although he concedes there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether they will be passed.
If they are, he said CSU will lobby local members for more support and invesment in regional universities.
“We will need to push the case of regional universities to make sure they survive,” he said.
“Charles Sturt University employs more than 5000 people and pumps over $1 billion into the economy, so we are a massive employer and economic force in the region.
“If this goes through in its current form, which is highly unlikely, but if it does, we’d probably have to think about what we are going to do in order to survive. We might have to cut courses, and some campuses wouldn’t be viable. These are the possibilities we would face.”
Professor Marchant said the cost of operating a regional university was higher.
With students more likely to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, regional universities have to provide those students with more support. Regional universities are also more likely to have more mature age students, and those who started out in a trade.
However, Professor Marchant said increasing the interest rate on loans for students would have the greatest impact on students because of the resulting inequality.
He added that people studying social work, teaching and nursing would face a far greater burden because of their low pay rate, and for women it will be even worse because their debt will grow while they take time off to have children.