University students of Australia, breathe a sigh of relief. Your heads (and your wallets) are not on the budget chopping block... for now.
Treasurer Scott Morrison and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen appeared on 7.30 on the ABC on Tuesday night, in a debate moderated by Leigh Sales. Among talk of deficits and tax, economic forecasts and a bunch of other financial jargon that may have sailed over the head of the average voter, was one term many young people are very concerned about -- "university deregulation".
The government had flagged a plan to deregulate university fees (i.e. allow universities to set their own course fees, rather than have them monitored and capped by the government, and charge whatever they want) which had education campaigners, student unions and regular young people worried that they might be priced out of university, amid scare campaigns of "$100,000 degrees".
The government shelved the policy in September. They released a discussion paper in May, confirming that "the Government will not be implementing fully flexible course fees as proposed in the 2014-15 Budget reforms" but laid out ideas for "an alternative model of flexibility". After the Turnbull administration confirmed they would not be revealing their education platform before the July 2 election, some had feared that deregulation may be again on the table.
Morrison, it seems, put that fear to bed.
As the debate wound down, talk turned to university fees. Bowen said "we rejected [deregulation]. We believe in the demand-driven system but we do not believe in deregulating fees".
"We have outlined that policy and that is the best way to ensure that higher education is accessible for as many Australians as possible and ensure fees are not so high as to make it out of reach for the people who are the first in their family to go to university and seek to improve their lot in life by getting a tertiary education," he said.
In response, Morrison said "deregulation of fees is not something we are doing as Christopher [Bowen] knows".
"It's been your policy for three years," Bowen shot back.
Morrison admitted the government had "attempted" reform in the university funding debate, but also flagged that further changes would be coming.
"We will continue to work with the sector to ensure that we get the investments in the right place," he said.
"We have to make it affordable and we have to ensure that we can pay for it with money that is really there, not the sort of fairytale fantasies that others like to think is possible but can't pay for."