Free market university fees will hurt regional students

PROSPECTIVE university students from regional areas could be left behind if caps on higher education fees are removed, the head of the Regional Universities Network said on Wednesday.

The possible return of a free market in university fees was reported on Wednesday, with the nation's top research universities, the Group of Eight, backing the proposal.

While the government has not publicly indicated it would pursue removing caps on the fees students, a review of the fee system is underway, and the government is seeking to return unpaid fee debts to its coffers.

But the RUN group, representing Central Queensland University, Southern Cross University, University of the Sunshine Coast among others, remains concerned.

RUN chairman Professor Peter Lee told APN on Wednesday he agreed with the government's plans to recover fees from former students living overseas and deceased estates.

He said those initiatives, in addition to changing the indexation rate on HECS and HELP loans could help return some $800 million to the Commonwealth budget.

But he said entirely deregulating the fee market was not the answer if the government wants to help poorer students get a university education.

"What we know from regional students is they already face higher costs than the city-based students - often times they have to relocate, which means they have higher living expenses," Prof Lee said.

"If you're from a low socio-economic family - and they are well-represented in regional areas - if you're from a low SES family, you will often say I won't go to university because I will incur all this debt."

"I think those who are capable of going and have the academic ability should be able to go to university regardless of how much their family earns."

Prof Lee said while he welcomed the debate with the Group of Eight universities, regional universities were prepared to compete.

But he said the debate should centre on whether all students should be able to attend higher education, not what the university sector thought it should be able to charge students.

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