Regional unis want compensation for move to deregulation

REGIONAL universities have urged the Abbott government to pay for them to adjust to the deregulated fee market, and appealed to Senate crossbenchers not to pass the government's reform package without significant changes.

Backed by the prestigious Group of Eight, the Regional Universities Network has called on the government to revisit its proposals for a real interest rate on fee debts.

But the group, representing the lion's share of Australia's major regional universities, has also called on the Senate to change the government's bills if it refuses.

RUN chairman and Southern Cross University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Lee said fee deregulation was the only way universities could maintain quality and access, given "additional government funding is unlikely, irrespective of political party composition"

But he said the reforms needed to recognise the different circumstances of different universities, calling for "targeted support" for regional institutions to support them to "offer attractive options to students".

Group of Eight chairman Professor Ian Young also backed putting funds to helping regional universities adjust to the deregulated market.

He said while regional institutions would attract some students through "niche specialisations, life-broadening experiences and price competitiveness", there was "no tradition" for students moving from capital cities to study in regional areas.

"The government has a community obligation to provide structural adjustment assistance to regional universities that face revenue raising and delivery disabilities, especially those in thin markets, to remain viable in a more open higher education market," Prof Young said.

The call for support comes after the Senate last week initiated an inquiry into government's reforms, following Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer's confirmation the party would not back the bill in its current form. - APN NEWSDESK