Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott: taking over universities.

The Abbott government is considering taking control of the governance of Australian universities, relieving state governments of the responsibility.

A spokesman for federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has confirmed the government is in talks with the O'Farrell government about the governance of NSW universities. Under the plan, laws that govern universities in NSW would reportedly begin to be passed by federal Parliament.

The Abbott government is also reportedly preparing to relieve the NSW government of billions of dollars worth of unfunded obligations for superannuation schemes run by NSW universities.

As a consequence, the federal government would then be given a greater say in the appointment of people on university councils.

The NSW government is "receptive to the idea", said a spokesman for state Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. If such a deal goes ahead, universities would reportedly not need to seek approval from the NSW government before borrowing.

Federal opposition education spokesman Kim Carr said he would welcome news that Australian universities were about to be made "genuinely national".

But the Abbott government needed to guarantee that, if such a deal went ahead, the country's universities would retain their academic freedom and institutional autonomy, he said.

"The principle of universities being state institutions has been a legal fiction for some time because states provide very little money towards the running of universities," Senator Carr said.

He also raised concerns about the consequences of relieving the NSW government of billions of dollars worth of unfunded obligations for superannuation schemes run by the university sector.

"That will have knock-on implications,'' Senator Carr said.

"It would clearly impact on the Commonwealth's global borrowing requirements. We already have the impression that this is a government where the sky's the limit when it comes to the debt ceiling."