The head of the University of Canberra has launched a scathing critique of the federal government's plan to deregulate student fees, in a move that exposes a sharp divide between the ACT's two top universities.
The budget plan to ''reform'' the higher education sector "spells disaster for students and the country", UC vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Parker says.
In a strongly-worded opinion piece in Thursday's The Canberra Times, Professor Parker is highly critical of his counterpart at ANU, Ian Young, for backing the plan to allow universities to charge more to make up for a cut in federal funding.
"These measures might benefit a few elite universities but they will damage the university system as a whole," Professor Parker says.
"If I have to choose, I oppose the lot."
Professor Young last week argued that change was needed because the higher education system was unsustainable.
The sector is losing $6 billion due to cuts by the current and the previous governments.
"The lifeline offered to universities is deregulation!" Professor Young wrote last week in The Canberra Times.
"If the government's package does not pass the Senate, then I have grave concerns for the future ... 'business as normal' may not be an attractive place."
Professor Young said higher education had little purchase with voters.
A group of at least 180 ANU academics and post-graduate students is rebelling against Professor Young over his position on student fees.
Professor Parker points to Professor Young's pivitol role in the deregulation issue.
"The Group of Eight research-intensive universities, currently chaired by Professor Young, asked for fee deregulation and has brought down on our heads a potentially calamitous package," Professor Parker says.
"We cannot justify these measures on the grounds that a degree increases a graduate's earnings potential.
"We already have a progressive income tax system and so if a graduate earns more they will pay more tax across their working life.
"Ironically, it was the ANU which invited US economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz to come to Canberra earlier this month and speak at a forum.
"Professor Stiglitz has warned Australia in the strongest terms not to go down this road.
"America’s failed financial model for higher education is one of the reasons that, among the advanced countries, America now has the least equality of opportunity, with the life prospects of a young American more dependent on his or her parents’ income and education than in other advanced countries.
"We will go the same way if these reforms are passed in Australia. In five years we will all bemoan the situation and there will be nothing that we can afford to do about it.
"The best gloss I can put on it all is that there has been a colossal misreading by the government and the Group of Eight of the consequences of these measures, and the latent public antagonism to them.
"Whether that latent antagonism is activated and translates electorally is not my business. T
"Bearing in mind that the Coalition gave no inkling of these changes at the last election – on the contrary, Tony Abbott gave a speech to universities in February 2013 with the message that there would not be fundamental change – it is hard to argue that punishment at the next election would be unjustified."