Australian National University vice chancellor Ian Young has given the federal government's tertiary education reforms a mixed reception, saying "the devil was in the detail".
Speaking before a debate at the ANU's Coombs Lecture Theatre on Monday night, Professor Young said he supported university fee deregulation but had some reservations about other individual reforms.
He said while Australia should be proud of the current rapid increase of 130,000 more higher education students over five years, it had caused education costs to soar and per student funding levels to drop.
"The result [is] increasing class sizes, more sessional staff, small enrolment classes closing, ageing facilities," he said. "A system stuck on a treadmill of ever-increasing student numbers simply to make budgets work."
Professor Young said the government's plan to deregulate university fees could stop a decline in university standards and provide greater choice to students.
"Of course, the devil is often in the detail and there are elements of this package that need to be rethought," he said.
"The proposed interest rate on the HECS debt has significant equity problems. The magnitude of the cut to the Commonwealth contribution and how it is spread across disciplines is deeply problematic.
"The proposal, as it now stands, caps the amount which universities can charge at the international fee. An institution that decided to charge such a student fee would receive both the fee and the Commonwealth contribution.
"Surely, such a position is not morally defensible?"
Professor Young also called for the cut to Higher Degree Research students to be reconsidered, saying it was counter-productive in a society which needed greater investment in research.
In contrast, University of Canberra vice chancellor Professor Stephen Parker said during the debate that he was strongly against the proposed reforms, describing them as unfair, unethical, reckless and poor economic policy.
A spokesperson for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the minister welcomed the views of Professor Young and his strong support for the freeing of universities to set their own fees.
"We welcome all contributions to the debate and will continue to consult with universities and higher education providers on these important reforms," he said.