FUTURE university students from rural and regional areas will not be disadvantaged by the Abbott government's budget cuts, Education minister Christopher Pyne said on Thursday.
On the final day of budget week sittings in Canberra, Mr Pyne said the deregulation of university fees would give "more students" the chance to get a higher education.
He welcomed comments from the Regional Universities Network that the demand-driven system would be extended to below-bachelor courses.
"We are removing that cap, giving more students in rural and regional areas the opportunity to go to university," he said.
"We are also introducing the biggest Commonwealth scholarship scheme in the history of Australia, which will allow our regional universities, should they wish to do so, to pay bursaries to regional students to pay for their living expenses or rent or whatever else they need to be able to go to university."
But while he welcomed regional higher education feedback on the budget, Mr Pyne did not comment in the House on the RUN's concerns about budget cuts.
RUN chairman, Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee, was disappointed in changes to indexation of fee subsidies, which represented "a loss in revenue".
"The government has not taken the opportunity in this budget of addressing the Higher Education Loan Program doubtful debt," he said.
"We are also disappointed that research training students will now have to pay 10 per cent of the cost of their degrees."
Prof Lee also described the move to charge research students more a "regressive step" that could "deter Australians from undertaking research degrees".
While a deregulated market could see some course fees fall, the move could also see fees rise, especially in exclusive courses like law and medicine at Australia's top institutions.
It is yet to be seen how opening the fee market up to full competition will impact on students, but the budget papers show some will be paying back their government study loans earlier, as soon as they earn $50,000.
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