The federal government looks set to drop plans for university fee deregulation in so-called flagship courses, but the May Budget is likely to include increased fees and a lower HECS repayment threshold, Fairfax Media reported earlier this month.

The prospect of full free deregulation was abandoned in last year’s Federal Budget, but some form of fee deregulation has haunted the government since the harsh 2014 Abbott-era Budget.

The measure faced harsh criticism from in the sector and the proposal failed to pass the Senate.

The education minister, Simon Birmingham, flagged potential changes to the higher education sector in an interview last week with Sky News.

He said the sector would ‘have to live within the budget settings that we’ve outlined before.’

‘The budget policies decision we’re taking is looking at the fairest way to do that, that ensures student access is still guaranteed for the future with no upfront fees and no penalties in that regard,’ he said.

The proposal for partial fee deregulation would have allowed universities to set the fees in speciality courses. Universities would have been allowed to enrol up to 20 per cent of their total student cohort in these ‘flagship’ courses.

The 2016 Budget saw the Coalition head to last year’s election with no clear policy on higher education, instead releasing an options paper which suggested lowering the student loan repayment threshold and a 20 per cent cut to course funding.

Fairfax also reported that the 20 per cent cut, which would save $17 billion over 10 years, could be dropped in the Budget, which is set to be released on 9 May.

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