Even before Australian lawmakers abolished university tuition in 1973, students in Australia had long benefited from low tuition and large government subsidies. By the early 1980s, however, the nation's universities faced growing budget challenges and an apparent shortage of capacity as demand for higher education surged. Policymakers, cognizant of a growing budget deficit as well as a hard-hitting recession, hesitated to provide increased funding to higher education. The debate over how best to finance Australian higher education finally came to a head in the late 1980s, following publication of the Report of the Committee on Higher Education Funding (commonly known as the Wran Report). Although the Wran Committee had considered several potential funding schemes, it ultimately proposed a radical system in which students would pay tuition financed through income-contingent loans provided by the government. The Wran Report proved to be of particular interest to the Australian Prime Minister, Robert Hawke. The government's fiscal position seemed to demand that educational financing be overhauled, but there was no consensus on how best to do this. Could the Prime Minister convince his Australian Labor Party to abandon the free-education plank in its platform? And even if he could, how could he be sure that the Wran Committee's strategy was the right one and that its recommendations were workable? Would following an American model of full tuition for higher education and government-guaranteed student loans make more sense? These were just a few of the questions that the Prime Minister confronted as he contemplated new approaches for financing higher education in Australia.
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