Should unis voluntarily cap student numbers?

From my perspective, the demand-driven funding system is Labor’s main higher education achievement (it’s described at pages 56-58 of this report). Over time, I expect it will drive a more efficient allocation of student places and through creating competition improve teaching and student services. Already we can see that a student’s chances of getting an offer in their first-preference field of study has improved in most disciplines:

offer rates
Source: DIISRTE. The figure shows offers in each field of study as a % of all first-preference applications for that field of study.

But uncapping the number of Commonwealth-supported students is costing a lot of money, a factor in recent higher education cuts. An article in yesterday’s AFR reveals that the universities want a de facto re-introduction of caps – not through changing the higher education funding legislation but through universities agreeing to constrain student numbers.

This would be a backwards step. The fear of losing students to competitors is a key driver of responsiveness to students, and a cartel-like restriction on places would be nearly as bad as the old regulated control.