This article explores the impact of student self-financing systems on inequalities of access to higher education (HE) through comparative analysis of two national systems, those of England and Australia. The analysis of the historical development of HE in each nation identifies a set of comparative global themes: the expansion of higher education in response to the needs of the national economy; globalisation and the changing labour market; social pressures for equity in access to higher education; and the growing role of the central state in higher education. The article presents a discussion of system differentiation based around the following characteristics: tuition fee and bursary regimes; institutional autonomy; institutional diversity; the strength of equity arguments; and the role of the state in widening participation. The paper concludes with a discussion of the often complex interactions between these characteristics and aims to add to our understanding of the impact of student self-financing regimes on trajectories of system differentiation and on access and participation
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