University of Wisconsin students may not pay the cost of increased UW autonomy with extra tuition dollars if the university is able to set its own tuition levels, Chancellor Biddy Martin said Wednesday at a forum.

Martin has been campaigning for UW to have more freedom in its decision making, including setting tuition levels, so UW is better able to compete with the increasingly competitive and market-based world universities.

UW needs to be able to set its tuition at a level which makes sense for Madison, Martin said.

However, this might not mean a tuition increase.

“Having the power to set our own tuition is not the same as saying tuition would go up right away,” Martin said.

Martin said it is a serious problem that the university does not get to use its tuition revenue on issues where it is needed.

One example of this, Martin said, is UW cannot use tuition to provide students with financial aid like many other universities in the country.

Martin, along with Board of Regents President Chuck Pruitt and business leader Kathi Seifert, spoke and answered audience-submitted questions at the forum.

The discussion and questions centered on the state government’s role in funding and the level of control they have over the UW System.

All of the panelists agreed UW and the system as a whole needed more flexibility to make their own decisions if they were going to continue to bring in out-of-state money, create jobs and attract world class talent to the universities.

One audience member questioned whether the university systems could be granted the independence they are seeking at the expense of having their funding cut.

The greatest risk in seeking more flexibility is someone might assume the state can say yes and just walk away from the UW System, Pruitt said.

Pruitt said it is not an either-or situation; they need the state to commit to at least keep funding at the universities stable if the schools are going to bring in jobs and help the state economy.

Pruitt added the UW System is already competing with prisons, health care and K-12 schools, and they are losing because legislators believe students can pay for more and more of their own education.

“When does [cutting of funds] stop? At what point do we cross the Rubicon where we have created a private University of Wisconsin System”? Pruitt said, “UW System should not be the last in line at the cafeteria.”

UW freshman Jessica Duma attended the lecture and said the speakers raised interesting issues, but she would have to hear more about what UW would do with this increased flexibility before she could fully back it.

“I support the idea of using creative solutions to work on these problems, and from what I’ve heard so far it sounds interesting,” Duma said.

Martin said holding these types of forums are absolutely essential, and she is planning on holding several more on campus in the near future.