Self-regulation in the governance of higher education systems is often assumed to improve institutional performance, accountability, and responsiveness. Although studies of higher education governance have addressed the extent of self-regulation across national systems, there has been less investigation of the links between self-regulation and quality and equity. Nevertheless, the universal adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commits all countries to equal access to affordable and quality education, including higher education, by 2030. To assess the relationship between self-regulation, quality, and equity, this paper presents a novel higher education self-regulation index trialed using the cases of England, Finland, France, and Germany. The index compares self-regulation, based on the respective national legal and policy frameworks, in core higher education functions: control and evaluation, funding, strategy and structure, personnel, and teaching and research. Each area is analyzed using six conditions reflecting the level of autonomy of an institution which could be met in full, in part or not met and assigned to a proxy number ranging from 0, 0.5 and 1 respectively. Each of these areas is summarized with a level that is either High, Medium, or Low and these are the levels then shown in the composite index. The impact of varying levels of self-regulation in a higher education system on quality and equity is then analyzed. Whereas higher levels of self-regulation do appear to have some impact on quality, the study found that a mix of policy steering, and institutional initiatives are needed to improve equity. Further refinement and testing of the self-regulation index would improve its utility as a tool to support governments and institutions to enhance higher education governance in support of the SDGs.