Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Political Economy in Greater Western Sydney

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Political Economy in Greater Western Sydney

Article excerpt

A 2012 national survey of the economics curriculum in Australia noted that there were two centres of economics teaching that are explicitly and significantly pluralist. The first is the Political Economy program at the University of Sydney. The second is the Economics and Finance Program at the University of Western Sydney. The case of Sydney University is well documented (Butler, Jones and Stilwell 2009), but the UWS case is not so well known. Yet UWS has its own distinctive story that offers instructive lessons to those interested in a more pluralist economics curriculum. UWS developed a political economy/economics program that was highly rated in both teaching and research outcomes but was suddenly and disappointingly derailed by senior management. This article, written from an insider's perspective, chronicles this episode and raises broader issues about the future of political economy and economics more generally in the current system of university governance and the current policy environment for tertiary education.


The University of Western Sydney began operation only as recently as January 1989 as a federated network university. From the beginning of 2001 the University of Western Sydney operated as a single multi-campus university rather than as a federation. The UWS student profile is distinct. Approximately 75 per cent of domestic students are from Greater Western Sydney, 62 per cent of commencing students are 'first in family' to go to university, and 70 per cent of students juggle work and study (working longer hours on average than students nationally). The highest number of low SES students--students from low income and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds--of any Australian university (over 8,000, 23.7 percent) attends UWS. A third of all students are mature age (25 years of age or older) and 20 per cent of commencing domestic students find a pathway to UWS through Vocational Education and Training sector links (UWS 2012; Shergold 2012).

It is the explicit social mission of UWS to assist Greater Western Sydney that makes it so attractive to many staff members. Greater Western Sydney has average levels of income, employment and education far lower than the rest of Sydney. Providing opportunities for lower socioeconomic status students to access higher education significantly increases the social benefits to the community, and around 77 percent of UWS students from these backgrounds are successful in completing their studies. Peter Shergold (2012) notes the distributional impact of higher education, stating that:

   Providing access to lower-income, disadvantaged students
   significantly increases social mobility, creating a more productive
   and cohesive community. Dollars invested in the success of a
   low-SES student provides a higher rate of private and public return
   than for their more advantaged colleagues.

The Bachelor of Economics (B.Ec) degree has been taught at the University of Western Sydney since 1993 when it was offered on the three campuses of Campbelltown, Parramatta and Penrith. In 2012 it had a sizeable stock of 383 students. The UWS B.Ec allowed students to cover the core common content of most Australian B.Ec degrees. In addition it offered students specialisations in finance and commercial property studies. A defining characteristic of the degree, however, has been that students are exposed to a wide range of perspectives. Specifically, it was associated with a pluralist approach to the study of economics and finance. Core studies in microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics were supplemented with globalisation studies, development economics with special application to Asian economies, the history and methodology of economics, heterodox economics and evolutionary modelling, and feminist economics. There was a compulsory Political Economy subject in the Honours Program and many of the other subjects were characterised by a pluralistic approach. …

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