Academic journal article Agenda: A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform

The Academy in Decay

Academic journal article Agenda: A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform

The Academy in Decay

Article excerpt

The Academy in Decay

The academy and the agora

Over several decades diverse strategies have been applied to increase the number of university graduates in Australia. In the 1940s, for example, the Curtin Labor government funded an increased number of scholarships, and, for the first time, women could apply for these scholarships. In the 1960s, the Liberal government under Menzies opened several new universities in outer-metropolitan localities. Funding for postgraduate scholarships was also provided by this government in order to promote research. In 1967, access to tertiary studies increased when (non-university) Colleges of Advanced Education (CAEs) were opened to provide specialist education and preparation for teaching, nursing, accountancy, and so on. In the 1970s, the Whitlam Labor government took a different stance again, abolishing fees in 1974, in a policy that remained in place for 15 years. Donald Meyers (2012) traces the genesis of another such major policy shiftin higher education, when just over two decades ago an enterprising politician, John Dawkins, and an academic economist, Bruce Chapman, placed a spotlight on higher education in Australia.

From time to time, an entrepreneurial politician will emerge on the political landscape and, being adept at spotting a policy problem in need of a solution, will forge a symbiotic relationship with an academic to produce some evidence relating to this problem. With the passage of political time, a major restructuring is then delivered on the basis of that academic work. An earlier notable example of this phenomenon was the promise of free-to-user universal health insurance that facilitated the end of two decades of conservative government by Whitlam Labor in 1972. This nexus between the academy and government turned on the work of two health economists, Dick Scotton and John Deeble, who had already produced evidence of the inadequacies of the existing voluntary private-insurance arrangements. When Bill Hayden was appointed Minister for Social Security in the new government, he formulated Australia's first system of universal health insurance, Medibank (subsequently, Medicare).2

The focus that Dawkins chose was higher education. In September 1987, Chapman, then at The Australian National University, took a full-time consultancy to work for Dawkins, who had by then been appointed Federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training in the Hawke government. This collaboration resulted in the White Paper 'Higher Education: a Policy Statement' in July 1988.

The managerial revolution comes to campus

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline is concerned with the aftermath of the Dawkins-Chapman restructuring of the university sector that was popularised by catch-cries such as 'equity of access', 'efficiency' and 'international competitiveness'. This was seemingly a boon for government as well in that it promised to recoup Commonwealth funding of student loans through Chapman's Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). With the adoption of this scheme, funds for government could be collected from the student base of an ever-expanding tertiary sector, thereby relieving the pressure on the Federal budget.

In A Portrait of Decline, Meyers3 portrays (p.ii) this development as 'the destructive "reform" of the tertiary sector spearheaded by John Dawkins and perpetuated by subsequent governments'.

It is interesting to note as an aside that the book has been published only as a free PDF document on the web, with the various non-university presses he approached deeming that there was 'insufficient' interest in the topic to make it worth their while. The university publishers, on the other hand, indicated that they did not publish 'this sort of work' or that 'they already had similar work in the pipeline' (p.iii). Meyers records (p.iii) that Melbourne University Press rejected the manuscript for its indignant tone and for 'questionable assertions, generalisations and too few direct examples with documentation and detailed explanation'. …

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