Government and the Universities: The "New Mutuality" in Australian Higher Education - a National Case Study

By Mahony, David | Journal of Higher Education, March-April 1994 | Go to article overview

Government and the Universities: The "New Mutuality" in Australian Higher Education - a National Case Study


Mahony, David, Journal of Higher Education


Contrasts and Contexts

The Australian higher education system stands at a very considerable remove fro the United States' system. United States higher education is the most diverse i the OECD; Australia's higher education system is among the least diverse. America has a strong developed private system of higher education institutions. In Australia, privately provided higher education development is recent, slight and highly tentative. The United States of America has a wide range of differen types of higher education institutions: doctorate granting universities, comprehensive universities, liberal arts colleges, specialist institutions, and two-year colleges. Australia's diversity was expressed more narrowly in the publicly funded binary system of universities and colleges of advanced educatio (CAEs). The universities were distinctive from the CAEs in that they offered research degrees and were funded for research activity. The CAEs were intended to be undergraduate teaching institutions, applied in orientation and with courses generally at subdegree level. However, as they evolved, their undergraduate provisions in nature, length of study, and award became increasingly similar to the universities'; that is, parallel bachelor's degrees in such areas as the arts, business studies, education, law, science, and the applied sciences were provided by both the CAEs and the universities. At the time of the dissolution of the binary system, only medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science remained the preserve of the universities in undergraduate vocational education. The CAEs, established from the technical and teachers' colleges of little more than twenty-five years ago, sought greater equity in funding, including research provision, with the universities and the capacity t greatly extend their postgraduate provisions. Such demands reflected the growin maturity of the non-university sector as well as the increasing expansion in higher education provision, much of which was met by the CAEs.

These convergent forces led to the disbandment of the binary system from 1987 on. The former CAEs were absorbed, usually through institutional amalgamation, into the university system |17, 19~. Australian higher education is now dominated by one type of institution, the generally large, multicampus metropolitan university, with each, including the new ones, having the same range of functions. Indeed this new unitary system of higher education is officially called the "Unified National System." In contrast to the United States, the universities receive their recurrent and capital funds, as well as research funding, from the federal government. From 1957 on, the trend in Australia has been to increasing federal responsibility for higher education. This movement is now complete with the federal government not only coordinating but since 1987, in particular, being directly and energetically engaged in the reform of the higher education system. Although constitutionally responsible fo the universities, the states now have very little responsibility or influence over what is now a centrally controlled system of higher education. This is a very different pattern from the funding and control of the United States' publi universities. In Australia, the financial dependency and difficulties of the states have been such that the universities would have suffered had they not been transferred to Commonwealth financing and control.

In spite of such strong contrasts between the American and Australian systems o higher education, much the same contemporary political, economic, and social pressures are at work in both systems. This has much to do with higher educatio increasingly being viewed as a national economic resource. There are also related concerns about "value for the public dollar," the quality of the educational service provided by the higher education institutions and ways of measuring it, the relationships of university priorities to national priorities and the extent to which the system's institutions are effectively articulated with one another. …

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