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University reform « Previous | |Next »
September 18, 2003

The Australian Financial Review carries a report that the Howard Government is willing to "make further concessions on its shake-up of higher education as it faces the tough task of pushing the historic reforms through a hostile Senate." The reforms provide new concessions for smaller and regional institutions, disadvantaged students and over-enrolled facilities to counter these institutions being disadvantaged by deregulation. Expect more modest concessions.

But the basic thrust of the reform remains in place despite these sweetners. This is:

" provide universities with the ability to reduce their reliance on government money and embark on more commercial ventures to boost revenue. Universities will be encouraged to operate more like businesses, maximising the lucrative benefits offered by the overseas student market and boosting the potential for greater private-sector collaboration because of improved transparency."

Business is all for the Nelson reforms. It says that these will align the universities with the emerging needs of the economy; are the key to innovation; will ensure the survival of high education sector; and enable the higher education sector to have the capacity to compete globally. Big business sees the universities as corporations and education as an industry. Hence the key drivers are competition, efficiency and entrepreneurialship.

Reform is needed. The universities are in poor shape after years of doign more with less. This is especially so in South Australia which can be considered a disadvantaged region.

Though reform is needed the Nelson proposals mean that it is consumers who will have to fill the funding hole left by the unwillingness of either major party to dramatically increase the public funding of universities. The Labor Party's offer of $2.4 billion in public funding will still leave the universities short of cash. Hence the look around for easy money; and allowing the universities the flexibility to raise money themselves so they have the resources to improve their facilities and teaching.

So which consumers are going to provide the easy money? Australians? There is resistance to 30% increase in course fees that can be funded by loans:--apart from courses in medicine, law and business that lead to well paying jobs. It means being saddled with debt for those unable to afford to pay upfront. So consumers largely means international students. They are easy money.

So the key thrust of the reforms is freeing up universities to increase their revenue through increasing student fees. It will work for the big prestige universities, such as Melbourne and Sydney, but not for Flinders in South Australia. Flinders will be unable to charge the 30% increase since its students will be a unable to afford to pay. So it will start a downward slide into a cheap second-rate, publicly funded regional university.

The old divide has been reinvented.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:13 PM | | Comments (4)


You wrote: "So the key thrust of the reforms is freeing up universities to increase their revenue through increasing student fees."

I couldn't disagree more.

In order to reform the university system, whether in Australia or anywhere else, you have to actually study what's wrong with the system, not just throw money at it. For a wry look at some things wrong with the university system, check out my page at For example, look at the entry entitled "Hiring Foucault," although each entry tackles a different aspect of the problem.

Academy Girl,
My comments did refer to how the Neslon reforms were understood in the public policy circles. They define the problem as one of public funding.

But I do agree that the problem higher education system is more than one of throwing money at it.

We have the problem of the university as a centre of intellectual activity in civil society. As the univerisities become more and more business corporations they become more flawed as intellectrual centres.

Gary -

You wrote: "We have the problem of the university as a centre of intellectual activity in civil society."

Yes, although I'm going to take these words in another direction. The fact that the university is seen as the "centre" of intellectual activity in "civil" society is, indeed, a problem. Why? Because it prevents us from seeing that intellectual activity occurs outside the university in a variety of forms. In Australia, for example, you have a host of intellectual endeavours occurring within indigenous communities, many of which are clearly outside the academy and outside of what many define as "civil" society. I would like to see the academy's understanding of intellectual activity broaden to include more of humanity; otherwise, we're stuck in a rut believing that we, as academics, invented how to think, invent, and solve problems. Also, we fail to see how our own system of learning and discovery fails the very students it purports to enlighten.

Academy Girl

Academy Girl,
I concur. The universities as intellectual centres are being displaced by new intellectual centres in civil society---eg. thinks tanks.

In terms of public policy academics in univesities are being left behind.

And i do think that academics are stuck in a rut. It is stil largely a closed world with limited access to a lot of the journals (see philosophical conversations for some remarks)

I would include much indigenous intellectual activity within civil society---they have broadened the narrow conception of civil society and made it far more inclusive.