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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Turmoil in academia « Previous | |Next »
October 16, 2003

Academics across Australia go on strike today. It is a historic occassion.

Andrew Norton over at Catallaxy Files says the NTEU's strike is pointless, as it will inconvenience students and achieve nothing. Ken Parish over at Troppo Armadillo says that the NTEU strike is grossly premature. In contrast, John Quiggin, though ambivalent, will go on strike. He says that what is:

"...really objectionable point is the government's attempt to push its industrial relations agenda on to the universities while maintaining the stance that the universities are the employers and that employees must bargain with them if they want wage increases or better conditions."

Jean Genie over at Creativity Machine was on strike without the ambivalence.

The Minister disapproves. He talks about the industrial reforms being designed to increase workplace flexibility and ensuring that universities were not offering excessive benefits.

Excessive benefits? The Minister means paring back entitlements, such as redundancy pay and maternity leave. The university staff have had it to good for too long. The fat has to be trimmed.

The staff are also protesting at the prescriptive interference in the affairs of universities (in the content of courses and research) by the Minister; the attempt by the federal Government to impose its industrial relations policies---individual contracts---on the universities; and the Government's desire to abolish limitations on fixed-term or casual appointments. There is a deep antagonism to this kind of state interference from people who are hurting.

As Graham McCulloch says:

"The real workplace issues confronting universities are the decline in teaching and research infrastructure, rising staff workloads and loss of professional autonomy. Intellectual life in universities is drowning in a sea of quality assurance processes, performance indicators, business plans and excessive managerialism. These problems are to be compounded by a new and punitive layer of government workplace regulation."

These issues primarily arise from the public universities being run down by the Federal Government during the 1990s. The strike is a sympton of a crisis in higher education institutions, which are being transformed by the increasing commercialisation of tertiary education.

The corporatized universities want to be free of the heavy hand of government control so they can extract competitive advantage over their rivals. The more free market educational corporations understand how global imperatives drive domestic competition.

However, the Federal Government rejects any talk of crisis in higher education. The standard line, "There is no crisis", is its way to manage public opinion. Things are under control and on the right track.

Now Brendan Nelson, the Minister of Education, or the person in charge of Australia's $4.2 billion education export industry as the Australian Financial Review, puts it, is warning that the universities are tettering on the edge and mediocrity is weakening Australian higher education. They are in danger of sinking into mediocrity with 5-7 yrears.

More symptons of a crisis? Surely not?

The Australian Financial Review thinks there is a crisis. Whether Australia is to compete with the best globally, or steadily slipping behind is crucial. And all those stories of overcrowding, inadequate teaching, diminishing quality and deserting graduate students indicate that Australia is slipping behind. The Australian Financial Review can see that such stories damage Australia's international reputation and the increasingly valuable export sales of education services to international students. They understand how domestic issues are driven by globalised markets.

And the students are rebelling at the proposed increase in course fees by 30%, and refusing to take up full fee-paying places. Middle class parents are apprehensive at the increasing debt levels incurred by user pays. And the ALP, Democrats and Greens in the Senate are opposed to the refoms. They want a large increase in public funding to avert a disaster. There appears be little hope of getting the Howard Government's reform package through the Senate by Christmas.

Remember, there is no crisis.

Not even when Minister Nelson says the universities won't survive unless the 4 independent Senators pass his reform package.

Remarks like that suggest the universities have deep wounds from a thousand cuts. They are close to being on life support.

Remember there is no crisis. There is only crisis management.

John Howard will have to cut a deal. His reputation is that he knows how to cut a deal when he has to. Does he reckon he has to?

See how the PM controls things.
This fragment calls those academics who did not strike yesterday as scabs who "have a duty to sacrifice forever any wage gains attained for them by the union."

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:42 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Turmoil in academia:

» Australian Universities on Strike from Creativity Machine
Update: Gary Sauer-Thompson has put together a balanced post outlining the background issues as well as the pros and cons of the strike at Public Opinion. [Read More]

» Australian Universities on Strike from creativity/machine
Slight case of sunburn after picketing and marching with my colleagues in support of the national action led by the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) today. The strikes are part of an ongoing campaign against the federal government's "reforms" o... [Read More]