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university reform « Previous | |Next »
August 24, 2008

In 1988 John Dawkins transformed the university sector when he merged a multitude of colleges of advanced education with universities and introduced the Higher Education Contribution Scheme ending the notion of free university education in Australia by forcing students to pay back some of the costs of their degree.

Since then little changed, save for the Coalition allowing universities to charge students higher HECS fees for their degrees in order to top up their dwindling revenues. The current system seeks to fund all universities broadly at the expense of high-class research and specialisation and it underfunds the university sector. The quality of the sector as a whole continues to decline and the universities just ask for more money. Hence the Bradley Review.

SharpeHigherEducation.jpg There have been suggestions for more market reform in the form of student-centred voucher funding especially for the vocational education and training sector. Something needs to be done to the largely neglected VET sector, if the ALP is to address the nation's skills crisis and provide opportunities for future blue-collar workers.

Some argue the assumption that everyone should get qualified is flawed because unless we are willing to dumb down standards not everyone can get qualified. Low ability students do not benefit from more education. They may gain nothing from the experience and may in fact be disadvantaged by it.

That may be true. But it is a hardly an argument against ensuring that students have the necessary qualifications to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in the knowledge economy, if they so desire.

All the signs are that university reform under the ALP will mean a more market-driven system. On the other hand, the ALP Labor is less inclined than the Coalition to shift more of the burden on to students, and so it is more likely to require structural reform and increased performance from institutions themselves in exchange for more taxpayer funds. Hopefully that will happen as the universities' do not see the need to reform themselves.

If so, then the firewall between TAFE and university needs to be broken down, since the universities also provide vocational education for white collar professionals, and they have done so since colonial times.The stark status distinction between the two sectors is unwarranted.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:03 PM | | Comments (15)


An under resourced TAFE is pretty poor in terms of what it offers students. It is not very market orientated in meeting student demand.

They need to become more free standing institutions like universities. There is too much state ministerial control.

This country should have no more than about ten universities, and the current university student population should be reduced by about 50%. We really need a return to the three tier system

I am not sure that conservative scenario is likely to happen.

Ten isn't enough, and 50% is too much, but there's a lot to be said for making sharper distinctions between universities and TAFEs. The current situation is as bad for the TAFE system as for universities, one's losing funding and purpose while the other is losing focus.


Actually taking into account Australia's vast size and relatively sparse population, there are good reasons for more than ten, but not too many more.

why make the distinctions between TAFE and University sharper? Why link them in a region so that students can move easily between the two?

That was my reasoning JG. We also have population shifting to regional areas, so you'd need the scattered campus model or demountables or something.

Nan, we currently have people studying golf course management in universities. Why should someone who wants to manage golf courses have to meet uni entry requirements? Why should universities have to pull resources out of law, medicine, science and maths to cater for golf course management?

Not picking on golf course management particularly. There's nothing wrong with managing golf courses. I just don't see the point of setting high barriers to entry into the field.

It's that logic that lies behind arguing for greater distinctions between TAFE and uni. They are linked to the extent that TAFE can be a bridge to uni, but a really good TAFE system would produce qualified people, not partially qualified people who haven't done uni yet.

Arguments about elitism begin with the assumption that academic ability is more important or valuable than other abilities, so we solve the problem by moving training for other skills into universities. That's a rubbish assumption and a rubbish solution.


Quite simply because universities should be academic and scholarly powerhouses for the very brightest and most academical motivated people, far out of the reach of others.

Our universities have conceded far too much to being child-minding and group therapy fora.

Your comment 'universities should be academic and scholarly powerhouses for the very brightest and most academical motivated people, far out of the reach of others' is very old fashioned. Australia Universities were very vocational orientated.

Universities today are being redesigned as economic powerhouses in the knowledge economy.

If the universities were "vocationally oriented" then how am I "old-fashioned"? I dare say my plans would be far more radical than yours.

"Universities today are being redesigned as economic powerhouses in the knowledge economy."

Then the designs musn't have left the architect's office yet. People studying tourism and hospitality at university will graduate into the services economy.

a conservative conception of a university would be one that excludes vocational education. Cardinal Newman's The Idea of A University and all that. It keeps commerce, the professions and the market outside the cloistered walls.

It resonates today, but it incorporates research which Newman had excluded. Humboldt's Berlin research intensive model was the one that was picked up and developed as a model for institutions like Johns Hopkins.

and so we have the postmodern university: its walls are porous and it is a bundle of diverse knowledges that have no unity.

It's not the architects office. It is the politicians in Canberra who see the university as the drivers of the economy, as Steven Schwartz makes clear.

Universities desperately need the cash that comes from monopoly profits [from research]...Today, they are seen as just another set of commercial players.

The design is being implemented.

I misunderstood you Nan. I thought you were saying that universities are preparing people for a knowledge economy.

In some ways they are doing that, but in other ways they're doing whatever it takes to rake in cash. If universities are just another set of commercial players then we should at least be honest about it and stop calling them universities. Much less confusion that way.