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Higher education: reforms heralded « Previous | |Next »
March 10, 2009

The Rudd Government's response to the Bradley Review of higher education is to move towards to a “new student-centred, demand-driven higher education system” in which universities will need to be more responsive to student demand. The reform agenda is a shift more choice, differentiation and competition;

Gillard proposes that the education is more integrated and that it places vocational education at the centre. She seeks to make the system more equitable by increasing the percentage of students from poor backgrounds to 20%. It also accepts a national target of 40% of 25-24 year olds having an undergraduate qualification by 2020. If the latter is to be achieved, then the increasing students from poorer backgrounds would be essential.

That would require changing the culture of public schools as this is where the aspirations to higher education are nurtured. However, a fundamental problem is that Australia's high-demand universities select most of their students by examination performance, which is strongly associated with socioeconomic status and ethnic origin. Consequently, high socioeconomic students are heavily over-represented in Australian universities--in the Go8 universities not the regional ones.

The context of the Rudd Government's response is the economic crisis and the slump in world trade--the sharpest contraction since World War 2. If it is a shift away from the era of centralised control and towards the need for a more highly skilled workforce, then though higher education has been linked to the need to make the shift to the "knowledge economy", this in turn is yet to be linked to the "sustainable economy".

The knowledge economy emphasized the importance of knowledge in creating economic growth and global competitiveness. One interpretation of the ‘knowledge economy’ is turning science into a saleable commodity. In this kind of innovation policy universities and research become centres for the production of intellectual property --- eg., biotechnology-- though the public goods being annexed for private purposes in the market. It means commercialization at the expense of basic research capacity with competition and the market now defined at a global level. The implication is that some higher education institutions are becoming and will become disembedded from their national contexts because some driving forces of globalization exceed the strength of national factors.

The policy assumption here is that the future objectives of education and training systems place an emphasis on the central role of those systems in achieving the aim of Australia becoming a competitive and dynamic knowledge society. The increasing under-funding of Australia's higher education institutions since the 1990s was seen to be jeopardising their capacity to attract and keep the best talent and to strengthen the excellence of their research and teaching activities.

We still have the existence of competing visions in Australia: between the neo-liberal conception of the university as a service enterprise in competitive markets, the social democratic conception of the university as an instrument for national political agendas (nation building), and the traditional idea of the university as a public service model based on the argument that higher education cannot be solely market-driven because the logic of the market does not apply easily to education.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:33 AM | | Comments (5)


What do you mean by this "sharoestr" word?

Increased competition does not necessarily lead to more responsiveness of higher education institutions to the needs of the knowledge society. Rather than being driven by a competition for consumer needs, higher education
institutions could be driven by a competition for institutional reputation.

the sentence should read "The context of the response is the economic crisis and the slump in world trade--the sharpest contraction since World War 2".

Thanks for drawing my attention to sharoestr" when it should have been sharpest.

The gold coast is experiencing a slump in intelligence in public schools due to the influx of kiwi/islander students. 3 schools here fall well below the average and they are the schools which have 20% or higher of pupils in this group.

I wonder if Oz is a little behind the world economic drive for education and still represents good value for foreign students from some countries (equating dollar values too)to come here and study.
Canadian, Indian and Japanese students seem in good supply here but only a few Europeans.

The knowledge economy argument as advanced by Carolyn Allport in the Canberra Times is thus:

Australia's future international competitiveness requires a highly skilled labour force, strong research, innovation capability and cultural dynamism. This is especially so given the current global economic downturn. Our universities make a major contribution to these objectives. They are a direct investment in Australia's people and society, and are central to Australia's cultural, social and economic development.

She says that The Bradley and Cutler reviews both identify the need for increased public investment to maintain high-quality teaching, learning and research. We strongly support the Bradley recommendations to increase base funding to universities by 10 per cent and maintain the real value of funding through a revised indexation formula.