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

a neo-liberal university « Previous | |Next »
February 4, 2013

The neo-liberal university is finally taking shape in Australia.

One early sign in the 1990s was reduced federal government funding and the increased reliance on student fees. Then it was worse student-staff ratios, the casualisation of teaching staff, the replacement of the shared governance (collegial) model with one more typical of a business corporation and the introduction of audit and performance measures and reviews.

The moment of the social democratic university (eg., that of Whitlam) and the culture of critical thinking was passing, as the publicly supported university gave way to the publicly assisted university in the newly forming knowledge economy.

AdelaideUniSA.jpg Gary Sauer-Thompson, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 2012

Today, in the corporatized university the governing decisions, including increasingly those affecting the curriculum, are determined by a top-down pyramid style of authority in order to generate increased revenue streams.

The new business model found its most powerful income stream in profession education. Professional education, such as in public or business administration, or law school, became the cash cow of colleges and universities; and one that was heavily reliant on overseas students.

This business model uses high tuition from graduate professional programs to finance the rest of the university. University degrees were tickets into the work force, whilst professors become revenue generators securing grants and contracts. The expanding on-line programs, often went with minimal investments in faculty, especially in the humanities, which were continually downsized. Increased teaching loads was the punishment for the failure to bring in research grants and academic teachers were seen as second rate academics.

The corporate managers are now using the weapons of cuts and austerity to shrink their already overstretched academic workforces. The long term strategy is to create a cheaper, more casualised, less unionised, more precarious and less protected academic labor force.

They can do so because of the emergence of the Internet, on-line classes. A specialist academic designs the curriculum for courses and then the university hires adjuncts to deliver the canned class. Here, the costs of offering a class are reduced, the potential size of the classes are maximized, and if and when the curriculum needs to be changed to reflect new market needs or preferences, it is simple to accomplish. There is no need to employ a lot of tenured academic staff. Those that bring in lots of research money will be retained.

What is driving the current austerity (staff retrenchment and cheaper courses) is decreasing public funding, falling demand for higher education services and reduced revenue for the corporate university. The overseas student bubble has burst, and that means cost cutting by university managers. High student debt, slow economic growth and low job hiring by companies also means reduced applications to graduate professional programs including business and law schools. Why go into debt if the jobs aren't there?

Along with these changes goes the erosion of the culture of critical thinking that enables students to think critically and connect their private troubles with larger public issues.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:43 AM | | Comments (7)


I can speak only of business courses, where not only has the international student bubble burst, but people are increasingly questioning the value of the degree itself. Entry and assessment standards have declined to the extent that people can now get a Bachelor of Business, and in many instances even an MBA, without acquiring any significant knowledge or capabilities that are actually useful in business.

Turning students into customers has meant trying to maximise the number of people who get a qualification, without regard for the true end-users (i.e. employers). Industry and government may respond by developing their own private education facilities in which they have confidence.

Universities today are like the media companies 10 years ago; about to be engulfed in a huge wave of change enabled by IT and incapable of even acknowledging the scope of the challenge, let alone coming up with constructive responses.

Rosalind Gill in the above linked article says that:

The costs of the shift from relatively secure work to poorly paid, informal and discontinuous employment in academia are high....They include chronic anxiety and stress brought about by long hours, high costs of travelling, and the inability to plan ahead because of endemic insecurity about one's position.

There is also the intensification of academics' labour, increasing workloads and unpaid overtime

The conditions of neoliberal academia are becomingly increasingly toxic as academics start treating one another--ie., the least successful in terms of research--- with contempt and derision.

the Humanities seem to be increasingly irrelevant in a neo-liberal university driven by market forces and competition.

a higher education today promises “success” held in place by a career. Those who do not have a career, who are “unsuccessful,” are consigned to a lower tier of existence, characterized by fewer rights and privileges.

Students now argue that they deserve passing grades because they “paid enough tuition".

"The neo-liberal university is finally taking shape in Australia."

the neo-liberal university has an academic-corporate culture since it is about making a profit. The spaces for dialog, inquiry and reflection are closing down. The emphasis is on vocationally oriented programs at the expense of the humanities and a liberal arts education.

Why do I always think of Habsburg Spain and Don Quixote when I read thread starters like this?
The human capacity for the ignoring of reality and logic for the yearning embrace toward fantasy and denial, remains an awesome phenomena indeed.
Critical thinking gravitates against this movement, if the emperor wears no clothes some naif will eventually point it out beyond contradiction, as has occurred with Abbott over recent times.
We must suspect that the evolutionary process operative just beneath every person's radar, in the background, will continue its process of winnowing out the dull from the duller, quite irregardless of our subjective preferences.