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.
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.