Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline

Donald Meyers

Published by AUPOD

© Donald Meyers 2012 First published 2012

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ISBN 978-0-646-57774-6

― . . . So why are Meyers‘ notions so uncomfortable to bear? Might it be the uncontainable administrative costs, the endless costly reviews, . . . .the burgeoning management control systems, the endless paperwork, compliance and bureaucracy. The overt biological unsustainability of a system under inexorable downward pressure . . ?‖ Brendon Coventry Assoc. Professor of Surgery University of Adelaide Director, Cancer Immunotherapy Laboratory Royal Adelaide Hospital

Perhaps the greatest act of sabotage ever perpetrated on Australian universities was the introduction, in the first half of the 1970s, of the principle of Federal funding on the basis of numbers of heads. Its ready acceptance by enthusiastic Vice-Chancellors and a supine professoriate immediately allowed the tentacles of government to invade these institutions and then, usually indirectly and obliquely, to influence, control and finally to corrupt them. Then, some fifteen years later, the Dawkins-inspired corporatization and forced amalgamation of the universities with a variety of vocational institutions led to the disruption of many long-standing and well-tested university practices, and to the varying corruption of previous standards in teaching and student evaluation. With the regrettable connivance of many educationists, this led on to much damage to some previously very worthy institutions, and to the emergence of what in many cases was a new kind of compliant, politically correct, parody of what had formerly been regarded as a university. In a forceful exposé – one clearly informed by first-hand experience – Dr Meyers brings to our attention the resulting parlous state of much of the Australian university scene - and the influence of this, and particularly of an element among our Faculties of Education, on Australian educational standards overall. Emeritus Professor R. L. Stanton University of New England

‖ Jim Davidson Veteran of five universities . Prof. Assoc. Emeritus Scholar School of Molecular Sciences Latrobe University ―The Gulag had Solzhenitzyn. Neville White. . the acca archipelago has Donald Meyers. a timely contribution to an examination of university managerial madness and the resultant decline in scholarly standards and the worth of Degrees‖. .‖ . .

To Civilise The City Essay Meanjin May 2012 Raimond Gaita Professorial Fellow. King's College London . Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy. for example—have become mendicants for a respected place in institutions that should honour them. Melbourne Law School & Faculty of Arts. but honour instead the study of hospitality and gaming. University of Melbourne. have the need to attract outside funding and the attraction of courses that guarantee secure employment so radically transformed the ways that universities understand what they do. however. So great is that transformation. so complete the success of managerial newspeak that some essential disciplines of the humanities and the sciences—philosophy and (even) physics.Only recently.

a Plan and KPI‟s for Everything and Everyone Student-Centred Pandering Every Child Wins a Prize The Scholarship of Teaching and Education Research Management v Academic ..Contents Acknowledgements Preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Punching Above Our Weight An Ill Wind A Policy.. No Contest! Where to From Here? About the Author i ii 1 22 39 64 97 115 127 155 169 .

Snow. they have declined to be acknowledged or requested that their story not be told. Last but by no means least I would like to acknowledge my parents Elizabeth and John. his work on the operational basis of the human mind brought a clarity to the neuropsychology of learning which could not be found in the education. social science or psychological literature. He has gone well above and beyond what could normally be expected in order to bring this work to fruition. however. To a person. I would also like to acknowledge his editorial assistance. I also acknowledge Katrina Barban for proof reading the manuscript. Our expansive discussions on human and animal behaviour and in particular. I am pleased to acknowledge the important contribution of Dr P. who have provided their unfailing and unflinching support. i .J. While I may not agree with their approach. I understand their desire for anonymity and acknowledge their contribution in terms of material and encouragement. I salute the efforts of my agent Mr John Timlin for his tireless but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to attract the interest of an Australian publisher. I would like to thank Mr Greg Robson. as they have done with all my endeavours.Acknowledgements Writing a book such as this cannot be done in isolation. I have had discussions with many people both inside and outside the academy and many people have sent me articles and anecdotes relating to matters at their institution. Dr Don Watson and my sister Ms Jenny Meyers for reading and commenting on the manuscript and providing encouragement and support.

I sketch out in Chapter 8 some actions that might help us start out on the understandably slow road to genuine reform. As authoritative and insightful as much of it is. While it is the product of many years of considerable observation. as hope springs eternal. If you are looking for scholarly analysis of the tertiary sector. These are the people whose “specialty” is the theory of learning and teaching. Chapter 4 and 5 examine the morphing of the academic/student relationship from one of master/apprentice to retailer/customer and the role of Educationalists in this process. the evidence suggests that few people do read it. I summarise some of the methods used to implement these changes in the first two chapters. however. a comprehensive representation of the bleak terrain in which tertiary education is delivered and an appreciation of the impact that reform has had on the education that they will purchase. particularly those contemplating a degree or stumping up the cash for someone else to do a degree. Chapter 7 examines the institutional dysfunction following inexorably from the deeply contradictory requirements placed on academic staff by their disengaged management.Preface The destructive “reform” of the tertiary sector spearheaded by John Dawkins and perpetuated by subsequent governments is the subject of this book. I believe. which forms a large part of the Bachelor of Education degrees that must be completed by school teachers if they are to gain employment in the State education systems. I suspect also that this chapter will resonate strongly with those who work in other government organisations and possibly also with those who work in some of the nation‟s more backward private enterprises. Chapter 6 investigates the “research of teaching” disease instigated by Educationalists and which has thoroughly infected the tertiary sector. there is a great deal to read. And finally. that the few administrative realities I have chosen to render will be more than sufficient to convince the uninitiated of the substantially negative impacts that have been unleashed upon teaching and research. my overriding intention has been to write something that will give any reader. discussion and thought. My contribution does not pretend to be scholarly. ii . “Educationalist” is the term that I use for university academics with degrees in Education. I use the words “attempt” and “picture” because to chronicle all aspects of the university bureaucracy would require several volumes. In Chapter 3 I will attempt to paint a picture of the administrative landscape in which tertiary education is delivered.

their brief responses indicated that they didn‟t publish this sort of work or that they already had similar work in the pipeline. I appreciate their need to minimise risk and to make a profit. I have included them. While I would hope that they are incorrect regarding the level of disinterest in our universities. A large number of Australian publishers reviewed this work and all declined to take it on. This will continue until the current managerial approach to tertiary education is replaced by conditions conducive to intellectual endeavour. particularly at senior levels and are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit first class home-grown talent. the faculty or the university. not to mention the fact that my undergraduate education was free and that I received a Commonwealth scholarship to support me through my doctoral work in neuroscience. MUP made a criticism that is worthy of some discussion at the outset. The issues of generality and documentary evidence played on my mind from time-to-time and they have indeed been given more than passing consideration.) In contrast. was that the dysfunction within iii . The non-university presses considered that there was insufficient interest in the topic to generate the sales necessary to make publication profitable. My conclusion. MUP considered it to contain “ . Certainly. not to paint myself as having been hard done by but. I consider myself lucky to have received a useful education. The Australian taxpayer invested heavily in my training to produce a Scientist with substantial depth and breadth of expertise. generalisations and too few direct examples with documentation and detailed explanation. Unfortunately. Australian universities are haemorrhaging expertise. however.. The university presses declined to publish the work.” As a Scientist. With the exception of Melbourne University Press (MUP). too many questionable assertions. my case is not special. (I eagerly await the publication of these works. the value of evidence was certainly not lost on me. If mine were an isolated case I would not have bothered to write this book. of which a good few involve me..Throughout the narrative is a liberal sprinkling of anecdotes. And yet the managers of my former institution found that this expertise was of no value to the students. rather. Apart from being indignant about the “tone” of the work. For my part. many of my colleagues have received and continue to receive much worse treatment. because I can speak most authoritatively about matters in which I was personally involved.

Thus at the end of the process. I submitted a Freedom of Information request on 25 June 2009. On 01 September 2009 I was advised that the review had found the original decision should stand. the university had at least a tacit policy that no information was to be released. The Ombudsman determined that a specific component of the student survey would have to be released. much of the evidence that I present is from the public domain. My request was declined on the 20 July 2009. I decided to request some student survey results from Flinders University for the years 2005 and 2006. however. On 13 August 2009 I submitted my application for an internal review of the decision. I had the less interesting half of some anonymous student surveys that were four to five years old. which had taken a year. Thus. On the basis of this experience. Having reached the stone wall. As a test case. Thus. apart from my own records and recollections and those of other university colleagues. In the mid phase of writing. Donald Meyers May 2012 iv . almost 12 months to the day after making my first telephone call to Flinders University. I concluded that attempting to write expansively about Australian Universities involving any remotely sensitive information drawn from university archives would be an exercise in futility. The paperwork was submitted on 24 September 2009 and the decision was made on 10 March 2010. I explored the possibility of acquiring documents from specific universities regarding certain matters. Having exhausted my options with the university. I took my case to the South Australian Ombudsman. I have thus drawn my evidence as and where I could find it and I leave it up to the reader to decide whether my case has been successfully made.the tertiary sector and the basis of that dysfunction are of such magnitude and so obvious that substantial documented evidence drawn from university archives is unnecessary to establish the case. There followed intermittent discussions with various staff members over three months during which I was given a variety of reasons why I could not have the information. in March of 2009. In my opinion. I initiated discussions with the university‟s Executive Officer Legal and Contract who was the person duly authorised to discuss such matters.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>1 Chapter 1 Punching Above Our Weight .

building collapses and the like? The answer. impoverished outback regions. Educationalists have successfully promoted highly negative changes in primary. is precious few. Why is it that Australia is importing professional and technical people at an astounding rate. to ask why Australia is relatively free of such calamities. In the 1970‟s. How many major civic disasters have occurred in Australia in the last 50 years – bridge failures. who would today be classified as learning disabled. A large part of the answer can be found in the rigour and standard of education and training that used to be the order of the day in this country.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>2 Australia may well be the lucky country. at the beginning of the second millennium. How is it that advertisements for adult reading classes can claim that we have over a million functionally illiterate adults in the country? How many can‟t do basic arithmetic either? How many functionally illiterate and innumerate young people are there in the pipeline? Quite a few. You don‟t have to travel far to appreciate that the quality of life supported by our civic infrastructure and our health and welfare services and the ability to lead our lives relatively untrammeled by despots and entrenched official corruption is virtually unmatched anywhere else in the world. And these are not teenagers from remote. I say “used to be” because over the last 20 to 30 years. most have been to school or at least have had the opportunity to attend school. left school at the end of grade 7 with the ability to do simple arithmetic and write a properly formatted and grammatically correct letter to a prospective employer. Now. disease epidemics. students. while at the same time the most rapidly expanding sector of government over the last decade has been welfare? How many Dr Death-type scandals will we need before we understand the cost of relying on the education systems of other . if you talk to people on the frontline of health and welfare service delivery. fifty percent of first year university students cannot do the same. as they watch disaster befall others on the evening news. But it probably doesn‟t occur to most people. secondary and now tertiary education resulting in plummeting standards over virtually all areas of education and training. Our intellectually soft approach to education has systematically deskilled our people from grade 1 onward. Class sizes in the 1970s were certainly no smaller. genuine poverty was greater and there was no shortage of dysfunctional families or poorly educated parents. aircraft crashes. fortunately.

Writing this book has been dispiriting. The more you read about our education system. Politicians and bureaucrats appear satisfied to accept the bumph generated by the universities‟ costly administrative compliance . we are well on the way to achieving the latter. I have taught science at the tertiary level and it grieves me to bear witness to the woeful standard of high-school leavers entering first year university science courses. That‟s what this book is about…the journey down the road to Nitwit Nationhood. the more you realise that the problems are well documented and yet our bureaucrats simply recycle expensive failed solutions and our Educationalists cling to their failed pedagogical theories in the hope that reality will change and one day they‟ll be proved to be winners. My reason for focusing on science is simply that I am a Scientist – I have been trained in science. non-profit and private sectors. my specific concern regarding the parlous state of our universities relates to the impact on science teaching and research. If my colleagues in the humanities feel that I have done them an injustice. we are front runners in the losers‟ race to the bottom. That the facts and advice from those who have proved their ability in teaching and research have been so roundly ignored by university bureaucrats and governments of all stripes. it cannot be denied that the standard of education delivered by tertiary institutions is inextricably linked to the standard of primary and secondary education. suggests they are captives of their own language and that of Educationalists. Although much of what I will describe in this book is typical across university departments and faculties. making them immune to criticism and blind to common sense and rational argument. to say the least. then I urge them to sharpen their quill.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>3 nations? When Australia ceases to be a viable quarry. Fat chance!! Instead. the major career path for our young people will be that of water joey to an imported professional class. I have worked extensively as a professional Scientist in the public. Are our universities creating the clever country or nurturing the Nitwit Nation? If you go by the scholastic abilities of the bulk of students in our education system. We will therefore venture into the failings of the latter at points where it is relevant to the decline of the former. While I will dwell mostly on the university system. as seen by myself and others from within the education system over the last thirty years. mix up a batch of ink and write their own story.

responding to “student and employer demand” and “widening access”.e. The recommendation that will catch the attention of most people is that by 2020. despite the billions of dollars drifting through the primary. the dream that University is the place to turn around years of social and educational deprivation. There could be no other sector in either public or private industry that is so heavily regulated and so continually subject to review and restructure. secondary and tertiary sectors. Many of the Review‟s themes are no different from anything in the last two decades: enhancing “productivity”. once you peel away the rhetorical political and administrative gloss. Considering the tonnes (literally) of verbiage produced by these reviews. Here too. The proportion of students emerging from 15 years of education without the basic skills needed to underpin productive employment simply defies belief. It has been the response of University managers to these government demands which has resulted in the creation of dysfunctional institutions and a drastic fall in . The tertiary sector has been under virtual continuous government review over the last 20 years.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>4 reporting systems rather than roll up their sleeves and do the unglamorous work required to ensure that the youth of the country receive a useful education. the conclusion that the sector is in serious trouble is inescapable. Many of the recommendations deal with regulatory changes that will come with a hefty price tag and contribute little. bureaucrats. The review‟s 46 recommendations will ensure the sector undergoes unproductive convulsions for another decade or two. It has been delivered and the signs are not good. Compliance costs for Universities will rise yet again. 40% of Australians between the ages of 25 and 34 should have completed a university qualification at bachelor level or above and that 20% of university students should be from low socioeconomic or disadvantaged backgrounds. The Bradley Review manages to keep the dream alive. if anything to teaching or research. policy wonks and tertiary-sector courtiers who will consume vast amounts of resources to produce a system even more top heavy in bureaucracy and correspondingly inefficient. The Bradley Review The latest review of the sector is the Bradley Review. graduates) that is fit for service (employment). Increasing the regulatory requirements will prove to be a field day for lawyers. it is astounding that the establishment is yet to admit that the basic problem is that the system produces less and less product (i. And this.

This enables the student to take their government funded university place to any University that will take them. Senator the Honorable Chris Evans is on record as saying that “…in the new demand-driven system” he does not want to see universities receiving “…perverse incentives to increase enrolments in disciplines where revenue exceeds the costs of delivery.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>5 standards. Those with a jaundiced eye for politicians would possibly say that the government has prioritised Bradley‟s recommendations with respect to ideological purity. I suspect that if the review panel was genuinely seeking solutions they should have engaged in extensive and confidential discussions with a wide cross section of practicing academics rather than the gaggle of senior managers that populate the ranks of those with which high-level reviews generally consort. In other words.” If the Minister truly believes this. . Professor Bradley noted that consultation for the Review identified many problems but few solutions. The Minister. revenue had to exceed costs! One can only conclude that the report and its political backers are driven by social and economic fantasies rather than any understanding that there needs to be a place where the nation‟s best and brightest can achieve their potential for their own benefit and that of the nation. For her part. Universities are now free to cannibalise each other‟s student body to promote their own growth (Kuru anyone?). it might inadvertently result in the extermination of some of the tin-pot institutions that emerged from the tertiary-sector amalgamations of the early 1980s. how could he possibly embrace a market-based system? I happen to work in a market-based system and the last time I looked. electoral popularity and minimal outlay…picking the “low hanging fruit”. if one wanted to stay in business. More students than ever before will gain access to university and one can be sure that there will be great pressure to convert them into graduates. While this is unlikely to enrich the University experience for students or do much to raise academic standards. The Bradley Review will accelerate this process by throwing Universities into a no-holds-barred competition for students by abolishing the enrollment quota system and replacing it with Student Entitlement Funding. The Government‟s response to the Bradley Review has been understandably piecemeal. to put it in management parlance. Student intake at Universities will indeed be deregulated – the market will rule – unless the outcome does not suit the government in which case additional regulations will be applied.

As I write. The best Universities Australia can muster on the issue is to claim “…to have some mild concerns over the absence of systemic planning for these processes and a lack of clarity on how they will be integrated and prioritised”. The . university bureaucrats won‟t ask whether they need to jump. The much vaunted sometime Innovation and Science Minister. It should not be forgotten that the Bradley Review was a creature of the former Howard Government who made it their business to reduce funding for Australia‟s University sector by something in the order of 30% over their term in office. is reputed to have said that the government is committed to implementing change and academics should get used to dealing with a high number of reviews. have identified 23 reviews. albeit a high profile one. Senator Kim Carr. The makeup of the panel ensured that only certain outcomes would be possible – a well worn “Yes Minister” technique. This would simply be unacceptable to politicians. Anyone bold (or stupid) enough to suggest that there may be merit in earlier approaches to tertiary education will quickly find themselves accused of wanting to retreat to the “ivory tower” or worse still of being “elitist”. Minister for Employment. The people appointed to the Review panel clearly reflect the Howard Government‟s ideological stance on tertiary education. In typical fashion. Education and Training in the Hawke Labor Government. the group that claims to represent all Australian universities. inquiries and consultations with which the sector is currently involved and to which it will attempt to respond. Unfortunately the Bradley Review is only one of many. one fulltime company director and the director of a private education and training consultancy firm – not a practicing academic in sight. Imagine for a moment that the government accepts a dozen recommendations from each of these processes for implementation (surely a gross underestimate). Universities Australia (UA). let alone a Scientist. they just want a committee decision to confirm their own ideas about how much work others will have to do for the institution to achieve compliance. The panel of four consisted of two high-level bureaucrats with backgrounds in education and economics.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>6 Perhaps the problem was that many of the solutions on offer from the shop floor might reflect the successful facets of the university system before its pseudo-commercialisation by the Honourable John Dawkins. Each university will then have to determine how it will implement 276 recommendations! University bureaucrats will dutifully squander their institution‟s resources participating in and responding to these gab and paper fests and then claim to be cash-strapped when it comes to funding teaching and research. bureaucrats and Educationalists.

“innovation”. when we know that the two-dollar-shop university degree is the order of the day? How much longer are we going to pretend that our universities provide an environment in which sharp Australian minds can flourish to produce the discoveries and pass on the knowledge that underpins our standard of living and quality of life? Perhaps. “excellence”. The public need to know that the nation‟s ability to supply competent people. by all the standard measures. biology and physics or for that matter “employability skills”. If. what justification can there be for entrenching the same level of failure in our tertiary system? We need radical improvements in average literacy and numeracy in the pre-tertiary arena. is being severely compromised by the blind and persistent application of free market ideology and soft-options education theory. as the Bradley Review would have us believe. from tradies to neurosurgeons. Does anyone wonder why so much review is required when the fundamentals of education and research have been established for centuries? At the institutional level. Whether or not the bureaucrats believe that constant change advances education is beside the point. It should therefore surprise no-one that academic staff have become paper pushers first. How much longer are we going to live with university management rhetoric that spruiks “quality”. there is a need for a substantial increase in the percentage of the population who acquire a university degree. there is little potential for improving student performance in higher order subjects like history. Without this. It is a solution without a problem. What is surprising is the appearance of a small but growing number of traditionally educated academics who have abandoned the academic mission and actively deny a similar education to today‟s university students by promoting the soft educational options that have failed our primary and secondary students so badly. “world‟s best practice” and any other number of inanities to the wouldbe customer.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>7 constant-change mantra is pandemic within the Education bureaucracies of government and universities. our primary and secondary students are falling behind. The Education sector is in dire need of honesty. there is an overwhelming and constant focus on bureaucracy and administration. The potential for successful career development at the tertiary level will be even more remote. The fact is that constant and largely pointless change is all the bureaucracy is geared to produce. geography. If we as a community agree that it should . with teaching and research relegated to a distant second.

Current theory holds that the student is the best judge of their own educational needs. There is a curious belief that all learning should be fun and that learning activities must be directly relevant to the student‟s every-day life. Loser Pays By any measure. regarding completion of secondary education. then let‟s be honest about it. The teacher‟s discipline knowledge is unimportant and is more likely to be a hindrance than a help to students as they diligently go about constructing their own knowledge. Examinations are a discriminatory and inferior form of assessment and should be avoided as they permit the comparison of student performance which is inevitably a threat to someone‟s self-esteem. While the brightest students will continue to educate themselves. what is glaringly obvious at the tertiary level.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>8 be so and we also agree that in order to achieve this goal we must turn our universities into remedial institutions and glorified high schools. To give you an idea of just how far our standards have fallen. They are producers and users of knowledge and teachers are there simply to manage the learning process. Australia is deep within the perfect educational storm and all the indicators point to this. Rote learning and repetition are forbidden. CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). Think about it the next time a medical professional snaps on the gloves in readiness for an invasive procedure. We need to be very clear about what is gained and what is lost. read this quote from Professor Geoff Masters. "Most students can complete 13 years of school and be awarded a senior certificate without having to demonstrate minimally acceptable standards of . If our universities are no longer to be places of discovery and genuine higher learning and instead are to be little more than (student) demand and (university) supply assembly lines turning out educational product at minimum tolerable specifications. is that there is a far greater difference in the competence between top and bottom order graduates. We have had 30 years of the most baseless and vacuous education theory controlling curriculum and teaching in our primary and secondary schools and teacher training programs. yet they emerge from the institution with the same qualification. then let‟s be honest about it.

writing. writing and maths (echoes of the 3 Rs)! Although these might be revelations for some. The academic staff certainly know it. Mr. that would be a pretty cruel way to treat people". Thus. Unfortunately. Mr McAlpine went on record as saying: "If we have researchers that think we should establish a benchmark to fail the bottom 15 per cent of children. numeracy. made university funding directly contingent on student numbers. This effectively destroyed the ability of universities to determine entrance on the basis of academic merit and provided a compelling incentive to enroll anyone and keep them progressing through to graduation. Mr. As apparently everyone who attends high school receives the qualification. they are not revelatory to the over 40s who teach in the nation‟s schools or universities. McAlpine opposes the introduction of minimum standards because students might fail and as a result they would not receive a record of their completion of high school! In an article also published in the Sydney Morning Herald. irrespective of performance. which nicely encapsulates the intellectual torpor that typifies the professional Education establishment. entrance to university and progression through degree programs is largely determined by the university‟s balance sheet. This is the thin end of the student-driven education market . civics and citizenship. one also wonders what it is worth. (Sydney Morning Herald 8 August 2008) Why Mr McAlpine believes that students who cannot read and write should be awarded a qualification is unclear. science. instigated in the late 1980s by the Hawke Labor government and championed by the then Minister for Employment. it also dawns on many students. the day after the Masters article. The so called reforms of the tertiary sector.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>9 proficiency across a range of fundamental domains such as reading. This pseudo free-market approach to funding has completely redefined the student/staff relationship. John Dawkins. Jim McAlpine. Education and Training." (Sydney Morning Herald 7 August 2008). the tertiary education scene is faring only marginally better. Professor Masters also suggested that any qualification certifying completion of high school should require students to achieve minimum standards in reading. the university bureaucrats know it and on varying time scales. Perhaps even more worrying is the response to Professor Masters‟ assertions from the president of the NSW Secondary Principals‟ Council. making the student the customer calling the tune for the academic staff who have become the service providers.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>10 wedge in which customer satisfaction and the institutional position on league tables is everything. Funding per student was severely cut and student numbers rose substantially. would demand their university degree. effectively giving the VC . The fundamental rationalisation for the reforms was to improve efficiency by running universities along corporate lines and to achieve social justice goals for disadvantaged groups. Academic staff. The reforms of the Hawke government took a diversified tertiary sector that was funded more-or-less at arm‟s length from the government of the day and bludgeoned it into the National Unified System (NUS) by giving the Minister and his bureaucrats direct control of funding. improving the sector did not require its destruction (We are assuming here that improvement is the objective of reform). instead of Deans (faculty leaders) being appointed to office by the academic staff they would lead. To make up the short fall. Under the new management arrangements. it seems that the major achievements of the Dawkins reforms have been fiscal relief for successive federal governments by transferring costs to students. overpaid spendthrifts who actively discriminated against people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. institutions were forced to become involved in distracting revenue-raising activities with little relevance to their core business and many institutions with little in common were forced into unwieldy amalgamations simply to avoid bankruptcy. the creation of a significant number of “pretend” universities and the transformation of the nation‟s academics from a group of highly skilled and committed individuals acting with a common educational purpose into little more than administrative drones. it had to be destroyed and replaced with a corporate “top-down” management structure. the assumption being that academics were lazy. would be unlikely to willingly cooperate with the government on this matter. the Vice Chancellor (VC) would appoint the Deans. It has had a profoundly corrupting influence on university governance and ultimately students will be the losers. The existing collegial “bottom up” form of university governance would aid their resistance and accordingly. however. While one could accept that the tertiary sector may have been in need of change. in return. Two decades on. A substantial reduction in academic standards would be required to accommodate the armada of academically unprepared first year students who would fund the newly accessible institutions and who. It was understood by the architects of reform that a reversal of the management structure was absolutely essential if the corporatisation dream was to become a reality.

curriculum and teaching methods. If the new system required standards to be lowered and students to be short changed. Any Dean who would not do the VC‟s bidding would be looking for another job or. it has been a disaster for science. most students wouldn‟t know and many probably wouldn‟t care. Roy Slavin and HG Nelson. while those responsible for delivering the academic product were thoroughly marginalised. Once subject (discipline) experts were made peripheral to the academic decision-making process in favour of Educationalists and their devotees. After all. The primary interest of the university bureaucracy was clearly to prove themselves worthy government lackeys by turning out minimum cost degrees for satisfied customers and supplying the government with the vast quantity of accountability paperwork they demanded. As retired General Peter Cosgrove said when discussing leadership in Australia. The almost total rejection by the new management of academic staff advice on academic matters has created highly dysfunctional institutions consisting of us. assessment. “The integrity of the leader is the integrity of the business” or. more likely. a university bureaucracy. The hamfisted approach by management and the consistently mean-spirited treatment of academic staff stood the new managers in good stead with their political masters.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>11 control over the faculties and disenfranchising the academic staff. The enthusiasm with which the new university management took to implementing the government‟s vision took academic staff by surprise.” The cost of this stink is incalculable. . It was described by some as bordering on religious zeal. This in no way supports the educational outcomes that the student or the nation requires. them and a few mercenaries. While Arts and Social Science faculties may be satisfied with this arrangement. put it: “…when an organisation becomes dysfunctional. directly answerable to government. The degrading of education standards required to make the National Unified System economically viable has been rationalised by invoking the same soft-option education theories that have produced so many poorly educated high school leavers. took control of academic matters. then so be it. The National Unified System with its corporatised management structure and bums-on-seats funding model has thoroughly debauched the university mission. it only took a few years for the peddlers of post modern pedagogical pap to hold sway over content. another career. At the stroke of a pen. the stink starts at the top. as Australia‟s favourite social commentators.

the outcome of research in the humanities is eternally contested. which has had the effect of making all ideas equal. the social justice agenda is a major theme within undergraduate Education programs and trainee teachers are forced to swallow the party line or suffer the consequences. 20% by 2020 will be the final step in the transformation of our universities to remedial high schools. But does anyone seriously believe that the social justice agenda is advanced by simply allowing all comers to enroll at a university and then degrading academic standards to maximise the chances that they will stay and eventually graduate? The answer to this question is apparently yes. Scientists have always felt a little smug about this state of affairs and quite reasonably felt that those with humanities credentials would remain peripheral to science. In all likelihood. .Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>12 The Social Agenda Within universities there has always been a degree of tension between the humanities and the sciences. Indeed. the knowledge base in their discipline. it is a bureaucrat‟s dream. Under current fiscal arrangements. In contrast. It has therefore come as a great shock to many science academics to find the teaching of their disciplines substantially hamstrung by the latest theories about learning and teaching emanating from Education and Social Science departments. While such an approach is a proven failure. nature is the final arbiter of the validity of their research and thus. Modern education theory has gained traction out of university management‟s desperate need to maximise government funding. The soft-options education approach has provided the pseudo intellectual basis for the lowering of standards required to achieve these objectives. if we go by the government‟s commitment to the 20% by 2020 recommendation emanating from the Bradley Review. however. There is no impartial umpire available to make a final decision. is that for Scientists. This is simply management by numbers. they are touted as being essential to achieve social justice in education. the easiest way to achieve this is to maximise student enrollment and retention rates. Perhaps the most fundamental difference. This centres largely on the low participation rates for people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. They attract very different people to their ranks and go about their work in very different ways. In addition to pretending that the education fads of the last few decades result in better educated students.

The so called “Shame File” included in an article written by Dr Leesa Wheelahan and published by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education is a case in point. particularly those in science and mathematics. It is clearly very poor bang for the buck and genuinely helps a miniscule fraction of those who require it. What is abundantly clear is that people from low socioeconomic backgrounds are underrepresented in university enrolments largely because they have not been prepared for such a path in primary and secondary school. they are far outnumbered by the denialists. While it is pleasing to see that some people in high academic positions recognise the root of the problem. Much to the chagrin of the social justice engineers. One wonders what way is better than teaching them in school. The statistics show that while more . Nevertheless. which is demonstrably untrue. for example. Attempts to do this so far have contributed to the noticeable fall in academic standards and consumed substantial resources for support services. This is not the fault of the University and the University is simply not the appropriate instrument for redressing social inequalities in education. this has not stopped Social Science academics wagging their accusing fingers at their university colleagues. Take. university leaders have invoked the social justice mantra to justify their decision to lower the rigour and standard of courses. These people attempt to paint university academics as people who purposefully exclude those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Professor Stuart Campbell. He agrees that numeracy and literacy are major problems for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and is on record as saying that we must “…find better ways of increasing the level of maths competence”. He then runs up the white flag. literacy and study skills! Could you call an institution populated by such students a University? What Professor Campbell and his colleagues should be doing is applying the hammer lock and choke hold to the primary and secondary education establishment to encourage positive changes to ensure students are properly prepared for tertiary education and/or employment. none of this has made much difference to the university student demographic. all but admitting that primary and secondary education is a failure and says that what universities need is a new generation of academic staff who can teach students who do not possess numeracy. Pro Vice Chancellor Learning and Teaching at the University of Western Sydney. While pre-tertiary education is the obvious starting point for furthering the social justice agenda.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>13 No-one is saying that people should be excluded from university on the basis of their socioeconomic status. however.

Most Australians would also understand intuitively.” Tiger Woods is not renowned as one of golf‟s philosophers but in that short statement the most highly paid sportsman in history tacitly acknowledged several important insights with respect to achieving and sustaining excellence. As the story goes. Mr. that entry into top level sport is based on motivation. Rational analysis is not an option. “John. for example the earning of a university degree. Second. hard work. if not explicitly. should be readily achieved without any of these. is the finding that poor pretertiary grounding is the major barrier to success at university. He called out to Woods to “…come and have a few beers instead of going to the gym to work out”. Daly was downing a lager or three when he spotted Tiger on his way to the gym. It is therefore strange to behold supposedly intelligent people claiming that success in the mental arena. however.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>14 people than ever are being awarded university degrees. compulsive gambling. First. for the maintenance of what we might call traditional or conventional education standards. . Gold. There is an interesting story told about a conversation between golfing legends Tiger Woods and John Daly. to which Tiger allegedly replied. Gold. To argue. chain smoking chronic underperformer of international golf. More important. For those who don‟t know. We would have it no other way. but routinely ignored. talent alone is insufficient. Gold Australians love nothing more than to bask in the glory of the nation‟s sporting victories. If reality doesn‟t agree with education theory. hard drinking. This would not surprise most people. if I had your talent. I wouldn‟t need to go to the gym. “Punching above our weight” in sport is a national pastime and we are more than willing to accept that national sporting prowess is achieved through an unashamedly elitist and fiercely competitive system. the government‟s review of the first year demographic (The First Year Experience in Australian Universities: Findings from a Decade of National Studies) shows that changes are largely due to the vast increase in the number of foreign (predominantly Indian and Chinese) undergraduate students. is to invite contempt and derision from the social justice warriors and shrill cries of “elitist”. then reality will just have to go elsewhere. inherent talent and demonstrated ability. as they would understand intuitively that university is not the place to attempt a reversal of twelve or so years of educational damage. John Daly is the highly talented.

education is not seen as important as sport. Imagine how the AIS would function if it were saddled with the bumson-seats funding model that the Federal government has forced universities to adopt. which has absorbed hundreds of millions of dollars. Academic discipline experts should determine entry requirements.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>15 irrespective of one‟s talent. Older readers will probably remember the ground tremors following Australia‟s dismal performance in the Montreal Olympics (one silver. It is clear to all that our prowess in sport is achieved by focusing resources on those who have the talent. Sport-loving Aussies were appalled. motivation and demonstrated ability to achieve in their chosen discipline. And third. who witnessed the events in Montreal.on the spot. curriculum and assessment and teach in their preferred style. Unfortunately. In the years preceding the Dawkins/Hawke Government reforms. the motivation to succeed must substantially outweigh the motivation for instant gratification. sustained hard work is required to achieve and maintain excellence. It has been estimated that the gold medals won at the Sydney 2000 Olympics cost the nation several million dollars each. entry to the tertiary system should be based on demonstrated ability. The result was the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). all of it focused on a very small group of elite athletes. four bronze .no gold!). Malcolm Fraser. The education should be rigorous and the standard should be high. the current system is based on the needs of the balance sheet and a misguided social justice agenda. Educationalists don‟t seem to understand this and hence have arrived at the conclusion that hard mental effort and competition in any form is not required to be a successful learner. on students from the top 20% of high . The Prime Minister of the time. universities drew. with the added condition that everyone had to get a medal! How would the Australian cricket team perform if the government forced the selectors to take all comers? And what would happen if people with little or no experience of coaching or playing gained the power to dictate to coaching staff what skills to coach and how to coach? What would happen? A bloody riot most likely. Professional associations should also be involved in degree programs where appropriate. Unfortunately. It is not a spectator event until the bridge collapses or the patient accidentally dies – and you can‟t sell the TV rights in advance either! Irrespective of whether one believes that the National Unified System can deliver the educational needs of the nation. committed the government to action . in the main.

Unrepresentative Swill The end result of the so-called reforms of the tertiary sector. To say they were unrepresentative is also twisting the truth as the professors were committed to representing their disciplines. including faculty governance. regardless of academic performance. that overall. continuing and graduating students. one wouldn‟t need to be Einstein to predict that the standard of the education would have to fall. In the post-Dawkins era virtually anyone can enroll. . (which will be reviewed in the next chapter) so vigorously pursued by John Dawkins. In other words. if any. Complete control of all aspects of university teaching and research is now in the hands of managers whose primary objective is self interest and whose secondary objective is to implement corporate and government policy irrespective of its obvious failure to deliver a genuine education.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>16 school leavers. The yardstick these days for a good degree program or a good course is the number of enrolments it can generate rather than content or rigour or its contribution to a cohesive degree program. The reform propaganda of the day had it that the university was run by a small group of sclerotic professors who were unrepresentative of the university at large and slow to make decisions. however. Management of universities is now effectively divorced from educational standards. the worth of an Australian university course is measured by its economic efficiency – maximum income for minimum outlay. dynamic and representative group than any collection of modern day university managers. their devotion to self was paralleled by devotion to their discipline and institution and the maintenance of the integrity and standards of the education they were responsible for delivering – if for no other reason than their reputations depended on it. The fact is. provided they can stump up the fees (HECS) or sign off on an agreement to pay their HECS debt at some point in the future. control over academic matters. departments and faculties and the academics that staffed them. Every opportunity is made available to the student to keep themselves enrolled. the stodgy old professors were a far more diverse. While this approach was good for minimising the high youth unemployment statistics of the day (an issue that no doubt occupied the minds of politicians at that time). While the professoriate was certainly not composed of shrinking violets. The reputation of the modern university manager depends only on the balance sheet. which is directly proportional to the number of enrolling. is that academics have little.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


No doubt the professoriate took their time with decisions. Does this mean that they made poor decisions? Is there anything to say that quick decisions made without consideration of those who will be impacted by those decisions are necessarily better? “Efficient” decision making is often the hallmark of dictatorial governance. The so-called inefficiency of the professoriate was in fact a reflection of the thought and consideration that knowledgeable and committed people felt was essential to maintain the veracity of their craft and the integrity of their institutions. It also had the important function of reducing the potential for adopting flash-in-the-pan educational fads and pointless administrative changes that would needlessly consume scant resources. While the survival of some businesses may well depend on being positioned at the leading edge of the latest trend, constant change has extremely negative consequences for education and research. When it is understood that a bachelor degree takes three years and that scientific research operates on a time scale of decades, the benefit of a steady hand on the helm is immediately obvious. No-one would claim that the collegial system of governance was perfect. The tertiary sector reforms of the late 1980s, however, have traded an imperfect system for one that is actually disconnected from the teaching and research effort – the two, and arguably the only, responsibilities of our universities. We now have a system effectively concentrating greater power into fewer, markedly less-representative hands, whose efficiency with decision making largely derives from their cavalier disregard for academic staff - the people responsible for teaching and research. Divorced from the ranks of working academics, immune from the educational consequences of arbitrary management decisions, separated from teaching and research, the new breed of university manager is a devotee of process and systems which are not anchored in educational excellence or ethical behavior. Their content-free management tools serve only to promote the bureaucratic view of institutional efficiency while devolving responsibility as far down the line as possible. When disaster cannot be denied, neither management as a group nor any individual manager can be held responsible. Most likely, academic staff will be blamed for failing to adhere properly to system requirements or it might be suggested that the system needs a little fine tuning somewhere. The system is not there to support academics responsible for delivering teaching and research but to support, protect and reproduce management.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


As reforms have unfolded, lumbering and inflexible management structures and systems have been established where simplicity and common sense should have operated. University management promotes their faith in administrative systems with a discourse that consists almost entirely of the vacuous language of the business school, the Education department and the communications consultant. The vocabulary is narrow and changes constantly, restricting the extent to which others can participate while also controlling the breadth and depth of debate. People genuinely interested in higher learning have little time and even less desire to learn a language whose role is to obscure and exclude. An address from management often amounts to a poorly connected stream of slogans and buzz words centred on the faculty‟s latest financial problem. The following email to academic staff is one example of the pointless gibberish visited upon staff. Note that all the improvements are related to administrative compliance activities and strategic plan KPIs (Key Performance Indicators - more about these in Chapter 3) and that academics will have to spend their time learning the new system. Colleagues The Office of Quality, Planning & Statistics is redeveloping its delivery of management statistics, analytical data and key performance statistics. The Business Intelligence (BI) initiative supersedes the data warehouse proof-of-concept project and will eventually replace (and exceed) the content currently delivered by the Management Information System (MIS). The BI initiative has so far delivered improvements in compliance-based reporting for student evaluation of teaching and courses (SET and SEC), performance statistics supporting the Strategic Plan's key performance indicators, and statistical and analytical reporting on the national Graduate Destination Survey. Soon to be delivered also are statistical and analytical reports on projections of student load compared to actual load. I encourage you to attend the preliminary information sessions about the BI initiative. You can find out how accessing statistical and analytical information will change for you, what the plans for the future are, and why Business Intelligence isn't an oxymoron. Session details are:…

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


University and faculty bureaucracies have much to hide – gross financial inefficiency, abysmal staff relations and a precipitous slide in educational standards, to mention the obvious. No matter which way you look at it, the education industry has been playing pass-the-parcel with Australia‟s educational reality for at least 20 years, knowing full well that at some point the music will stop. Who will open the package or whether anyone who counts has the guts to open it is another question. All we can be sure of is that the music will stop. Recent surveys reveal that over half of Australia‟s academics consider their managers to be incompetent. Personally, I‟m surprised the figure is so low. The running joke amongst many staff is that university bureaucrats are all graduates of the Seagull School of Management. They fly in out of nowhere, start immediately to behave aggressively toward everyone around them, consume resources at a prodigious pace, shit everywhere and then fly off at short notice, leaving others to clean up their excrement. The fundamental incompetence of management is patently evident in the highly negative way they react to criticism. Academics are raised on criticism and the contest of ideas. It is arguably their single most important tool for establishing the truth and making decisions. But to critique a management decision marks one as a troublemaker – someone who isn‟t a “team player”- someone whose contribution is not consistent with the strategic vision of the organisation! To share the critique with one‟s faculty colleagues is treasonous and will likely lead to a public flogging, if not a hanging, which is a routine tactic for maintaining fear in the ranks and keeping would-be traitors in line. Management incompetence is also reflected in their constant return to failed solutions - restructuring degree programs and faculties being perennial favourites - and the adoption of failed systems, like Quality Assurance (QA), which functions only to assist university and government bureaucrats in their denial of reality. The vast resources diverted to support these unproductive activities are regarded as a small price to pay to keep the music playing!

Keeping Them in Line
Other signs of obvious incompetence include the routine use of secrecy and the exploitation of employment insecurity to coerce compliance from staff. It‟s difficult to imagine why there is such a great need in a university to keep information from staff, other than to ensure that as individuals they are unprepared to deal with issues that impact on them and that as a group they have no time to organise opposition.

the full power of the HR dreadnought can be unleashed on the hapless soul to ensure dismissal or at least retrenchment. no documentation. if not silenced. A few academics who aspire to power will be brought into management‟s outer circle where their duty is to reinforce management‟s view of itself and to act as a bulwark against the grumbling academic underclass and to allow management to distance itself from the implementation of regressive and unpopular changes. Ease of decision making is far more important than intelligent. no list of attendees and in many cases no hint of what the meeting is about. Putting about rumours of staff cuts is a classic divide and rule tactic and some managers have admitted they do this to keep the staff on edge and make them more cooperative. While in the early stages of reform. as they used to be. aggressive. Worse still is to be called to a meeting with management at short notice with no agenda. Typical university managers are purposefully detached from the realities of the organisation‟s real work. the Human Resources department has become one of the most important arms of management. considered discussion. providing the means by which potential dissidents can be legally filtered from a group of would-be employees and should one slip through and cause trouble. Australia has now suffered 20 years of content-free university management. Appropriately staged bombastic. Then there is the rumour mill. Treating employees like this is a tactic successful organisations abandoned decades ago. denigrating and manipulative behavior ensures that reasonable people are at least marginalised. they are well on the road to becoming a monoculture. It‟s not uncommon for rank and file committee members to receive tens or hundreds of pages of documentation less than 24 hrs before they are supposed to reach important decisions. Instead of universities being a haven for diversity. it did not take long for those who were best suited to implementing the new ideology to gravitate to their niche and set about reinforcing it by hiring people in their own image. Thus. the top spots were effectively controlled by government policy and regulation.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>20 The opposite tactic is also used. Anyone who has been a practicing Scientist or has even moderate knowledge of the history of science would be well aware of the idiosyncratic nature of the scientific . This is simply intimidation. They are skilled at operating the bureaucratic machinery but have little interest in whether it provides genuine support for the improvement of student outcomes or research productivity.

working in the regimented bureaucratic mire that passes these days for an Australian institution of higher learning? . How many of the world‟s great minds would be interested in.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>21 mind. There is no question that the pervading culture in the modern Australian university is profoundly anti-individual and anti-intellectual. let alone capable of.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>22 Chapter 2 An Ill Wind .

Until about 1990. About 10 years later. the standards for passing courses and conferring of degrees and the conditions under which students would be ejected from the system. in one way or another. intellectual and material life of the nation. Importantly. this tiered system served the nation well. The first and most important of these was the funding arrangements. The academic staff determined academic entrance standards. the nature and content of courses and degree programs. Most research funding was allotted on a competitive basis decided by peer review. the tertiary system was separated into colleges of advanced education (CAEs) and universities. . thus forming a binary system. engineering and medicine). implementation of faddish government policy or student numbers. The universities maintained a monopoly on access to government research funds. not tied to overly bureaucratic and costly regulatory compliance activities. provided about 90% of the funding for university teaching and research.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>23 A new era for Australian universities commenced in 1957. funding was at “arm‟s length”. following acceptance of the Murray Report by the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies. Although institutional rivalry was ever present. with CAEs being unsatisfied with their inability to access research funds and the general acceptance by most that the prestige lay with the universities. The CAEs dealt with more vocationally oriented education and training while the universities offered degrees in Humanities and Science and degrees requiring substantial and often sophisticated infrastructure for their delivery (e. not only for those who would benefit directly from a university education. but also for all citizens who would benefit indirectly from the universities‟ contribution to the spiritual.g. How Universities Were Funded and Organised The success of Australian universities was based mostly on two simple organisational principles. the Commonwealth Government. While debates about the prime ministership of “Pig Iron Bob” can still bring participants to blows. It turned out solid graduates well suited to particular forms of employment and made a reasonable fist of cost-effectively distributing the available resources. he clearly understood the importance of a first class university system.

downsizing. In short. This organisational structure gave a voice and force to the academics responsible for carrying out the university‟s fundamental roles of teaching and research. upsizing. Deans and Heads of Department were usually senior people with solid academic records and a substantial background in university teaching. Greed was good and the corporation would be all things to all people. In the event of a disagreement between a department or faculty and the university administration. which was and remains. the Head of Department or the Dean of the faculty would take up the cause of the academic staff. . “Credentialism” was sweeping the world and Australian gatekeepers took to it with a vengeance – it would not be long before one would need an accredited tertiary degree to clean a toilet for profit. Wealth would trickle down and poverty would be history. the magic of the market. The Dean of a faculty or Head of Department was not only a university leader but was elected by the academic staff who they led. In this era. the knowledge economy (one might well ask whether any successful economy was ever based on anything else!) – this was the early period of “economic rationalism”. Becoming a Dean or Head of Department was not necessarily seen as a career move. The Wind of “Reform” “Reform” of the tertiary sector began in earnest in the late 1980s (reform is in inverted commas because it implies change for the better). They therefore brought to their position a depth of understanding of the nature and role of the profession. governments were prepared to fund academia and rely on them to achieve value for money. the primary reason that most academics entered the profession. The late 1980‟s and early 1990‟s in Australia were all about corporate fads: the mega-merger. The second important feature of the university was its essentially bottom-up organisational structure. Adam Smith‟s “unseen hand”. the purpose of advanced education and research and an understanding of the student body extremely rare to find in people from other career paths. restructuring.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>24 They were therefore relatively free to determine the academic affairs of the institution. governments were sufficiently convinced of the ability of academics to run universities in the interests of the nation that they were happy to grant them substantial institutional autonomy. within the limitations of the available funding. because it took the incumbent away from their research. right sizing.

as this would have been an admission that Whitlam‟s policy had been a failure. this was unlikely to have been considered a realistic option. who would have to give the customer what they wanted or lose their jobs when their institutions drowned in red ink due to a lack of paying customers. The misinformation put about included claims that academics restricted entrance to university on socioeconomic grounds and that they taught what interested them. the obvious conclusion being that academics were wasting taxpayers‟ money. the Australian university as corporation remains a dream. Education and Training between 1987 and 1991 in the Hawke Labor government. While at best one could say that the jury was out on . Given Whitlam‟s revered status within Labor circles and his general popularity with a large slice of the Australian public. which was not what students or business wanted. which was in reality the right to go into debt to pay for their education. Nearly 20 years on. would become the masters of the academics.suppliers of education product. intellectually and ideologically bankrupt conception of tertiary education. Indeed a more accurate description would be a waking nightmare! The Honourable John Dawkins MP was the Minister for Employment. Students. No doubt the Hawke Government believed it could not proceed with reform simply on the basis that free tertiary education was a financial fantasy.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>25 Whether politicians truly believed the rhetoric or whether it was simply an ideology of convenience is hard to say. by virtue of their spending power. If ever there was a morally. Academics did not contribute to industrial research and development and this was the reason for Australia‟s poor record in international business. Minister Dawkins fantasised about reforming the sector by transforming universities into corporations. It was against this backdrop that politicians began to press the case that tertiary education was not cost effective. this would have to be it. The only way to right matters was for the universities to metamorphose into modern corporations . in competition with each other for the education consumer‟s dollar. In his 1988 White Paper. believed that it could no longer fund the “free” university system created during the abbreviated term of the Whitlam government. the Hawke Labor Government. What was true was that the government of the day.

While there was no question that a large proportion of the university student population came from the wealthier strata of society. it is useful to look at what took place and examine the main outcomes. it is clear they have no basis in educational standards. the nation‟s education and research needs. Colleges of Advanced Education (CAE). the CAE trained people to certificate and diploma level. The clear inference from these reforms is that universities decided entrance on socioeconomic grounds rather than scholastic ability and that student numbers had been maintained at artificially low levels to ensure academics had considerable time and resources on their hands to fritter away however they liked.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>26 whether Mr. to a great extent. have underpinned the cultural and material lifestyle enjoyed in the West. Dawkins had any understanding of. Their stated aims were to increase the number of students receiving a tertiary education. it was agreed by all that he was utterly ruthless and a master of bare knuckles politics – in short just the man to crack a few academic eggheads. If we examine the first two aims of the reforms. University courses and degrees would have to become more supportive of Australia‟s effort to compete in the international market place by supporting the requirements of business. This was to be achieved at a lower cost per student unit. the Institutes trained people in applied professional areas like nursing and laboratory technical work and the universities trained people in the professions. The Dawkins “Reforms” As the Dawkins era is well behind us. Institutes of Technology and Universities. to increase student “access” and “equity” and to reduce costs (does this sound like the Bradley review?). Universities would now have to be overtly supportive of the . or commitment to. In fact these two “reforms” expose the anti-intellectual streak possessed by many (even university-educated) politicians. Mr Dawkins presided over the tiered tertiary sector which was then composed of technical colleges. The technical colleges trained the tradespeople. The various areas of the tertiary sector were separate because they trained students in fundamentally different spheres of education and prepared them for fundamentally different forms of employment. The universities required the most advanced teaching and technical support in addition to providing degrees in the sciences and the humanities – the basis of many professional degrees which. this was due largely to the quality of the pretertiary education opportunities available to these people rather than any preference given to the admission of students from wealthy families.

aggressive negotiation and militant action are simply not part of the traditional academic skill set. Organisation. apart from a small percentage of “seat warmers”. academics were a hard working and conscientious group who served the nation well. assistance from business. This simply wasn‟t newsworthy and universities failed to defend themselves and their academic staff. reduced government funding. The potential for these ideas to resonate with a public constantly experiencing financial anxiety in a steadily deregulating economy was obvious. That record does not look likely to change any time soon. In fact Australian business has an appalling record in leading industrial research and development. government funding per student dropped to the lowest level seen since the Australian Bureau of Statistics started keeping the relevant figures in the early 1960s. presumably to minimise the potential for public support for any academics who might oppose the reforms. There was no indication that there would be any reciprocity in the arrangement. if any. Universities were branded as elitist in the sense that they catered only for the wealthy and the academic staff were malingering intellectual snobs who only worked for six months of the year and took one year off in every seven at taxpayers‟ expense to lounge around the idyllic parts of the world purportedly to do research. who mostly carried on as if nothing were happening. No doubt the taxpayer‟s money that was saved was spent wisely buying votes in marginal seats. they would guarantee themselves the privilege of paying for a third rate university education. . Politicians used these ideas to denigrate academics in the public arena. It was also no surprise that during the Dawkins era.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>27 needs of business. Australian universities have now become trapped in the appalling situation of static or declining teaching staff levels. It never mattered that review after review of the tertiary sector showed that. The Australian public could not see that by supporting the Dawkins agenda. it is highly unlikely that they would have or could have mounted a cohesive counter offensive. vastly increased student numbers and little. Even if they had understood the seriousness of the campaign being waged against them. So it was not surprising that any hope of public support soon evaporated amidst the vitriol. They had convinced themselves that the government manoeuvring was simply bluster and hot air in difficult political times.

was insufficient to ensure the teaching and research future of the nation. Meanwhile the much-touted „new economy‟ could deliver nothing remotely similar.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>28 The New Financial Arrangements The crowning achievements of the Dawkins “reforms” however lay in the approach to fiscal matters. that it was a relatively small amount of money to pay for someone who would soon be earning a large salary. Two major government aims were achieved simultaneously with HECS. the . Prior to the abolition of fees by the Whitlam government. Paradoxically then. Commonwealth and State governments offered scholarships in numbers that we are unlikely to see again. be it a television set or a toaster. While many politicians have no doubt been beneficiaries of the old system. They now had to pay substantial fees or incur substantial debt to obtain a tertiary education and there was effectively no scholarship system in place to assist academic high achievers who could not afford to pay or were fearful of taking on substantial debt. past economies were healthy enough to fund and maintain universities at reasonable levels. of course. which was the undisputed pride of the Howard government. there was a major shift in the cost of education from the government to the education consumer (fiscal relief) and secondly. they have not been prepared to make the investment necessary to ensure its survival in any form. The Howard government later increased HECS considerably and reduced the threshold at which it must be repaid. First. The power of the new economy. rather than a public investment. Like any private good. Various assurances were offered to convince the public that HECS would not rise to levels that would exclude people from the system. This was the rational outcome of narrowly applying the user pays principle – a complete reversal of the Whitlam policy! It was argued. the consumer makes the choice to buy and pays the bill. This paved the way for Dawkins and the Labor Party to introduce the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). The ideological position of the government and in fact most politicians of the day was that education was a private good like any other. which would see all students pay for each course undertaken. retrospectively. Would-be university students suddenly found themselves in a comparatively worse situation than they would have been in the pre-Whitlam days.

most universities have to hire people from industry to teach many of the newly created courses. The irony of this is that Australia already had in place a very effective system for meeting the country‟s needs in this area . in effect. In other words. Universities must also pursue revenue from other sources.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>29 amount of Federal money reaching the universities to support their teaching operations would be determined on a per-student basis by the government which would also determine the number of students enrolled by any particular institution. students seem happy to do easy courses rather than difficult ones irrespective of the employment outcomes!) The continual restructuring and competition with other institutions has led to a huge diversion of resources from the core teaching and research enterprise of the university. There was clearly no need to destroy the system to . colleges of advanced education. This enabled a government retreat from university funding thus forcing university staff to teach far more students while expending substantial effort on other activities to make up the financial shortfall. institutes of technology and the universities. to administrative and marketing activities and commercial ventures. the government now had all the necessary levers to force intense “efficiency pressures” on the universities – they would have to enroll and retain the maximum number of students permitted by the government while maintaining their research effort. irrespective of the relevance or impact of this activity on their teaching and research effort or the institution‟s independence. This funding approach has resulted in a number of immensely negative outcomes. fiscal relief for business as the universities now assumed the burden of training staff for Australia‟s corporations. as their financial survival now hinges primarily on keeping customers enrolled. irrespective of academic ability. Academically weak courses and degrees have proliferated as universities constantly restructure degree programs to shore up enrolments. Previously business had usually undertaken that task itself for the obvious reason they possessed the expertise! Indeed. (Surprisingly. This reform was. The alternative was literally to go bankrupt and close. The idea that university degrees were irrelevant to business demonstrates the lack of understanding of the role of university.-the technical colleges. The bums-on-seats approach to enrollment has seen the thorough corrupting and debauching of tertiary institutions.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


achieve the desired educational outcomes. The destruction came about as a result of unimaginative individuals adopting a purposefully blinkered interpretation of the prevailing user pays ideology to enable the government to achieve its financial goals.

The Merger Strategy
As the gist of the reforms and enormity of the obvious negative consequences became apparent, to the utter dismay of most academics, the question of implementation arose. How would the government convince university academics to literally destroy their own institutions? Mr Dawkins had a plan. It was thus decreed that, as part of the requirement to reduce the unit cost for educating each student, the tiered system of tertiary institutions would no longer be permitted and the total number of institutions would have to be reduced by about half. Institutions would be “free” to merge and restructure or they could close. Upon the completion of this process, all institutions still standing would be permitted to use the title “University”. The Dawkins merger plan must score full points for sheer ruthlessness and reptilian cunning. The forced merger plan was indeed a master stroke, as it would exploit the significant insecurity that individuals in all tertiary institutions now felt because of the long simmering rivalry between universities and the other arms of the tertiary sector. Put bluntly, power and positions in the new institutions would be up for grabs and in the cauldron of merger and restructure, Dawkins instinctively knew that the traditional bonds of the academic hierarchy would dissolve. Those, at any level, who were prepared to implement the reforms in return for power or the security of employment would be much more likely to win out over anyone trying to hold true to academic principles. While the odour from the cauldron would make many retch, it would be irresistible to those who could not perform academically or had no real interest in teaching or research. Of course, those who harboured petty jealousies and were looking to even scores and those who simply lusted for power would be in their element. Dawkins must truly have despised academics. As the broth cooled, there emerged in the upper echelons of polyglot institutions and faculties, people who were either naïve with respect to the hopeless task that was before them or were concerned only to do the bidding of the government. In return they would be granted powerful positions and the associated substantial perquisites. These people were often weak academically and typically lacked the respect of the academic staff they would be required to “manage”.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


While Dawkins‟ merger plan succeeded in replacing the collegial system of university governance with a corporate style top-down management that faithfully implemented government policy, the price of this success was the long-term souring of management staff relations to the point where most, if not all Australian universities could be described as highly dysfunctional.

The Cost Centre Managers aka Faculty Deans
It was not long before the new management demonstrated that economic considerations would always hold sway over the direction of the nation‟s tertiary education or research needs. In the reformed university, Cost Centre Managers (formerly known as Deans) would have no interest in representing the academic staff on any matter. Indeed it is sometimes a condition of their employment that they not join a tertiary-sector union. Their job is to meet the demands of the university management headed by the Vice Chancellor. In turn, the Vice Chancellor is directed by the Minister and his Department. Academic staff were very effectively disenfranchised and have been without a voice ever since. The professoriate went missing in action. While it could be argued that they simply lacked the political savvy required for a fight of this type, there were few voices raised above the din and serious unified action was absent. After a few years under the yoke, many senior academics set about negotiating premature retirement. Ironically, a number of these individuals have been more intellectually productive after leaving the university. Talented individuals have made steadily for the departure lounge to take up well paid positions in renowned institutions, mostly in the United States. The few who drift back constantly remind themselves of the benefits of climate and lifestyle to justify their return. Those who spoke out openly against the changes or challenged management in any way were and still are routinely hounded. For those who persisted, university management adopted the time honoured strategy of making their working lives and inevitably their private lives so miserable that they would choose to leave. Management could do this because they were rightly convinced that most of the staff they targeted would elect to toe the line or leave rather than fight, since enterprise bargaining had rendered the academic union impotent. Resorting to internal grievance processes rarely gave satisfaction as the human resources department controls the grievance process and they are firmly in the management camp.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


While all universities make a great deal of noise about their intolerance of work place bullying, in the final analysis, there is little in the way of protection when academic staff are on the toe of the management boot. The dictatorial approach has made it all but impossible to hold a dissenting opinion and universities are much the poorer because of this. From the government‟s point of view, however, this was simply a bonus that came with the achievement of their fiscal objectives. In a final cynical gesture, the government advised the universities they would receive substantial institutional autonomy so they could rightfully go about their new entrepreneurial income-raising activities in order to supplement their revenue. However, as they were still public entities, in return for this autonomy, universities would have to submit to government accountability requirements. The extent of the accountability requirements is difficult to assess as there appears to be no central repository for this information. The Minister‟s report for the 2001-2003 triennium indicated his department oversaw 37 university accountability processes. The 2003 -2005 triennium report was less explicit but it seemed that little had changed. In 2005, a number of dual-sector institutions (those operating in VET and Higher Education) commissioned an investigation into their reporting requirements (Simplifying Dual Sector Reporting. Phillips KPA, June 2005). The report identified more than 60 reports that were required by Federal and State and Territory regulatory bodies. The Commonwealth Government‟s tertiary education website indicated that as of 2012, there are in the order of 30 Commonwealth accountability reports to be prepared. While the government has demanded that universities adhere to these processes, it has not been willing to provide any resources for them to do so. Presumably, the additional funds are to be derived from the university‟s entrepreneurial activities. The amount of documentation that the typical university must now produce to satisfy government requirements is so vast and requires such huge resources that it could not possibly be cost effective. It represents the most debilitating and intrusive central planning and regulation of any sector in the country. Although governments claim publicly to oppose heavy-handed regulation, they clearly have no qualms about imposing it, in spades, on universities. A costly, paralysing, institutional servitude has been achieved rather than autonomy.

It is essentially unheard of for the Vice Chancellors en masse to reject a government accountability requirement. including a very expensive layer of senior management while vastly increasing administrative work for academic staff. Is it any wonder that investment in domestic students has remained at historically low levels? The government-imposed accountability requirements have translated into huge increases in the numbers of non-teaching staff. are made non-compulsory or cancelled. Many of the less popular and/or difficult courses have had their content reduced and been merged to further lower costs. They make few demands on university infrastructure and can be terminated with little fuss. Courses not attracting the customer‟s eye are cancelled and staff made redundant. The logic of purging the system of physicists and mathematicians when the modern economy is all about technology is simply unfathomable. that form the foundation for advanced work but which students consider boring or difficult (or both!!). Indeed. public image. further depleting the teaching and research effort. many physics and mathematics departments have been closed or radically downsized and merged with other departments. irrespective of the importance to the degree program of the sacrificed material or the extent to which the merged material is complementary. reinventing the universities as corporations has had a major impact on the profile of undergraduate teaching.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>33 The Management Response to “Reform” By unquestioningly accepting the government‟s educational edicts. student recruitment and pointless compliance administration. Some mergers have been made to “facilitate” the progression of students through their programs even though it means that the students do not have the knowledge required to undertake the . typically in first year science. Business courses are particular favourites as they can be taught largely by casual staff on short-term contracts. The standard response to implement the reforms has been to redirect spending from teaching and research to an everincreasing array of activities devoted to short-term revenue raising. the Vice Chancellors have willingly sent their institutions on the short march to mediocrity. University managers have increasingly focused their institution‟s teaching efforts on offering courses and degrees which are cheap to deliver and popular with students. Apart from cutting a swathe through the Arts faculties of the nation. Even prerequisite courses.

one can only wonder what the level of supervision was like. So successful has the marketing of education product been to the targeted education consumer. In 1998. Australian universities have been aggressively recruiting full fee paying students from abroad – notably in the Asian region and India. Taking Our Universities to Asia In an attempt to shore up income. that were the bottom to fall out of this market (as it surely will – all bubbles burst).Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>34 advanced part of their degree. This obviates the need for the institution to mount potentially expensive high-level courses for a small number of students. Although these actions are clearly based on commercial considerations with short shrift given to potential for a successful transition from TAFE to university. It is not unusual for the Masters coursework to be undergraduate coursework that is assessed at the “Masters level”. The merging of courses is also done to enhance “articulation” between the university and restructured Institutes of TAFE – in other words to increase enrolments.000 coursework Masters Degrees – a 300% increase from three years before! Given the rise in the student/lecturer ratio over that time. Australian universities handed out over 14. university leaders have marched their institutions overseas. one is left to wonder how these activities support the beleaguered teaching and research needs of Australia. I doubt that he would have imagined they would be funding it. . further distorts the course offerings in Australia and the language issue greatly complicates the teaching and assessment process. The rise of the coursework Masters degree has also been a notable phenomenon. The true cost of supporting foreign campuses or educating foreign students in Australia is unknown. a number of institutions would go to the wall overnight. While Menzies may have foreseen a commitment by the Australian tertiary sector to assist with the education for our Asian neighbours. Audit reports from AUQA (see Chapter 3) provide little if any information on the financial aspects of such matters. while cancelling courses and closing departments. While these activities might be fully consistent with the institution‟s International Plan. Appealing to the foreign market. Conversely. spending freely on foreign soil. they are usually justified using dubious pedagogical arguments. for which they receive a hearty commendation from AUQA. faculties and campuses in Australia.

lawyers and Auditors-General argue about the size of the losses and whose money was actually lost. is bound to succeed. No doubt any hard-nosed examination of proposals proffering caution or abandonment would have been unwelcome had they managed to surface.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>35 Internationalisation at Monash University is an interesting case. Going Private and Getting Into Business Closer to home. his response was that “ . In May 2007. In 2007. the South African campus had 524 students..6 – very plush statistics indeed. the failure of Melbourne University Private provides another example of rose-coloured bureaucratic eyeware. All too often. 67 academic staff and 92 administrative staff! This represents an academic staff/student ratio of about 1:8 and an academic/administrator ratio of about 1:1. while the intention is for its offshore campuses to break even. provided it is swathed in vacuous managerial language.. Studies of income derived from US university patents indicate that only 2% of universities generate an income of $1m or more from this activity. In 2005. resulting in a reputed initial financial loss of $AUS15 m. Monash has established campuses in South Africa and Malaysia and “centres” in Italy and the United Kingdom.” No doubt those on the resource-strapped Australian campuses will be thrilled by the global nature of the Vice Chancellor‟s vision. the guiding principle is not to make a profit but to leverage those activities to build bridges as part of providing a wider global perspective. When you look at the scale of funding. While VCs. accountants. There seems to be a blind belief that any idea. Unfortunately the entrepreneurial record of Australian universities seems to have resulted in a significant number of failures and too few successes. Vice Chancellors seem to have had little appreciation of the environment in which their ventures would operate. the University of New South Wales‟ Singapore operation failed in spectacular fashion just months after launching. While closing regional campuses in Australia. All indications are that the foreign campuses have and continue to cost the university many millions of dollars. when the VC of Monash was questioned by a journalist from The Australian about the viability of the Malaysia and South African operations. no-one seems to ask whether this type of activity is actually of benefit to “core business” and whether Australian universities are in a position to accept the risks associated with such ventures. infrastructure and extent of academic expertise that can be harnessed by the top echelon . By 30 June 2006 student numbers had increased to 819.

This. Universities must find much of their own money and be all things to all students. industry and academics. The fact is that they are not and that those responsible for delivering teaching and research are forced to witness huge sums of money squandered on shore and offshore while they labour under a mindless. nobody needs to be told how difficult it is to find a competent tradesman and how easy it is to find someone who is unemployed but has a university degree! The Reform Score Card What are the net achievements of the Dawkins reforms? As many more students graduate from university.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>36 of US universities. pennypinching bureaucracy. Perhaps this is insufficiently glamorous for our senior university bureaucrats. When this is combined with the substantially lowered standard of course content . is what Stanford. “regional provision” or “urban empowerment”. one would feel more comfortable about the extracurricular activities of our institutions. Alan Hughes. one doesn‟t need a university degree to see the connection between the old tertiary structure and the new buzz words. instead of the happy hunting ground for overseas entrepreneurs When international innovation expert. their answer was invariably a supply of well educated graduates. On a more tangible note. The impact of the reforms is now so severe that even some Vice Chancellors have recently suggested that what the country needs is a “diversity of universities” that incorporate “different styles” of education like “research-led universities” and other institutions for training in “technologies”. if the national teaching and research operations were adequately resourced and well administered. CalTech and MIT actually do best. he claims. The cost of this enhanced access is that vastly fewer resources are devoted to each student. This should be the domain of Australian business. it can be argued that access to tertiary education has improved. asked business leaders what they wanted from the tertiary sector. One wonders why this insight was not apparent fifteen years ago! While no VC interested in his/her career would dare suggest that we return to anything resembling the system that Dawkins and his stooges bludgeoned into an unrecognisable pulp. Rather than hoping to cash in on patents and licences for wonder products. Certainly. the idea that Australian universities should be focusing scant resources on commercialisation is laughable. Hughes suggests that universities will find it more profitable to focus on providing the appropriate “public space” for interaction between business.

genuinely redressing this situation in firstyear university is highly impractical. The end result is that something like 50% of students entering the system do not have the basic academic ability (English and mathematics) to successfully negotiate an undergraduate university science degree. It has come as a great disappointment to the social justice engineers that the demographics of the tertiary student population are largely unchanged. while there are many more students enrolling and graduating. Some of the more desperate institutions enrol students who are in the bottom 20% of school leavers. A genuine improvement in equity will only be achieved when there is a vast improvement in primary and secondary education within the public school system. parents and students are paying considerable sums for the devalued product. The net effect of the “reforms” initiated by Dawkins and carried on by the Howard government has been to transform Universities from productive institutions providing advanced education and research for the long-term benefit of the nation. Academic ability. Given their chances of success. While lack of basic skills in some cases is not the students‟ fault but rather the end result of 12 years of an academically vacuous primary and secondary curriculum. University management sets the entry requirements to generate the necessary student throughput. This is hardly surprising. motivation to learn and a supportive home environment are the important factors and these are determined long before a student reaches first year. the proportion of students in each demographic group is much the same. Thus. Most importantly. to take their money. as the factors controlling the decision to go to university and the ingredients for success cannot be changed simply by allowing mass enrollment with vastly diminished resources. Mediocre content and appropriate massaging of assessment results are the primary solutions at the tertiary level. into feudal institutions that operate in accordance with a paralysing Byzantine regulatory regime laid down . it can be appreciated that the price of access has been the devaluation of the university degree. it should be considered unethical. if not immoral.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>37 and assessment to maintain pass rates and enrolments. Equity is in fact a red herring. Tertiary-level teaching has been reduced virtually to an assembly-line operation. which has been modularised to the point where management sets the number of minutes that an academic can spend marking each assessment item.

have gladly picked up the cudgel and carried on the destruction. Subsequent to Dawkins. While many individuals have contributed to vandalising Australia‟s tertiary institutions. David Kemp. Ideology and bureaucratic process have triumphed over the needs of the nation. to name a few . these don‟t seem to be the professions the community requires. if one were to award the title “gang leader”. being treated as little more than interchangeable cogs. While we might be producing armies of marketers. Academic staff have become the vassals in the new empires. lawyers and MBAs. purportedly to meet the requirements of business. Australian universities can no longer fulfill their mission and the country is rapidly being de-skilled.Amanda Vanstone. Brendan Nelson and of course John Howard. accountants. various notables in the Liberal Party . . Both sides of Australian politics clearly have a taste for bludgeoning the nation‟s best and brightest.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>38 by government. We are graduating many more students than in decades past and yet we are importing foreign-trained professionals at a prodigious rate. there is little doubt it would be the Honourable John Dawkins MP of the Australian Labor Party.

a Plan and KPIs for Everything and Everyone .Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>39 Chapter 3 A Policy.

they have instead embraced the government‟s demands wholeheartedly. ceases to exist. In accordance with a well worn routine. let alone intelligent judgment. university bureaucrats do quite the opposite. This is no doubt because the accountability requirements provide the bureaucrats with the opportunity to justify increases in the size of their departments. The last thing the administration wants is someone from within their ranks to come up with new and/or challenging ideas. It comes as no surprise then. will be done by the academic staff. worse still. In such an environment. Their initial job will be to interpret the government requirements for the university administration. it transfers responsibility for the matter to someone .The Economy Edition. the need to comply with a new accountability requirement usually starts with the hiring of a consultant or. judgment. asking whether it is genuinely needed. consulting with those who will bear the brunt of it and if it is unavoidable. their routine approach to dealing with problems by uncritically adopting solutions from other bureaucracies and the continual hiring and promotion of those who are perceived as being closely aligned with the prevailing ideology or better still. not only have university bureaucrats done nothing to protect staff from these unwarranted intrusions and prevent the associated wastage of university resources. which is largely to do with collecting data for the administrative machine. a former Professor of Government or Public Policy or some other pseudo discipline.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>40 Bureaucrat: an official who works by a fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment (Macquarie Dictionary . it is greatly exacerbated by their inbred training. Avoiding risk for the bureaucracy and minimising the cost of non-administrative activities is the only serious business. salaries and budgets. that when the government announces a new accountability requirement for the supposedly autonomous university. determine how it might be met with minimal impact to core business. While this might be expected simply on the basis of the mindset inherent in those who seek bureaucratic power. while much of the resulting work. 1990). instead of examining it closely. those with little or no experience in universities. Without exercising intelligent judgment! This simple phrase encapsulates management in the modern Australian university. While one can understand that government bureaucrats would have a passion for “process” at the expense of real work. Not only does this save the administration the onerous task of picking up the telephone and talking to someone in the Minister‟s department but. more importantly.

from conducting any worthwhile research. Management appear to operate on the principle that the greater the resources committed and the greater the amount of paperwork generated. occurs) that new administrative requirements are coming. they are inevitable and that the only option is to get used to it or go and work somewhere else. Operational procedures for data collection will also have to be prepared and implemented. making severe inroads into the time available for teaching and research – university core business. analysis. Every plan must have KPIs and every KPI requires data collection. Indeed. The consultant will most likely also be made responsible for developing a management plan.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>41 else. reporting. than by spending directly on core business. Implementation of the plan and achievement of the KPIs will supposedly ensure that the government requirement is met. the accountability requirements result in the hiring of additional administrative staff to create the “necessary” procedures and compile the paperwork. As classes must be taught. particularly young academics. The data collection and reporting procedures developed by management are typically cumbersome. Supplying pulp for the administrative paper mill has effectively prevented many academics. Bumping responsibility as far down the line as possible is a hallmark of all administrative operations in the modern institution. if ever. It is much more productive for the bureaucracy to spend unseemly amounts of cash on distancing themselves from problems. In addition to paying the consultants‟ fees. in court if necessary. It is often quipped that staff spend so much time with paperwork devoted to quantifying what they will do that they never get time to actually do it! Paradoxically. The potential for KPIs to take over the academic working life is easy to see. the university will have to fund administrative positions to oversee the development and implementation phases and prepare the necessary government reports. labour intensive and often opaque. complete with “metrics” or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). the greater will be their recognition from more . review and most likely amendment. pointless performance measurement is now the default religion on all campuses. And these actions must be performed on a routine basis. inevitably research drops off the bottom of the to-do list. Staff are then told (genuine consultation rarely. Following the procedures and completing the paperwork then becomes the responsibility of the academic staff.

spells out the organisation‟s lofty mission. No matter how they are dressed. The statements that make any sense at all are so obvious that most people would call them „no brainers‟. This document. it all starts with the university‟s strategic plan. Naturally. In the age of cut and paste. it is quite possible that only one strategic plan has ever been written completely from scratch. all universities are trying to do the same thing. One might well ask why this does not require a policy on the policy on policies and so on ad infinitum (or perhaps ad nauseam)! The Planning Jungle In the tradition of the top-down corporation.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>42 senior university and government bureaucrats. . Examination of these plans reveals that they are pretty much the same from one university to the next. both). If pointless measurement is management‟s religion. There is now a documented policy and management plan for everything that happens within the university. does it really need to be said that a university seeks to “…attract and retain the best students”? Can someone identify a university that seeks to attract and retain the dullest students? Or that “…research will be integrated into the undergraduate learning experience”. Strategic plans are. For example. usually prepared by a consulting firm with assistance from high level university bureaucrats and the Vice Chancellor. there are only a few themes in a university strategic plan. Such statements have not risen to prominence in years past because they are part and parcel of what universities have been doing for 800 years. They indicate either a lack of understanding on the part of the authors or a willingness to do whatever the Minister‟s department demands (or more likely. At best. all others being mutant forms of the original. at a strategic level. principles and aspirations. long on „motherhood‟ statements since the purpose of the strategic plan is not to provide any path for tangible action but instead to spawn a vast number of additional plans addressing the priorities identified in the strategic plan. goals. such statements are banal. then the policies and management plans are their holy books. Some universities have a policy on policies. Using sledgehammers to crack nuts garners greater rewards than investing the effort required to arrive at an elegantly engineered solution. by design.

“ . Words like “seek”. Teaching-Research Nexus Benchmarking Plan.. And who is to say what a “sustainable” teacher/staff ratio is anyway? The qualification of statements with phrases like “in a responsible manner” is there to provide additional opportunities to roast heretics. Most are pristine because they are never used. The logic goes something like . They will be singled out for special treatment. Then there are the flaccid mealy-mouthed statements. that is what corporations do.. well. implementing. encourage open and critical inquiry in a responsible manner”.. . and so on. Further plans must be prepared to support the strategic plan. “encourage” and “endeavour” are there to protect management. Operational guides and procedures must also be prepared to ensure that the corporate goals are achieved. The reality is that the goal of the university administration is to minimise costs. if we don‟t achieve the goal it doesn‟t really matter so long as we can make the case that we did “seek” or “endeavour” to achieve it. Dawkins-era politicians roundly criticised the collegial form of university governance for being unwieldy and slow at reaching consensus on issues. Research and Research Training Management Plan.. monitoring and routinely updating hundreds. There will be documents named something like: Learning and Teaching Management Plan.. These are all corporate level plans that. if not thousands of management plans? As anyone in private enterprise knows. The corporate plans must be imbibed by the faculties and departments so that they can prepare their own “contextualised” versions of these plans. “ .. contain very little concrete information about how things will be done. But we are still not out of head office. the real test of the usefulness of a management plan is to go to its place of storage and check its condition.. which go something like “ … seek to improve student staff ratios”. like the strategic plan. Information Management Plan.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>43 They are also rocks on which to beat the heads of dissenters because to question this kind of waffle immediately marks a person as an heretic who does not unquestioningly embrace the strategic goals of the institution. The idea of establishing teacher/staff ratios with the achievement of a rigorous educational standard as the goal is not even on the horizon. endeavour to achieve sustainable teacher/staff ratios”. maximise profit and transfer risk .. Perhaps this was true but has anyone compared the progress then achieved and resources consumed with the progress achieved and resources consumed in preparing. This exercise may well require the services of a consultant.

The framework encompasses performance in six “behavioural clusters” (Resilience. The university will then employ staff dedicated to the preparation of voluminous guidance. which is now web based. Commitment to Excellence. What is new is that staff will have to meet the performance criteria attached to each of . Training workshops will be run to “assist” academics to prepare their plans and to oversee the implementation and maintenance of the system across the university. Personal performance now extends to a staff member‟s behaviour. The personal performance plan was created by bureaucrats to coerce staff to focus on the achievement of bureaucratic goals and is primarily a reflection of management‟s view of career development. exploitation. In typical fashion. which will be called something like Personal Performance Plan. much of it looking like it was lifted almost verbatim from a human resources text book. It has recently come to light that RMIT is establishing the euphemistically named Behaviour Capability Framework which. is called MyCareer/MyPerformance…in keeping with the MyEverything websites established at great cost by the Commonwealth government. RMIT‟s personal performance planning system. Managers have difficulty conceiving of a mind not driven by the relentless pursuit of work-place status and the “do whatever it takes” attitude required to achieve it. Connectedness. the University will hire a consultant to design the system and processes to be used to track and document staff performance. The staff member‟s performance goals must be aligned with the goals of the university‟s strategic plan and be reviewed and approved by their Cost Centre Manager. Indeed. probably requiring little more that the substitution of “RMIT” for the name of the consultant‟s previous client. We are not talking here about basic matters of corruption. Outcomes Focussed and Open Thinking). criminality or violence. That some staff may have little interest in applying for promotions. obtaining formal Edu-babble qualifications (see Chapter 4) or undertaking other useless activities to assist management achieve their strategic “vision” does not occur to the bureaucrats.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>44 Personal Plans – The Tyranny of the KPI Plan fever has now reached the stage where all staff must have their own plan. It‟s well worn stuff. according to the Sydney Morning Herald (27/03/2012) will require staff to meet “external benchmarks of performance excellence” in behaviour. Innovation.

endless cycles of review. Pronouncement of the sentence is the cue for the court to burst into hysterical cackling. In practical terms. it is inevitable. it should not contain goals that would require a commitment by management to provide personnel. The Behavioural Capability Framework is a classic piece of boiler-plate HR sullage which should be sent to any waste disposal facility that is prepared to accept it. Instead. by extension. Clearly. funds or infrastructure. these can become the basis for denial of promotion or even termination of employment. the students they teach. the tyranny of the KPI is set in motion.. one such criterion requires staff to “accentuate the positive. the staff member‟s career must proceed to the beat of the bureaucratic drum. It is reminiscent of the Monty Python Happy Valley sketch where a man caught sobbing because his wife had died that morning is sentenced to hang by the neck until he cheers up.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>45 these “clusters”. energy and tenacity…”. with no sensible advantage for the academics or. Such behaviour would fail to meet the external benchmarks of excellence for Resilience and Connectedness and you‟d most likely be looking for another job.. which are fundamentally bureaucratic in nature rather than academic. you should not be generally heard around the traps pointing out the incompetence of management. This reality encourages staff to make trivial academic commitments in their plan. that some KPIs will not have been achieved. amendment and approval for the remainder of the academic life. And then round and round the mulberry bush we go . Is it any wonder that the vast majority of academic staff roundly despise these personal planning systems? They are rightly seen as yet another control instrument wielded by management. if you want management to sign off on your plan. At the whim of management. When you consider that the success rate for government research grants averages around 10% and is probably . Once a plan is approved. It becomes much easier to formulate KPIs involving administrative activities supported by an assurance that “yes” and “no” will be forthcoming at the appropriate moments or to submit to something like advanced Edubabble training. If the staff member‟s KPIs are meaningful. when review time comes around. your plan must burgeon with commitments supporting management‟s own KPIs. eliminate the negative” (clearly Bing Crosby fans are still among us) and to show “passion. According to press reports. And you‟d better not get caught advising a student that they might be better off at another institution or perhaps on another career path and similarly.

it will be a courageous staff member who nominates the winning of government funding as a KPI. It took two and half years before the administration realised that I was not working under an approved plan. although sadly. It has always been at its heart. paperwork and the acquisition of meaningless credentials and perhaps some appropriately targeted toadying on the way . What a surprise! At the conclusion of the tedium we all received a certificate of completion. . Academics are eminently qualified to chart their own intellectual course. fresh off the laser printer on coloured paper. Flexibility in intellectual direction and discussion is essential to the healthy functioning of research in particular and academia in general. there is no shortage of experienced individuals to whom they can turn among their peers. What better way to establish and entrench a self-serving system? I recall in my own case that I routinely postponed the preparation of my plan as it always seemed there were more important things to do. those who are reflections of management. which appeared to be aimed at people of roughly primary school age and then answering questions put to us by the HR trainer about what Paul and his boss may or may not have done correctly. whoopee!! We could all now go forward and prepare our plans with confidence. The personal performance planning system favours those preferring process. well before the fictions of Personal Performance Plans were invented by managers who have long since deserted the academic coalface or in some cases have never been there.. It was notable in question time that the new administration staff were the only people taking the event seriously.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>46 less than 5% in the non-sandstone universities. there was no embossed university logo or signature of the Vice Chancellor but nevertheless .. This consisted of watching a truly pathetic British training short. When an academic needs career advice. one of the main reasons they joined academia. I and a few other laggards were duly rounded up and metaphorically frogmarched to a lecture theatre where we were joined by a bunch of raw administrative recruits and force-fed the requisite performance plan training by the duly authorised representative from Human Resources. The integration of the PPPs into the faculty‟s and therefore the university‟s strategic plan is a comfort to the bureaucrats who fail to realise most of the people they are dealing with are driven by interest in their work rather than interest in themselves.

000 per year. If the average plan takes. amendment and approval is added. if you want to achieve the university‟s strategic goals.000 person hours and costs $1.. the personal performance plan is born. ” et viola . or a document from another university or. This is usually put in terms of institutional productivity... When the time required for review. it will start with the strategic plan. And this is just the cost of preparing the plans. a retired Professor of Human Resources Management who has realised that his super doesn‟t cover costs) would have said “ . The net diversion of staff time and funds for a pointless administrative process is a grotesque waste of resources and all the more so when the chronic underfunding of teaching and research is one‟s daily working reality. university graduates who are regurgitating what they learned in business and social science courses. It is the bureaucrat‟s lack of understanding or lack of interest in the real work that goes on in the institution that makes it necessary for others to waste their time undertaking and reporting on unproductive tasks so that the extent to which strategic goals have . well..6 million – the equivalent of employing one person for 23 years on a salary of about $70. And indeed. which staff must attend and the process must be administered across the university. then everyone in the organisation must sign off on documented goals aligned with those strategic goals .. as the plans must be amended. Training workshops must be held. How does an intrusive. then preparing the plans takes 40. costly and pointless administrative process like the personal plan come into being? In true corporate fashion.000 staff (a relatively small university) earning an average of say $40 per hour (before tax). And it doesn‟t end there. a consultant. it also requires routine reporting quantifying the extent to which the strategic goals had been achieved. The bureaucratic brains trust (i. reviewed and approved every year..Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>47 It took me about a week to prepare all the paperwork for my own plan and I am told by others that this is probably below the average. say. 40 hours and there are 1. Implementation of the performance plan across the university then becomes a KPI for a senior bureaucrat and another disaster begins to devolve. this is largely what performance plans are – an acknowledgement by the staff member that it is their job to ensure that management KPIs are achieved. The irony lost on many is that the people who create this unadulterated twaddle are for the most part.e. Not only does the government require all universities to prepare and implement a strategic plan. the cost probably rises by 50%. although we are talking about administrative productivity (an oxymoron to be sure) rather than academic productivity. worst of all.

System fever also has a firm grip. The means by which the convincing would be done was the establishment of quality assurance systems for all universities. often with disastrous results. plan fever is only one of several paralytic diseases afflicting the modern university. In other words. The show must go on so that the necessary stroking can be applied to the bureaucratic ego and managerial promotions and pay rises can be delivered. they can apply their authority over resources to ensure their KPIs are achieved. Something that perhaps does not occur to people unfamiliar with such plans is the enormous amount of staff time involved in preparing. Every plan goes through several drafts and reviews before approval. most conspicuously in the form of Quality Assurance (QA). So. doubling the number of students to be taught. is that at any point in time. the obvious decline in the quality of Australia‟s post-Dawkins universities was to be remedied by the creation. There will be no genuine consultation with staff about whether the process is appropriate to their needs or even how it might best be implemented – get used to it or move on! There can be no discussion of whether it is cost-effective. no matter how great the problems caused at other levels in the system. But it gets worse! When senior bureaucrats formulate their KPIs. In fact it is highly unlikely that the accounting system would enable the isolation of these costs. forcing universities to engage in all sorts of income raising activities that have little to do with teaching or research. System Fever Unfortunately. after having ripped the guts out of university funding. reviewing and cross checking plans. They must all contain KPIs. at significant cost. People who made it their business to be intimately involved in the real day-to-day work of their institution would know the answer to such questions. every university has literally thousands of plans grinding though the administrative machinery. The KPIs spawn additional administrative tasks related to the collection and analysis of the information required to demonstrate whether the KPIs have been met. the government wrung its hands and proclaimed the public now had a pressing need to be convinced of the quality of the country‟s higher education institutions in which they invest so much money. In fact it is highly unlikely that implementation and maintenance costs will even be considered and if they are ever reviewed. of a quality assurance smoke screen. updating. It could well be a chapter from Catch 22! . the outcome would never be disclosed to the staff.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>48 been met can be determined. The situation now.

If we examine the unfortunate case where the washing machine fails to perform to specification. The less tangible the inputs and the end product. the product (i. a microprocessor or a building. the federal government has required all universities to submit an Institutional Quality Assurance and Improvement (QA&I) Plan. . then you will be able to consistently produce a product that meets the design specification. in one way or another. Irrespective of one‟s definition. There are basically two reasons why an organisation might decide to adopt a formal QA system (informal QA exists in some form in all organisations). Indeed. the qualifications of those involved and the checks to be performed as part of the design process. the government demands it. the type of plant and equipment used. In its modern form. for example might be the design plans for the washing machine. the less useful QA becomes. like a washing machine. which. Even if you move only one step upstream from manufacturing and construction to product design.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>49 Thus. since 1998. This system works reasonably well when the output is a tangible thing. unless the reason for the failure is blindingly obvious.e. QA has a long history. manufacturers and commissioners about responsibility for the failure. as part of the educational profiles process – a particularly onerous exercise in paper generation. While a QA system might well be able to say a lot (and they usually do) about how the design process should be undertaken. there will ensue substantial argument between the designers. Producing a genuinely excellent product is rarely the reason for implementing a QA system because there are much more cost effective ways of achieving the desired goal. the design drawings) is essentially intangible until the washing machine is built and commissioned. it is easy to see that QA cannot produce the same level of control over the product. the skills of personnel and the process by which inputs will be turned into outputs. The basic tenet of QA is that if you tightly specify the tolerances of input materials. Only bureaucrats could conceive of such a non-solution to so serious a problem. Nevertheless. QA arose out of the manufacturing and construction industries. One is that the customer demands it as a condition of product purchase and the other is that. the government simply imposed on universities a huge administrative task. instead of resolving the issue by handing back control of higher education to academics who actually know what higher education is about and funding them to do the job properly. it dates arguably from the Second World War when there was great need to manufacture a huge quantity of war materials that were fit for purpose immediately upon arrival at their destination.

this might be possible. signed by the duly authorised person certifying that the student has indeed met the requirements of the nominated degree program. garner positive student feedback for the various student satisfaction surveys.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>50 If we now take the great leap from engineering design drawings to a university degree. however. Modern hiring practices focus much more on identifying those who will toe the line or better still. It is simply a piece of paper. at least in theory. the graduate) can be specified. A couple of decades ago. Can QA control the quality of the teaching? Apart from identifying the qualifications of those permitted to teach in universities. The reality. More often than not. is that entrance to the post-Dawkins university is governed almost exclusively by the university‟s commercial imperatives rather than any desire to identify those who have what it takes to succeed at the tertiary level. it is easy to appreciate that the latter is almost fully intangible. As we will see later. then. occasionally noting where they might fit into the hierarchy.e.e. What bearing can a QA system have on the quality of the student awarded the degree? Can you put tight specifications on the quality of the input material i. candidates short listed for an academic position usually spent a day or so meeting with academic staff and presented a seminar to the academic staff on their research specialty. however. the topic will be chosen by management and will usually require the candidates to discuss how they will assist faculty management to achieve their strategic goals. Perhaps one can‟t specify the quality of the input but surely the quality of the output (i. the university specifies the quality of it graduates by proclaiming that all graduates have acquired the University‟s Graduate Attributes. those who will actively and unconditionally support management‟s actions. QA has about as much chance of controlling the quality of teaching as the government has of legislating common sense. maintain the institution‟s graduation rate and keep the balance sheet in the black have resulted in a great increase in the disparity between (dare I say “the quality of”) the top and bottom graduates from degree programs. that Graduate Attributes rarely specify the graduate‟s level of knowledge or competence. The reality is. the student? If people could agree on the qualities that underpin success at the tertiary level. all presentations will be roughly equivalent as the candidates simply present the results of their trawl through the university‟s website. These days. The overwhelming need to keep students enrolled. if candidates are required to make a presentation. .

the federal and state governments decided that an independent body would have to be set up to audit and administer QA in Australian institutions. both in direct financial terms and lost hours. provided mostly to institutions outside Australia. like all public service organisations. Indeed. That is what administrators do under the banner of accountability. No-one can do anything without completing the relevant paperwork. enable students to make more informed choices about the . Unless one has worked under an accredited QA system. which must be signed by the duly authorised person (who incidentally. According to the Federal Government. the Commonwealth.. which. AUQA also brings in a modest amount of revenue from the provision of QA consulting services. Not a Whale! Not satisfied with simply imposing a requirement for annual QA&I Plans. will not be taking responsibility for the outcome of whatever it is they‟re authorising). do staff know how to process it and is it consistent with the organisation‟s Quality Policy? Spending time coming to grips with the QA system. Universities. AUQA is funded to the tune of about two million dollars a year. in March 2000. is staggering.. QA requires that all the paper is handled in accordance with the relevant quality procedures. State and Territory authorities responsible for accrediting universities and the higher education courses offered by other providers. the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA – pronounced Orca .. it is impossible to conceive of the quantity of paperwork involved in establishing..000 for a three day audit. not surprisingly. The cost. The officers of AUQA are responsible for auditing university QA systems and preparing and publishing reports on the audit findings. understanding the university‟s QA procedures and ensuring that paperwork is in order must surely be of great assistance to those at the cutting edge of intellectual activity. largely by the Federal and State governments who appoint half of AUQA‟s board members. which in 2007 was about $64. the killer whale being Orcinus orca) was established to audit the quality of Australian universities. the purpose of this paper juggernaut is “ ... is the major preoccupation of bureaucrats. The Birth of AUQA – A White Elephant. what else could you subject to a quality audit in an organisation that does not produce a tangible product? Is the paperwork in order. to report to the wider community on the quality and quality assurance processes of Australian Universities” and to “ . Universities pay AUQA the direct costs associated with their audits. create paperwork for everything. Thus.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>51 About the only thing that QA can offer is a paper trail. operating and maintaining the system.

let alone find them helpful. instead of acknowledging the substantially negative impacts on Quality caused by the so-called reforms and addressing the basic issues of entry standards. however. For universities. I found pretty routinely that about 60% had enrolled because either a friend had enrolled or because their parents told them they had to go to university. The vast majority of students go to their closest university. I suspect that it is highly unlikely that any wouldbe university students with a grade 12 education would read them or understand them. The reality with respect to Quality is. friends or academic staff rather than wading through a suitcase full of audit reports. Needless to say. it is nearly always through discussion with family. this is a lose-lose situation . We have certainly arrived in Spin City. Does anyone seriously believe that a significant number of the “wider public” read AUQA‟s reports and use them as a basis for making an informed choice about which university they or their children will attend? Given that these reports are 60 – 80 page documents written in “auditese”.” This is echoed in AUQA‟s mission which.funding for core activities does not improve and the university must now incur substantial additional cost running a QA system that fails to deliver anything for either students or staff. If students do compare universities. the decline in quality has been rather difficult to hide.. My reason for thinking this is based on more than instinct. About 5% had enrolled because of some specific feature of the university or their chosen degree program. In typical political style. funding and academic independence. providing public assurance of the quality of Australia‟s universities and other institutions of higher education…”.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>52 institution that best suits their particular needs. university bureaucrats adopted it uncritically and foisted it onto their hapless staff. The enticing features were not necessarily academic in nature and in fact were most often related to the university‟s proximity to notable surfing locations or the offer of degree completion within a compressed time frame. And this is all done to convince the public of the quality of their tertiary institutions. that after a decade of QA hyperbole. . is that of “ . in part. At my former institution. the government preferred the bureaucratic fix by demanding the establishment and implementation of QA systems. Vice Chancellors have become so sensitive about their university‟s public façade they will pay whatever is necessary to obtain the most positive audit report possible. I would regularly poll my first year students for their reasons for enrolling. in spite of the outlandish expense and obvious shortcomings of QA..

irrespective of any QA system because it has become apparent to many who use of a QA system does not guarantee . Another common tactic. During audit preparations at my former institution. While the auditors get to choose the areas of the university they will audit. The selected staff must attend workshops to be coached on likely questions and appropriate answers. It is possible to arrange for a confidential interview with the audit panel. clients who are looking for value for money often employ consultants with a reputation for getting the job done properly. The guidance even included a direction for staff to smile and happily greet the auditors if you happened to see them walking around campus and to push one‟s chair in before leaving the audit interview room! Perhaps they were hoping for brownie points for good manners! Indeed both the government and University bureaucrats treat the intellectual cream of the nation as if they were no more than monkeys with a propensity for bad behaviour. irrespective of the level of incompetence. Appropriate staff selection is the university‟s first line of defense to disguise problems. it is not uncommon for a proportion of QA documentation to be completed just a few days or weeks before the audit. At the debriefing session following the issue of our audit report. the senior bureaucrat in charge of QA literally beamed as he described the size and number of boxes of paperwork exchanged with the auditors over the duration of the process. since. interview sessions often contain a mix of administrative and academic staff. is to ensure that several people are interviewed at once. once off-side. to minimise the possibility of adverse findings. If one were bold enough to do such a thing. no government engineering contract was available to a firm without a fully implemented third-party accredited ISO 9000 QA system. The latter are hardly about to speak ill of the former. In private sector operations. even to the point of having colleagues issue fake “service lapse notifications” because the auditors will expect them. today. administrators will blackball the offending party for life. the university gets to choose which staff will be interviewed and in what setting. While ten years ago. As nobody is quite sure what will get back to the administration. I recall that the staff were instructed on the appropriate language and behaviour to be observed in the presence of the auditors. they are much less likely to speak openly. on time and on budget. Also. you could be sure that the informants would be out in force during the long walk between your office and the interview room.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>53 Quality Audits Papering over the cracks in preparation for an audit might start a year or more ahead of the audit date.

Unfortunately. as people start to put their faith in properly completed paperwork rather than the reality apparent on the ground. it is possible to screen unpalatable realities. Much more importantly. It is an inbred system. cannot. the interim CEO confirmed that TEQSA would include “a formal standards-based approach in the information domain” and “[a] broad expectation that can be anticipated through this domain is a requirement for higher education providers to make a range of specified information available to students to enable them to make more informed decisions about where to study. most importantly. careful choice of those to whom the auditors may speak. . The idea that quality flows from generating paper and then keeping it in order is something that could only appeal to a bureaucratic mind. QA fails to expose that many universities are in extremely tight financial situations. It has even been alleged that some universities have closed down overseas operations. meet their teaching and research obligations. Although TEQSA does not yet exist.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>54 quality. and under current arrangements. For many organisations. But alas. particularly in the area of standards and management/employee relations. in the tertiary sector there is now a well entrenched QA industry which does all it can to dig in deeper. Provider. Tertiary institutions will be required to provide TEQSA with information for five “standards domains”. they would have seen that the private sector is much more equivocal about the value of QA these days. I say “alas” because it will be succeeded by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). To those who have laboured under QA. the days of AUQA are numbered. At a recent conference in Madrid. continually diverting funds from core activities to superfluous administration. specifically to avoid disclosure. it already has a CEO. If university bureaucrats had bothered to step outside their offices. careful choice of objectives. carefully defining what is included in the system and. this is no surprise. it has proved a costly exercise for the meagre benefits it has delivered. With careful wording. as a QA audit only looks for inconsistencies between the institution‟s own claims and their mission and objectives.” I am sure this will be a great relief to the thousands of students eagerly awaiting TEQSA‟s reports. In fact it has been the experience in many organisations that quality declines under QA. public relations and entrepreneurial fantasies. it fails to expose that universities are not. The ultimate irony of QA is that it provides a great incentive for bureaucrats to hide the realities of institutional performance.

performance funding indicators. There is also talk of a merger (which would doubtless require a major restructure) with the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to “ .. laying waste to the university coffers and turning to stone any mortal who dares challenge them. there is a national graduate attributes program in progress!! The . the TEQSA risk matrix and (probably) TEQSA‟s foreshadowed thematic reviews.. as it gave them the opportunity to fritter away endless hours in meetings (thereby avoiding real work while simultaneously meeting their committee service requirements for promotion and probably a couple of KPIs for their personal plans to boot!) trying to work out what the requirement meant and how it should be implemented. it‟s a fair bet that it will be greater than under AUQA. To those unskilled in the art of turning molehills into mountains. Teaching and Learning. [the Gillard government‟s] compacts. If the devil makes work for idle hands then he certainly encourages idle minds to make work for others. as of this writing. formulation of Graduate Attributes would appear to be a relatively straightforward. From Little Things. The resourcing requirements on all sides of this equation are simply mind boggling. This was a godsend for university bureaucrats and Education specialists. Research and Information.. As an example of how wrong one can be. in fact. which made them an essential part of the QA system.Graduate Attributes The Graduate Attributes story is a good example of administrative metastasis. annual reporting requirements. Big Things Grow . As reported in Campus Review (09 August 2011) the five standards domains will be partly interlinked and relate in turn to those for the My University website.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>55 Qualifications. The image I have in my mind of TEQSA is that of the Gorgons riding piggyback on Cyclops. I won‟t hold my breath for Perseus and Odysseus to set forth from their offices and slay their respective monsters. facilitate more effective cross-sectoral benchmarking of quality and standards .. Specification of Graduate Attributes was a seemingly small and innocuous part of the government‟s requirement for QA&I Plans. Although no-one is quite sure what the extent of the information requirements will be. essentially one-off task. the graduate). It therefore seems an equally fair bet (perhaps “no brainer” would be more apt) that TEQSA will drain substantially more funds from core university activities than AUQA. The Graduate Attributes were. the specification for the tertiary institutions‟ major output (i. the University of Sydney is in the sixth year of its Graduate Attributes Project with no end in sight! Worse still. ”.e.

you‟ll get in excess of 50. Like the goals in the university strategic plan. We should not be surprised at such a revelation. of course. the modern graduate must have attributes that are of value in their employment and in their wider social participation and personal lives. spewing forth graduates with the correct values and attitudes on all the important social matters. Similarly. In fact Educationalists often espouse that disciplines as entities in their own right should be abandoned … except for the discipline of Education. in particular. These generic attributes must then be “developed . thinking skills. The modern university should be primarily an institution of social engineering. despise “the disciplines” and expend considerable effort trying to force discipline experts to remove content and restructure their courses so that “integrated” knowledge is taught from several disciplines simultaneously. as the Graduate Attributes process is dominated by bureaucrats and Educationalists.000 hits! Perhaps this gives you some idea of the hours and paper that have been squandered.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>56 Program officials are touring the country holding meetings with their institutional equivalents and any other staff who have so little to do that they can afford to spend their time on trivia. the graduate attributes are pretty much the same at all universities. Each university would therefore have to specify the Graduate Attributes embodied in the skills. describing the obvious. the intangible or traits over which a university would have little or no influence. The generic set of attributes is usually contained in a corporate-level policy document for Graduate Attributes. If you Google Graduate Attributes for Australia only. Graduate Attributes are typically divided into four basic categories – knowledge skills. values and attitudes acquired by their graduates as a result of successfully completing their chosen degree program. even though each university claims that its graduates are distinct from other graduates and that this can be seen from the profile of the university‟s Graduate Attributes. most of the attributes are banal. The old-style university had failed to teach the other “knowledges” (Education specialists love to add Ss to everything) that are in fact more important than discipline knowledge. practical skills and personal skills and come in two basic forms – generic and specific. The end result of the deliberations of the various Graduate Attributes working parties. A decline in discipline knowledge would be a small price to pay for this innovation. The latter. task forces and committees established around the country was the discovery that the desired outcomes for the graduate should be much more than a mere qualification based on discipline knowledge. Indeed.

One or perhaps several people will be appointed to positions to oversee implementation and “embedding” of Graduate Attributes by the academic staff. when you‟re on a good thing . “Convert information into answerable questions”. All the official course descriptions will have to be rewritten and pass through the appropriate committees for approval and reissue.. analyse and evaluate information and ideas and solve problems by thinking clearly. There will be voluminous written guidance and academic staff will have to attend workshop training to appropriately implement the guidance. They include gems like . if the best minds in the country must read tens or hundreds of pages of guidance and attend workshops in order to “map” and “embed” the attributes.. Following development and contextualisation by the faculties. As an example. Such is not the case however. . the bad and the ugly” (clearly there are a few Clint Eastwood fans in the Faculty of Dentistry). have leadership skills. shared between the University‟s five generic attributes. they are most likely completely irrelevant to the primary matters with which academic staff are concerned. If this concoction of banalities were the end of the story... one could at least wave goodbye to the wasted resources and move on to more important matters. be able to initiate and participate in organisational and social change. almost anything is possible. the Faculties of Dentistry and Pharmacy at the University of Sydney have between them over 150 graduate attributes.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>57 and contextualised” by the faculties and departments to derive the specific attributes related to their area of teaching. be able to collect. Does this sound a little like the planning process? Well. it probably never occurs to management or the creators of this material that. “Graduates will recognise personal strengths and weaknesses and develop appropriate strategies to deal with the “good. critically and creatively. The generic attributes will include statements like…university graduates will: have a scholarly attitude to knowledge and understanding. “Communicate electronically”. The academic staff will then set about documenting the attributes students will obtain by completing their particular courses and identify which assessment task will test for the acquisition of which attribute. While gatherings such as these might provide short-term amusement for academic staff at a faculty bonding day. be willing to challenge current knowledge and thinking.

The outcome of the research inevitably demands updated attributes. Does it really need to be stated by a university that it wants its graduates to have an appropriate level of literacy and numeracy skills. and that more than a few of the attributes are unlikely to be assessable. further staff workshops and so on – another useless administrative industry is born! Graduate Attributes programs are replete with absurdities. but also values and attitudes? It has also occurred to some people it could never be guaranteed that all students achieved the attributes. How do you assess whether graduates of the university “ … hold personal values and beliefs consistent with their role as responsible members of local. Most universities now fund “research” into graduate attributes. five attributes. then surely it must be liable for the action of any graduate who acts irresponsibly in the course of executing their professional duties! . would be a major task. or that students should have a scholarly attitude and be able to deal with information. not only the discipline content. if the university has made this claim. This is expensive institutional change for something of unknown but certainly minimal value. irrespective of passing all their courses. Unfortunately this is still not the end of it. to do this properly for say. 50 or even more attributes are involved is simply fantasy. national. only one of which was disciplinary expertise…” and “…changes to teaching. learning.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>58 There will also need to be an audit of the curriculum for every degree program to determine where the graduate attributes have been addressed and to ensure that all the generic attributes have been addressed in all programs. Then there will be a requirement for collecting and analysing information to determine whether the attributes have been achieved. Does this mean that such things are measurable and. As a devotee at one university describes: “…the [graduate attributes] policy required…all courses to provide for the development of a range of capabilities in students. Do people seriously believe that the modest three or four hours of weekly contact over a 13 week semester are sufficient to transmit. In my opinion. do the benefits of formalisation justify the costs? Does it really need an administrative system? The extent of the resources required for graduate attributes should not be underestimated. international and professional communities”? And. and assessment in programs to foster the achievement of each Graduate Quality…”. The idea that it is a meaningful exercise when 20. amended guidance.

Other staff have probed this question more formally through their student feedback surveys and their evidence points to an identical conclusion. In any event. for example to change from being a person who cannot work with others to being one who can. talents such as creativity are innate. it is something that comes from within the student. They can be honed but not taught. Nevertheless. A simple audit of the talents resident in one‟s family members will demonstrate the absurdity of this idea.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>59 Is it in fact possible. practical or even desirable for the university to be actively teaching values and attitudes and if so. The result of my questioning revealed that not one student could name a Graduate Attribute. simply from a practical point of view. it seems highly unlikely that a few semesters of university could fundamentally alter the values and attitudes of people in their late teens or older. In the late teens and beyond. we can be sure that university bureaucrats in the Sydney area rest easy in the dentist‟s chair knowing full well that. however. They were created by education bureaucrats to serve bureaucratic ends and are a reflection of the bureaucratic idea that all aspects of education are measurable. It also reflects the idea that anyone can be taught anything. as . On the odd occasion when a student undergoes a dramatic change. I would always poll my third year Environmental Management class for their knowledge on the subject. the year or the lecturer. As most academics will tell you. or to transform themselves from being a follower to a leader or to go from being an uncreative person to being a creative person. It doesn‟t result from the external imposition of fully “mapped” and “embedded” graduate attributes. this is highly unlikely as the areas of the brain that give rise to personality are mature. requires a personality change. whose values and attitudes will these be? There seems little point in entering that debate as. a very small number were aware of their existence but weren‟t quite sure what they were and the vast majority were clueless – not that this put them at any disadvantage. Experience indicates that the proportion of students who undergo such transformations is miniscule. For a student to suddenly acquire an attribute. given the lack of benefits. even though an education is largely intangible. We should not be surprised at this finding. The devotion of significant resources to such a formalised system is unwarranted. In order to gain a feel for what Graduate Attributes mean to the students. as Graduate Attributes were not created for students. the same grades appear against the same names irrespective of the course.

if they had done their best to comply with the requirements of the Risk Management System. the university would pay for the defense of the relevant staff member. just the usual “get used to it or go and work somewhere else” approach. one staff member asked whether. Their routine response is to develop and implement expensive and overly complicated administrative systems in order to ingratiate themselves with the Minister and his department and.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>60 the hypodermic penetrates. Footballers are much better protected by their clubs! . To the best of my knowledge no answer to that question was ever provided. who moved to the next topic for discussion. In a staff meeting attended by a very senior university bureaucrat. No system is too cumbersome. the deafening silence was only broken by the committee chair. in the event of an accident and subsequent litigation. laboratory practical and field trip. A number of the forms still had the logo of the institution from which they had been “borrowed”. the hand belongs to one who has achieved all 95 graduate attributes…unless of course the dentist is a recent arrival from Queensland! Theirs Not To Reason Why Policies. for the achievement of KPIs or protection of the bureaucratic arse. it is not evident. ignoring it. produced an internally inconsistent and substantially unworkable system involving four separate sets of paperwork. for certain matters. university management would then be in a position to elect who they might or might not defend. The job was given to a staff member who was clearly not up to the task and. Needless to say. not surprisingly. Academic staff had to complete and sign off on the paperwork for every course. What is readily apparent is that university bureaucrats rarely respond to government policy or an educational fad by questioning the need for it. plans and systems for all. No manager would place their job at risk by standing up for common sense or defending a principle. heaven forbid. to move responsibility as far down the line as possible. There was no genuine consultation. including field trips held on campus. I well recall when my former Faculty instituted a Risk Management System. The nature of the system and the attitude of senior management left one to conclude that its purpose was to place full responsibility for all risks onto academic staff. Trying to make sense of the system drove people to distraction. In the event of litigation. let alone challenging or. If they have ever negotiated with government to amend or abandon accountability requirements.

Thus. it was best to do what you were told and. Bureaucratic rules and regulations dominate every corner of university life to the point where academics have effectively become low-level bureaucrats who do a bit of teaching on the side and dabble in research. was asked why it was that Chinese science ground to a halt in the seventeenth century. Courts take a dim view of organisations that fail to adhere to their own systems. even if nothing has changed. irrespective of how cumbersome they might be.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>61 My response was to cancel field work activities for the semester. It is interesting to see what becomes of a community that is structured along such lines. As a result. The important point for the bureaucrat. I can shoot just about any animal lower than a primate. in order for students to dissect a cane toad. It became apparent to most that. But a Scientist with 30 years experience is so untrustworthy that. which occurred centuries before its equivalent in the West. however. is that the system places responsibility as far from them as possible. China‟s best and brightest abandoned mathematics. Within nine months. And this is the process for every class involving animals or humans irrespective of whether the work is invasive or as simple as a walk around campus to examine vegetation. your only option was to join the administration in the hope of becoming a mandarin. reams of forms must be completed. lengthy justifications must be prepared and then the matter will be judged by a committee which may or may not have relevant expertise. I can legally cut the testicles off fully conscious farm animals. if you wanted to survive. in brief. who chronicled the flowering of the Chinese scientific enlightenment. Imposition of unwieldy administrative systems actually places an organisation in a weak legal position. The legendary Dr Joseph Needham. worse still. consuming yet more resources. Ethics approvals are required for all laboratory classes and research and a fresh application is usually required at least annually. science and medicine in favour of the bureaucrat‟s life. As a member of the public. The management approach to all issues follows the same tiresome path and the demands on staff time rise accordingly. if you wanted to advance yourself. China‟s intellectual development stopped dead and then went into reverse. was that by this time China had become monolithic under a centralised administration whose job it was to control the country. The Research Quality framework is out and “Hubs and Spokes” are in. the system had collapsed due to large scale noncompliance and a new system had to be developed and implemented. As a primary producer. With the stroke of a pen another restructure is required. His response. . The list of paper black holes goes on.

Take for example a large first year science course with say 450 students. When it is considered that in the pre-Dawkins era. one does not need a review of the tertiary sector to conclude that the modern university is grossly inefficient. using a few basic assumptions. But What Does it Cost? This is a very good question that cannot be answered readily. The old-style university bureaucracy came in for considerable criticism from Dawkins and the Hawke Labor Government. While the old system may have had its deadwood. For a class of 450. The total income per student (government payment plus Student HECS payment) would be about $2. if the money now wasted on pointless administration were shared among the “live” wood. not to mention life under psychopathic dictators from the seventeenth century more or less until the twentieth. In many cases. this produces an income of about $1.700. it is likely that university administrations do not have the financial systems and procedures in place that would enable such detailed accounting. of course. The ultimate loser is the student. have enshrined wastage through costly and pointless accountability processes willingly implemented by compliant university bureaucrats. the quality of the education is considered irrelevant. By my . a reasonable analysis of teaching costs can be made. all parties would be much better off. The truth is that the university of old delivered far greater value-formoney than the modern university unless.2 M. At my former institution. It is obvious to anyone who has worked through the period of the reforms that many more people are spending much more time on unproductive activities while student/teacher ratios have worsened substantially and many more non-academic staff are on the payroll. Nevertheless.000 would go directly to the University administration and the remaining $450.000 would be left for the Science Faculty. University bureaucracies are not particularly forthcoming regarding how much they spend on particular activities. Its supposed inefficiency was used as a pretext for corporatisation. on the one hand. politicians have vilified academics for their supposed inefficiency and wastage of public funds but on the other. both educationally and financially. about $750. Thus. some HECS figures and knowledge of operations. The money and time wasted would formerly have been invested in teaching and research or bricks and mortar. universities produced a mere fraction of the paperwork currently produced.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>62 delivering poverty and ignorance.

Let‟s be generous and say that this costs about $25. the answer from the administration is always the same – the budget won‟t stand it.000 to deliver the course. The Faculty will provide technical support for laboratory sessions and administrative support. It therefore costs the Faculty about $75.000. Yet whenever there is talk from academics about improving course delivery and standards by. apparently. .000. I doubt that anyone knows for sure but it‟s a fair guess that much of it goes to pay the huge and growing number of senior management. Costs will vary from institution to institution and from course to course.000. the cost of academic staff (lecture delivery. This. mostly for students. Delivering the course also requires the use of university infrastructure and a modicum of centralised services like IT. their offices and entourages and administrative positions required to oversee the vast number of pointless administrative activities in which Universities appear all too eager to engage in. So at the end of it all.000 and the faculty bureaucracy takes about $375. Let‟s say that this costs the University administration $25. is the “efficiency” that corporatisation of our universities has delivered. as will the split between university and faculty administration. laboratory sessions. The important point is that there is a substantial amount of money sloshing around the system. Can it really be considered core business? One may well ask where the 90% or so of income not used for course delivery goes. reducing the size of tutorial classes or undertaking more sophisticated or adventurous practical work. increasing contact hours from the standard 3 or 4 per course per week at most institutions. University bureaucracy takes about $725. marking) and consumables (laboratory materials and printed matter) for such a course is about $50. It must also be remembered that most major research is paid for through external research grants and not from student fees. budget cuts are routine and the first area to feel the pain is course delivery.000. Worse still. for example. a little less than 10% of the income is spent on course delivery.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>63 estimate. tutorials.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>64 Chapter 4 Student-Centred Pandering .

Whether intentional or not. Remembering that the StudentCentred approach has been rife in primary and secondary schools for some time. The Education theorists. Education “research” into student learning relies on the use of qualitative highly-interpretive social science tools consisting largely of student surveys and interviews. the student-centred notion becomes confused. Placing the student at the centre of the learning process. it was claimed. resulting in an ineffectual teaching effort. claim their ideas on learning are derived from “evidence-based” investigations. Any comprehension of modern neuropsychological studies of human cognition and memory is completely lacking. the potential for the Student-Centred approach to cause disaster is patently obvious. All that remained was. an as yet unfilled need to define in practical terms what this actually meant. in commonsense reality. which are the direct product of the application of baseless educational theory at the primary and secondary school level. . the arrival of the Student-Centred approach in science faculties has heralded an era in which the student is not held accountable for their academic performance and the lecturer is fully responsible for all student failure. It is based on the entirely incorrect notion that the question of how students learn had never been considered. with classes of 300 or even 30 individuals. however. For instance. As a consequence. Unfortunately. This extraordinary claim supposedly explained why many students performed poorly. although the fundamental and conspicuous limitations of their research methods are rarely discussed or acknowledged. one could be forgiven for thinking its recent application to the tertiary sector was more an attempt to disguise the failure at lower levels than to enhance student performance at university. there can be so little opportunity to ascertain the way in which each individual learns as to make tailored teaching highly impractical. paralleling a clear decline in scholastic performance. lecturers now spend a good deal of their time pandering to student weaknesses. would improve student performance.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>65 Modern teaching theory claims to have broken new ground with the idea that each individual student should be put at the centre of learning – Student-Centred Learning. subject to all manner of competing and contradictory theories based on the jargon of social science – jargon so lacking definition it defies implementation. With the gross methodological shortcomings of education research and the willingness of Educationalists to grasp at any idea that might improve pass rates.

at least in general terms. there is typically a call by the supporters of traditional education to go “back to basics”. the numbers have been in for some time – numbers which emphatically testify to the appalling level of literacy and numeracy of the majority of our young. university graduates. The truth is that. are obliged to have blind faith in the groundless theories and assumed doctrines concocted within the Education fraternity. young and aspiring Educationalists. those who teach Education theory to the next generation of school teachers) attacking anyone who suggests literacy and numeracy are not up to par and deriding the call to go back to basics. even aside from tertiary education. established “senior” Educationalists will publish the most indefensible nonsense and then use the authority of publication to call for its immediate application in the classroom. many individuals are inadequately equipped to function effectively in society. The Australian student has become the guinea pig of an essentially parasitic highly paid and poorly educated group of practitioners. It is the Educationalist‟s grip on curriculum and teacher training at the primary and secondary levels that has already seriously compromised our society‟s productivity within virtually every form of skilled vocation. The cycle repeats itself while standards continue their downward slide.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>66 The Student-Centred Debacle Many readers will be familiar. After such an event.e. In order to progress professionally. Keen to acquire the label “innovative”. like the young alchemists of millennia past. with the public discussion about numeracy and literacy levels of Australian primary and secondary students. . This will be followed by a flurry of press releases and news articles written by Educationalists (mostly university Education academics i. Despite attempts to camouflage the fiasco. would-be. For anyone who has taught first year university science. the facts are obvious. Pressured by the entrenched hierarchy and themselves lacking any genuine training in critical thought. The issue will then vanish as quickly as it arrived. Indeed their abilities in these basic elements of education are so low that. education theories are little more than fantasies used to justify the continued employment of an intellectually stagnant domain of human endeavour. they naturally remain both insensitive to and ignorant of the substantial empirical evidence against the foolish beliefs of the modern education establishment. without the backing of modern insights into cognition and learning. The issue generally comes to the public‟s attention following a media exposé of a particular incident or report that highlights the problem.

(b) inherently creative enough to discover everything and (c) inherently capable of succeeding in all domains of scholastic endeavour. it is the hallmark of the student-centred/constructivist approach that the teacher is primarily responsible for student attitudes and behaviour rather than their comprehension and knowledge. Indeed. direct instruction is a hindrance to student learning – a hindrance because it is “teacher-centred”. of course.. The teacher does not need to be an expert in any particular area of knowledge and does not need to actively impart knowledge. Constructivist teaching is therefore about facilitating each student‟s “discovery” of their own “learning process”. which must reflect their individual learning needs. The only failure possible is that of a teacher who does not identify the student‟s preferred learning mode and who uses inappropriate in-class tasks or assessment obvious tautology if one considers the challenge of trying to learn without a brain. Goswami reports that one such package claimed that “ … the child can press certain 'brain buttons' under their ribs to focus the visual system for reading and writing. Indeed. in the complete absence of any reputable supporting evidence.” Only a complete fool could believe such mumbo jumbo. The teacher is a “learning manager” whose job it is to manage the student‟s learning process so that they can teach themselves. In answer to the question. how do students learn. program-level imitation (the imitative transmission of ideas and concepts) or emulation in human learning is an anathema to the Constructivist doctrine. Constructivists hold that students “construct” their own knowledge in their own unique (student-centred) way.. contain alarming amounts of misinformation. The student calls the tune on content and teaching method. Undeterred by their naivety. in all likelihood.” Indeed. they claim that. Indeed. The Constructivist view holds that it is entirely unnecessary to have a knowledgeable person teach students any subject matter. author Usha Goswami argued that some Brain-Based Learning packages “ . with schools and teachers free to adopt whichever brand of snake oil most appealed. Any involvement of mimicry. in a review of Brain-Based Learning published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience (May 2006). Allied to Student-Centred Learning and just as influential is Constructivist theory (or some variant thereof). imitation. Educationalists latched onto a few pseudoscientific ideas and in a flash Brain-Based Learning packages started to appear.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>67 The absurdity of education theory arguably reached its zenith with the appearance of “Brain-Based Learning” . is deeply insulting to school teachers and university . The Constructivist‟s approach to teaching is based on the assumption that every student is (a) motivated to learn. This.

In addition. There is no need to teach basic facts. yet essentially incompetent. Learning the basics of a discipline should not be an important part of any course. a student‟s acquisition of a coherent knowledge base in disciplines like English and Mathematics is not considered a priority. In the unlikely event that facts are required. methodological and theoretical content of university science courses is a problem for Educationalists. Some have done little more than the few months of compulsory teaching practical work that is required to obtain their teaching degree. For Educationalists. This involves groups of students “working” together to solve problems they consider relevant to “real life”. acquiring basic academic skills or developing a solid understanding of any particular subject area is regarded as unimportant compared with the enhancement of student self-esteem. success will follow and self-esteem will be raised. the students will teach themselves. young Australians into the work place is a direct outcome of the application of these unbelievably absurd and inherently unproveable ideas. Instead. culturally sensitive and contextualised around currently popular issues that will give it relevance to everyday life. This will make students feel more comfortable and. Although the integrated curriculum was tried and abandoned in Victoria and New South Wales school systems. The emergence of a whole generation of overconfident. they can be found on the Internet. because these will be acquired as needed as part of the problem-solving process. established problem-solving methods or theories. as students will find it boring.e. The extent of the factual.g. provided the learning activities are enjoyable. In fact. many University Educationalists are refugees from the school system precisely because they could not survive at the teaching coalface. In the modern “socially caring pedagogy”.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>68 academics alike. Provided the learning process is properly managed (i. chemistry or mathematics). course content should not be based in a particular discipline (e. It follows that the taught content of science courses must be substantially reduced and that assessment tasks should not test the breadth or depth of knowledge and understanding. holistic. is therefore outmoded and must be replaced by the teaching of an integrated Student-Centred Constructivist curriculum. Educationalists have deemed that the future requires creative people with “integrated knowledge”. The notion of disciplines. which have developed over hundreds of years and been the cornerstone of university teaching and research. it remains fashionable in Queensland and Western Australia and is very popular with university . fun). it must be integrated. if not threatening and decide not to “engage” with the course.

Does anyone seriously think that the mathematical performance of the typical student would be improved by integrating mathematics with art. engineers (to name just some of the professions) who participated and often distinguished themselves on the world stage. using the power of the name to signal connections that are overtly and inherently meaningful.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>69 Educationalists in all states. the modern Australian Educationalist is quick to state that examination is . a loyal Constructivist teacher will avoid assessment by examination because. it‘s been understood that the relations between music and number theory are organic. it would be interesting to begin a discussion about a rethinking of curriculum organisation that thus included maths and art and drama and musical language in another core of. chemistry and cooking are intimately related as well but noone seriously considers teaching acid-base equilibria or quantum mechanics with home economics. Oblivious to the tens of thousands of years during which time each generation learned vast amounts from the previous generation. taken from the public lecture entitled. Where would we find teachers talented enough to successfully teach something as broad as “Cultural Modes” (whatever that is supposed to mean) and how could scholastic performance be realistically assessed (assuming of course that there is any intention to assess performance)? For obvious reasons. delivered by Professor Rosemary Johnston who is the Head of Education at the University of Technology Sydney and Founding Director of the UTS Centre for Child and Youth Culture and Wellbeing: ―Indeed. been acquired. say Cultural Modes. ―from Pythagoras onward. “An Educated Australia”. Despite this.‖ Of course. performance in examinations does not show what a student has learnt and is not a reflection of scholastic ability. examinations have always been part of education. how could it be that previous generations of Australians produced thousands of able mathematicians. anyone who has been a student knows that examinations give a great incentive to come to grips with a subject. this quote regarding establishment of the national curriculum. Whether we are speaking of the conveyance of skills in preliterate peoples or the teaching of theoretical physics at the top Western universities. there has always been a need for testing whether knowledge has. writers. George Steiner writes. Scientists. for example. drama and musical language? If “old” curricula and teaching were so misguided. Consider. to paraphrase their “spin”. artists. indeed. Moreover.

the “products” of this debacle emerge full of false confidence.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>70 an unnecessary and even damaging educational practice. The jettisoning of facts. self assessment (how good am I?). To assert power one must purge the old world and enforce the ways of the new regime. In contrast. electronic chat on course bulletin boards. in the sense of an absence of anticipated reward. group assignments. one might anticipate that the next wave of Educationalists would call for a complete abandonment of schools and universities as the young would become educated by “ubiquitous learning”. aptitude and potential than a mere examination. one Education “expert” stated that “ . examinations should not be used at university because it exposes the failure of the Australian primary and secondary education systems. punishment..” In other words. or insight into. examinations are not the norm in Queensland schools . we are beginning to see in virtually every vocation. In Australia today a great many students emerge from university with little in the way of a coherent body of basic knowledge that might serve them in any walk of life – a phenomenon that... Their attitudes to examinations betray a complete and profound lack of knowledge about. after more than two decades of destructive education policy and practice. ” and to use examinations for assessment purposes is “ . the product of many years of complex neuropsychological research. fellow-student assessment (how good are my friends?). If it were not for the fact that their vocation would cease to exist.. Yet all learning. In a review of a course I coordinated. writing a “learning journal” and mere attendance. severely weakening degree programs to the point where having a degree from an Australian university says little if anything about a graduate‟s knowledge. is inextricably bound (like all endeavours) to success and failure and the motivating factors of reward and. the “authentic assessment” of Constructivist‟s consists of assignments. “Authentic assessment” is supposed to give far greater insight into student performance. the wellestablished principles of human learning. Historically. not conducive to the successful transition of students from school to university. for that matter. intelligence or potential.. Nevertheless. whether it is in a scholastic or non-scholastic domain or. whether it is learning in animals or humans. the promotion of a shallow pseudo-interdisciplinary curriculum and the rank acceptance of uncorroborated material for assessment has made a mockery of standards.. power is always linked to change. waving their paper degrees at . Nevertheless the “reason” Educationalists give for their hostility towards exams is that they are not relevant to something they refer to as “real life”.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>71 employers who increasingly despair at having to accommodate zealous incompetents. So what is the evidence indicating that the studentcentred/constructivist integrated approach represents an improvement in learning or teaching? The claim is that Education “research” has proved the success of this approach. however. that they are the oracles of pedagogical truth. Yet. Many Scientists who have formal Education credentials say without hesitation that those who teach Education cannot even define the terms and concepts on which they base their fanciful ideas of learning and teaching. Compared to the international standards of science. Many also state that the Education lectures they were obliged to attend were poorly delivered and in keeping with modern Educational Theory (like the barren speech of the lobotomised mental patient). that a small group of people largely without any postgraduate experience in science or mathematics. Everything from the nature and depth of course content. A clear case of the blind leading the uninterested to an unmitigated Australian educational disaster. However. Educationalists have dominated pre-tertiary schooling for several decades. organisations took on modest young men and women armed with the knowledge. the “discoveries” of the Educationalist represent little more than unsubstantiated opinion and uneducated speculation. It seems strange. who is cogent in experimental design and data analysis. if not open attack. Educationalists appear to have had little difficulty in convincing university managers. . were often completely lacking in content. the infiltration of their ideas into university science teaching is relatively new. Comparatively. will have little difficulty in detecting the unreliability and underlying bias of the design and conduct of this so-called research. It has only recently dawned on many university science academics that Educationalists now exercise substantial control over the teaching of science in their institutions. is under siege. employers are now obliged to take on people who have essentially been cheated of knowledge and skills by Educationalists ignorant of the learning and teaching process. Through their control of curriculum and teacher training programs. to the way in which academics teach their courses. if not absurd. to the degree program curriculum. practical skill and insight which inevitably mature into a sound understanding of their chosen vocation. let alone a respected teaching and research record in these areas are in a position to tell Scientists what and how to teach. only a decade or two before. Where. most of whom are similarly ignorant of the fundamental principles and purposes of higher education. in spite of their ignorance. anyone reading Education publications.

emphasising the preponderance of “non-evidence based” submissions because. educational administrators. they would inevitably begin to appreciate the relevant insights that have emerged from modern neuroscientific studies of human mentality. The Neuropsychology of Learning If Educationalists were serious about establishing a rational basis for improving learning and teaching. testing competing hypothesis and deriving conclusions supported by evidence. Professor Rowe‟s observation brings into stark relief the extent to which the Educationalists appear to lack any desire to establish tangible. Of course. It would soon become apparent that their fanciful education . What is at the forefront of their efforts is the enlistment of disciples for the building of a culture wholly dependent on nebulous jargon. this phenomenon highlights the majority of the Education establishment‟s idea of research. university managers and a subservient media. bringing Educationalists up to date with this knowledge would require them to attend extensive re-education programs. Scientists spend their working lives meticulously sorting fact from fiction. in simple language. masquerade as a genuine school of thought. consider the following quote from the late Professor Ken Rowe. with the backing of our politicians. and especially from education academics. a culture that can. education hierarchy they apparently see little need for evidence. having allowed their “profession” to languish. Having penetrated the management-dominated. while Educationalists can and do publish virtually anything as long as it is evidenced by one of their myriad of poorly designed ”surveys”. taken from a paper on “evidence-based instructional leadership” which was inspired following his review of submissions for the Australian Government‟s National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL): ―I and my fellow Committee members were appalled by the volume of non-evidence-based ideological rhetoric expressed in many of the 454 submissions to NITL – from teachers. if they were appropriately trained and possessed the necessary intellect. they would do well to acquaint themselves with the products of the last 100 years of research in neuropsychology. Nevertheless. Not surprisingly.‖ Professor Rowe specifically targets University Educationalists. truths about human learning. yet sometimes intricate. Scientists must have their jobs threatened before they will enrol in formal education course work and will only have their courses hammered into the student-centred/constructivist mould by the edicts of faculty managers.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>72 While evidence from personal observation and discussions with colleagues might be considered anecdotal.

Coupling clever experimental design with fMRI technology has delivered a hitherto unachievable level of certainty in ascribing specific neural functions to Brodmann‟s areas. Upon doing so.1918). The existence of circumscribed areas of the cortex sub serving specific functions was presaged by the meticulous and methodical microscopy of Brodmann (Korbinian Brodmann . thought). as distinct from the purely adaptive behaviours observable in animals whose behavioural repertoire is wholly instinctual. The profound implication of cerebral specialisation is that. The most common encountered example of functional localisation is the homunculus (representation of the body surface). who showed on the basis of cellular architecture that the cortex can be divided into 44 discrete areas. The veracity of Brodmann‟s cortical map has stood the test of the ensuing 100 years of neuroscientific research. few will have pondered its significance. they would soon understand that thought resides in specific areas within the prefrontal cortex. which occupies Brodmann Area 3 (the primary sensory cortex) of the frontal cortex. . the neuropsychological basis of human learning and skill acquisition and.e. The advent of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) provided fresh impetus to this work. Neuroscientists have been methodically mapping the areas of the brain responsible for cognition. cognitive memory and emotional memory for over thirty years – thereby providing a basis for understanding the mechanisms that underpin human learning. the extent of a particular individual‟s mental ability must also be related to the size of the cortical areas devoted to mentation (i. most fundamentally. just as an individual‟s ability to perceive perturbations of the body surface is dependent on the size of their Brodmann Area 3.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>73 “theories” are in fact contradictory to accumulated knowledge about the functions and operation of the human intellect. human intelligence. Re-education camp would therefore require that attendees come to grips with the work of the many neuroscientists who have used fMRI to localise activity in the human brain while the experimental subject attends to a particular task.German neurologist and neuroanatomist. 1868 . While anyone who has completed an introductory psychology course will be familiar with the homunculus. All parties cognisant of neuropsychology have understood that different parts of the cerebral cortex play significantly different roles in the sculpting of human behaviour.

as predicted by the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant. commencing at about age seven and becoming fully functional by about age 11. however. The social mind is responsible for the individual‟s ability to comprehend. . The social. negotiate and manipulate the dynamics of social interaction (i. practical and abstract minds. its function appears to be limited to planning that is relevant to the currently functional areas of the mind. In his publication Charting the Domains of Human Thought (Journal of Consciousness Studies. all of which in one form or another are derived. The function of the temporal mind is to break down tasks that cannot be completed in a single action into a correctly ordered series of achievable sub-tasks. however. who has synthesised a coherent understanding of this mass of information and established the neural basis of thought (or cognition as psychologists commonly refer to it). 3-17). traditionally the USA and the UK. The social mind starts to become functional late in the first year of life and is fully functional by about age six. The developmental period of the temporal mind is difficult to determine but appears to span the developmental periods of the social. the material mind (Brodmann Area 47). This is yet another example of the unfortunate characteristic of Australians that predisposes them to ignore the potential of their own in deference to “experts” from other nations.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>74 It is Australia‟s own P. from an understanding of time and space. Snow. He has termed these areas the social mind (Brodmann Area 9). modifying and reordering plans as required.e. As the tasks are executed the temporal mind assesses the success or otherwise of the action. The material mind concerns itself with the conceptualisation of the significant parametric. the abstract mind (Brodmann Area 46) and the temporal mind (Brodmann Area 10). The operations of the abstract mind involve the conceptualisation. At any given time. The abstract mind starts to mature by about age 11 and is fully functional in the mid to late teens. “emotional intelligence” – not to be confused with being emotional). Snow‟s work has been largely ignored within Australia and is certainly unknown to Educationalists. v10 2003.J. The material mind becomes functional in the middle years of childhood. pp. practical and abstract areas of the mind develop sequentially. integration and manipulation of intangible phenomena. practical and symbolic features of familiar physical objects. Snow presents detailed evidence establishing that the human mind is composed of four anatomically distinct but highly interconnected areas of the prefrontal cortex that elaborate four distinct domains of cognition.

Indeed. By virtue of its very nature. Those strategies operated during a period in which rational investigations of complex abstract phenomena undertaken in Western nations produced a dazzling array of insights. formed the basis of all western strategies of education. until relatively recently.of science. social logic is the logic of politics and instinct. is obvious and not in the least coincidental.g. which should be thoroughly familiar to all those with degrees in Education. even if an individual has a large Brodmann Area 47. scientific learning must be actively undertaken. vocal cues). The marriage between internal urges and the behaviour of an ever increasing number of external agents means that social logic is infinitely graded and is therefore not a form of logic that is useful for describing accurately the physical or the biological world. coupled with their reading of the emotional profile of those who care for them (e. Thus. which is critical to the formation of hypothesis. truth is very much in the eye of the beholder. In the context of education. This is even truer of the abstract mind (Brodmann Area 46). How many people would be willing to live without their entertainment and communications devices or modern healthcare diagnostics and treatments? Snow‟s work establishes a fundamental difference in the process of learning between social and all other forms of cognition. let alone understanding and manipulating intangible phenomena entirely within the realm of thought comes naturally to an insignificantly small fraction of the population. Comprehension. the process of social learning is directly contradictory to those forms of learning which underpin the acquisition of skills and the exercise – through hypothesis formation . The initial “teacher” of the social mind is the infant‟s visceral demands for satiation.whatever that behaviour may be. which takes place entirely within the abstract domain. In the social domain. it is the essence of social and familial manipulation. The manner and degree to which satiation is achieved becomes seamlessly interwoven with the behaviour of the child‟s caregivers and those in his/her intimate circle . the application of which produced an equally dazzling array of practical inventions.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>75 The parallels with Piaget‟s stages of cognitive development. . the fulfillment of their practical potential will not be realised unless they pursue and obtain an appropriate exposure to the fundamentals of the practical domain. facial expressions. body language. which. In fact Snow‟s work provides the neuropsychogical basis of Piagetian theory. While social learning will take place come-what-may.

comprehending hierarchy and remembering events (often in embarrassing detail) – abilities that naturally reflect the developmental stage of the maturing brain and the accompanying domain of cognitive ability. do-one”! The primary school student mind is at a stage of development where the generational transmission of skills and knowledge takes place by the process of step-by-step replication. understanding and making rules. the biological immaturity of Brodmann Areas 46. Yet. children will struggle with integrated curricula and problem-based learning approaches and will extract little in the way of useful knowledge from the “study” of big-picture problems involving intangible phenomena like climate change. What they will do is repeat what they are socially rewarded for repeating. Because the physical parts of the brain responsible for thought are only partially mature in prepubescent children. the prepubescent child excels at copying. In the primary school years. cerebral learning is far less dominant in the transference of skills and concepts than is commonly appreciated. The extent to which any child will appreciate the objective of their behaviour will vary but is so minimal that it is essentially irrelevant to any useful opinion on the educational processes of a human being. Indeed. the order in which actions must be taken to reach a predefined goal) is only just starting to develop and there is little cognitive appreciation of three-dimensional space.e. in contradiction to the facts. do-one” yields far better results than “imagine-one. It follows that at this age. 47 and 10 means that students have little or no ability to deal with abstract concepts. the neural centres of thought repress the neural centre of mimicry and imitation (a brain area called the inferior parietal lobule). the child replicates the ways of the surrounding adults.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>76 With this knowledge in hand our re-education camp attendees will be in a position to consider the learning domains of children as they pass though primary and secondary school. In activity and even inclination. because in the adult. intelligence-related “discovery” process. with . The constant push by Educationalists to remove repetition from the learning paradigm and have children “discover” the facts of mathematics and science for themselves stems from their belief. imitating. As any parent will confirm. even for adults. the child‟s limited mental power predisposes them to this form of behavioural transfer. “See-one. Temporal understanding (i. mimicry and imitation are critically important to the transference of skills and activities. that skill and knowledge acquisition is primarily a cognitive.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel at this age. acquiring a skill or coming to grips with a concept. It is this reward and the neurochemical changes associated . 1994. Fun is primarily an emotional state. by the process of mimicry and imitation. The Educationalist‟s idea that learning will take place if it is enjoyable reflects a glaring ignorance of the well-established principles of operant conditioning in humans. fun belongs to the realm of instinct rather than cognition and cannot therefore make a significant contribution to learning. As an emotional state. points to its lack of utility in developing the cognitive abilities of a human child. can speak grammatically perfect English! (See Pinker. Indeed.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>77 little necessity for the use of intelligence. it is also the mother of mental effort. The reward. There is perhaps no more disarming state regarding the necessity for mental activity than the state of fun. Even in mammals lacking mental capabilities. The majority of the problems faced by the young have been faced previously by countless generations who have developed a repertoire of standard solutions. however. The notion that primary school students should “discover” the rules of arithmetic or the cognitive complexities of climate change is a totally misguided expectation blatantly exposing the deficiencies of modern school curricula. a state referred to in emotion research as “joy”. Joy or pleasure is related to activity in the brain‟s reward centres. Necessity is not only the mother of invention but. in a more general context. irrespective of whether the child appreciates the objective of the actions they are learning should be blindingly obvious. must follow the achievement and the mental and/or physical effort that is responsible for that achievement. The advantage of rapidly learning the acquired practical wisdom of the clan. not to mention our national Education policies. The idea that learning takes place when the learning activities are “fun” is again in direct contradiction to virtually every study of the neural basis of learning. The Language Instinct) The sequence of brain development described above is in fact an evolutionary adaptation designed to ensure young and inexperienced members of the clan mimic. operant conditioning works because the animal is rewarded when it inadvertently bumbles into a rewarding situation. That joy is so influential in training rats. children exist who totally lack the mental centres of their brain and yet. Many studies on “learning” in children and adults have shown that reward is more powerful than punishment in modifying behaviour. which totally lack cognitive abilities. imitate and sometimes cognitively learn the important practical skills from their knowledgeable elders and understand everyone‟s place in the social order.

that automatically reinforce the animal‟s behaviour and have the potential to bring the animal back to the situation where it experienced the joy of the reward. fun or joy is a commodity simply handed out willy-nilly. If on the other hand. gravity) will start to mature. morphine or heroin) makes no effort to feed or reproduce but chooses instead to retain a constant state of joy by pressing the lever until it dies. spoilt because. The decision to expend that effort requires the motivation to improve oneself. then whether we are speaking of the laboratory rat.g. The most telling insight into this condition is the behaviour of both rats and humans when they are artificially retained in a state of joy by the administration of sufficient quantities of hedonic drugs. permanently damaged because of an intransigent expectation that reward is an automatic product of simply being “me”. If the mind is to reach its potential. it must be felt in a way that provides the motivating force for improvement. We would normally refer to such a child as a spoilt brat – spoilt for life in the real world. the composition of matter). time.g. motion in three dimensional space. particularly when it involves surmounting substantial hurdles.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>78 with it. By the time children enter high school. The potential for failure must be real and. when it occurs. those parts of the adolescent‟s mind capable of conceptualising abstract. it must be fed with firstorder information and concepts from other parts of the mind that deal in . The human opiate addict is much the same. they lack the impetus and ultimately the behavioural strategies required to look after themselves. the non-human primate or the human child. no exploration or learning will take place. typically avoiding any activity and typically opting to exist in a joyful bliss as long as the source of joy is readily available. This maturation is essential for appreciating all phenomena which have an essentially hypothetical basis (e. Indeed. intangible phenomena (e.g. Achievement. The child provided constantly with joy-inducing experiences is a child who will make no effort. most people have heard about the classic experiment in which the rat with access to a lever that permits the self administration of opiates (e. Acquisition of useful knowledge requires mental (and often physical) effort and self discipline and does not arrive by instinct. in reality. brings a mature and humble confidence so different from the false confidence engendered by the contemporary Educationalists‟ indiscriminate inflation of student self-esteem – the reward for nothing!. This does not mean learning requires a brutal classroom environment or that every minute of every day must be spent burning mental energy but it does mean the reward must not be given until the goal has been achieved. space.

friend. The repercussions of these matters for the individual and the society are immense. The result is that not only does their emotional intelligence scarcely develop but they are also incapable of comprehending the hypothetical issues relating to their social-emotional environment. the foundation of which used to be learned as part of a primary school education. Formulation and testing of hypotheses is the basis of all rational attempts to solve problems. simply waiting to burst forth once the straitjacket of traditional education is cut away. which is the very substance of tertiary education. however. The occurrence of truly creative thinking. foe) which are then processed with the basic tools that permit understanding (e. arithmetic.g. From their tool kit of basic academic skills they will develop non-standard solutions to standard problems (a process known as emulation) and establish solutions to problems for which no standard solution has been provided. comprehension). shape. length. as opposed to trial and error. Not only will the individual have difficulty functioning in an increasingly conceptually complex world but. will be greatly impoverished. like those of the Middle Ages. being unable to grasp fundamental ideas. will be obliged to make their decisions on the basis of irrational beliefs and superstition or at the behest of a soothsayer– the very antithesis of what we hope to achieve through the process of education. The ordinary student deprived of a factual education and the opportunity to develop fundamental academic skills essentially suffers the same deprivation. Autistic children are unable to read body language and so are largely unable to collect facts about the emotional-social aspects of the world around them. is so rare that its promotion as an educational goal is nothing short of ridiculous. language. what we must come to grips with is that there is not a creative genius lurking within every child. Unfortunately.g. the brighter students will start to use their developing ability to operate in the hypothetical. . Without a platform of facts and a toolkit of standard solutions. While all high school students will still learn a great deal by imitating and repeating the standard solutions presented by an expert. Their capacity for practical and abstract thought. The end result will be communities which. a student‟s ability to understand phenomena that cannot be directly perceived and solve problems by thinking. area. is strictly limited.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>79 facts and social or physical relationships (e. will lack the ability to appreciate many of the forces that will increasingly shape their future.

Without the mental resources that should be acquired as part of a proper education. the Australian government and private organisations advertise all over the world for skilled people ranging from tradespeople to university staff. with a keen eye on collecting fees from young Australians and foreigners alike. is immediately derided by the Education establishment. micromanaged educational institutions. That this is actually happening reveals politicians and business executives are acutely aware of the incompetence of our crudely corporatised. information and understanding as being innate.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>80 The end result of a Student-Centred/Constructivist education is the emergence from our institutions of poorly-educated people with unrealistically high opinions of their abilities. Today anyone. For a great many first year students. They persist with their chronically naïve vision of the mechanisms enabling the successful generational transfer of skills.e. have responded by simplifying their courses and degree curricula so that in many cases they are teaching what previous generations learned. sometimes as far back as primary school. those who control education appear to be completely insensitive to the need for clear-cut standards. it is an unexpected and confronting experience to encounter lecturers who actually have a deep understanding of their subject area and consequently. who cares whether our graduates can do long division or write a coherent sentence? Surely all that matters is the amount of money that can be extracted from the consumer of education product (i. who considers that direct instruction in the acknowledged disciplines by a discipline expert is fundamentally important to learning. Hiding behind their politically correct educational fantasies. no matter what their qualifications. Such a view is anti-educational! . these products of Australian “Educationalism” typically blame others for their own failures and expect everyone else to do the hard work. Australian universities. After all. expect that serious effort will be expended in learning. This feature of modern Australian society is something that citizens experience through virtually daily encounters with rank incompetence at every level of the society. At the same time. Educationalists consider active instruction in established disciplines by discipline experts to be entirely outmoded. The progressive transmission of knowledge wherein the aspiring student is lead from the simple to the complex and from the practical to the abstract. you or your children). Fortunately for the hapless. using teaching approaches based on the established principles of cognitive development is essential. Yet.

Its corollary is that anything requiring mental effort is not worth learning. Perhaps it is not surprising that students believe the idea that all learning must be enjoyable. Considering that addition is possibly the most basic scholastic task a student will undertake. The reality is that. It would obviously be one in which you were one of a large group. Even the very brightest students will rarely. In Australia the propagation of this attitude has wreaked havoc with education at the primary and secondary level. the student-centred/constructivist agenda has become one of pandering to students‟ complaints and glossing over their academic weaknesses. an expert in the relevant area to teach them and a class size of one. he was talking of his personal intellectual progress being based on the accumulated knowledge of those who had gone before. spoke of “seeing farther by standing on the shoulders of giants”. By all accounts. without either material resources or expert help.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>81 A simple thought experiment is all that is required to instantly appreciate their inherent fallacies. irrespective of how much fun the “learning manager” can inject into “learning activities”. if ever. instruction by a person with substantial discipline knowledge is paramount for learning. The Educationalist‟s aversion to clearly defined standards and straightforward assessment stems from the need to obscure failure – an obsession spawning the declining level of basic academic skills held by a great many students now entering Australian universities. the student-centred/constructivist approach to tertiary teaching is rapidly creating a level of educational and intellectual impoverishment within our society that could never have been envisaged 20 years ago. it took humans many centuries to learn to add. When Sir Isaac Newton. fun-filled passage through the education system. for most of us. the expectation that children will learn mathematical and scientific principles through self discovery appears foolish. Instead of pretending that students will learn only if they are having fun while their self-esteem is . as we understand addition today. While the perfect learning environment can never be achieved en masse. it inevitably leaves them with an unrealistic view of their own abilities and a completely fallacious vision of the real world. Let the Pandering Begin Whether by design or chance. to say the least. Now think about the most difficult learning environment. If you needed to learn something conceptually challenging. While it may give the students a languid. arguably one of the most brilliant scientific figures to date. what learning environment would you choose? Most people would choose to have the best physical resources at their disposal. “discover” and “integrate” basic scientific principles for themselves.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>82 baselessly inflated. not only from a knowledge perspective but also through the development of the self discipline required to succeed. ”. Educationalists should attune students to the pleasure that results from mastering a topic – the pleasure that is greater. literacy and numeracy does not become relevant until they make their career choice” and “reading and writing is not very high on their agenda”. the more difficult the mental challenge of the task. curriculum must be relevant to the local situation. Science and English should vary with locality across Australia. And if that happens to be nothing – well. Ms Vertigan‟s responses to questions regarding the statistics included statements like “The issue I guess is that for many students.. algebra and geometry are now considered “specific numeracy skills”. April 2011). Provided the curriculum is of appropriate breadth and depth and the testing is sufficiently probing. comprehension or simply in their personal experience of tertiary education.. While there is a subterranean understanding that Australia‟s education system is in serious trouble. One of the recent high points in Educationalist obfuscation was an interview given by the President of the Australian Secondary Principals‟ Association (Ms Sheree Vertigan) on ABC Radio National in response to the appalling set of statistics revealed in the Industry Skills Council report on literacy and numeracy levels in the work force (No More Excuses. teaching to the test can only be a good thing... teach every set of numeracies for every possible apprenticeship . unless of course. much easier to “teach” students what they happen to be interested in at the time. The teachers‟ union also claims that national testing will encourage “teaching to the test”. . apprenticeships require a specific language and very specific numeracy skills” and that it wasn‟t possible to “ . one‟s goal is to disguise failure. it is difficult to imagine why the curriculum and academic standard required for Mathematics. Yet.. Even though the bar has been set understandably low.. According to their relativistic rhetoric. It will certainly be news to many that basic arithmetic. the process has been fought every step of the way by the Educationalist-dominated teachers‟ union which makes every spurious argument imaginable to the effect that national standards are both unfair and inappropriate. that makes the job pretty easy. is an indication of the level of the crisis. The mere fact that the Rudd government felt obliged to establish national standards for testing numeracy and literacy and national curricula for the enabling disciplines. The interview left one with the impression that teaching the essentials was just too hard. The claim was also made that “ . those with the power to change it seem totally bankrupt when it comes to insight.

has not been made clear. the hope being that it would embarrass the teachers‟ union into positive action. the union responded by advising their members not to administer the tests. Australia will continue along its perilous journey toward a tertiary education system in which relatively uneducated. the end result is to degrade the standard of science education in universities to the point where the broad-scale failure of pre-tertiary science and mathematics education can go unnoticed. they have harnessed the human resources of the teaching fraternity to pursue the Educationalist‟s self-perceived and ultimately futile mission in social engineering aimed at downplaying the vast diversity in intellectual aptitude that is an inherent characteristic of all societies. Not everyone can win a prize at football but everyone should “graduate” from primary and secondary (and now middle) school and be given a degree by one of our universities. supported by career Educationalists bestow degrees upon anyone who is willing to pay.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>83 While it might be understandable that students show little interest in mastering foundation skills. when it became a reality. The use of student feedback surveys (see Chapter 5) provides a forum for students to voice their displeasure on such matters. The teachers‟ unions has only themselves to blame. Student-centred learning also requires that the work should always be fun. thereby pinpointing for management where changes to courses must be made to keep the customer happy. it is inexcusable that the teachers‟ unions has steadfastly refused to require teachers to have mastery of their discipline or that they actively teach. No student should ever be able to claim they were bored or were required to undertake repetitive tasks in order to gain a particular skill. provided they pay the requisite fees. How one achieves this for all students in a class of four or five hundred or even forty or fifty for that matter. jettison its proponents and get back to actively teaching. Whether by purpose or chance. Their view is that equal education outcomes must be achieved for all comers. The union howled long and hard in the lead up to MySchool and. . economy-driven managers. Instead. Their recalcitrance has been such that the Rudd government created the costly and unwieldy MySchool website to publish the results of “school performance” on the national tests. If they wish to right the situation. they must admit that the Constructivist/Student-Centred approach is a failure. If primary and secondary education is not put right. Constructivist Undergraduate Teaching The constructivist/student-centred approach holds that learning takes place when the student is at the centre of learning activities that align with their own unique learning style.

Development of a knowledge base and practical skills with a major component of direct instruction over at least a two to three year period is required before most students can even begin to successfully direct their own learning. Whether they know it or not. No less an authority than . they have consistently criticised undergraduate science courses and undergraduate science teaching for being too content focused and for using competitive assessment. The people physically carrying out the research are considered bottom feeders and are often treated as an impediment to upper echelon politics until the organisation is required to provide progress reports for the funding bodies. Good ideas usually come from very small groups of people. large multi-institution research projects are generally known more for the amount of money spent on administration than on the actual research that is produced. it is promoted on the basis of the Educationalists‟ rationale that all discoveries from now on will be the result of collaboration between large groups of people at multiple institutions. The remedy for this is to remove content. Yet. which assures that. Assessment based on group work simply enables the weaker and lazier students to hide their deficiencies and gives them the idea that. in real life. science research experience or a science publication record. Unfortunately. what Educationalists are saying is that it is much more important for students to learn how to manipulate social relations and group dynamics than it is for them to acquire relevant knowledge and practical skill. Anyone who has undertaken serious work in science knows that the behemoth approach to science is suited to very few projects. reduce the weighting on exams and introduce weak assessment items. who have the luxury of spending considerable time working and thinking together. The truly revolutionary ideas usually arise in the mind of a single person. constructivist/student-centred science teaching is a failure for all but the very brightest students. a Pass for that item is eventually inevitable. Most Educationalists have no postgraduate training in science. the hard work will always be done for them. While department managers like group assignment work because it is much cheaper than providing any sort of properly supervised laboratory or field work.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>84 At the undergraduate level. provided something is handed in. usually some kind of group Problem-Based Learning task with Criteria-Based Assessment. from their position of ignorance. each with deep specialist knowledge.

The task of university teaching has been made considerably more difficult by the bad habits promoted by constructivist teaching and integrated curricula at school. Science requires the establishment and growth of a relevant knowledge base. they have little chance of successfully directing their own science education. and proficiency with basic arithmetic. in many cases. While the internet is indeed a powerful tool for gathering information. rather than acquiring a basic understanding of any particular subject and practicing their public speaking skills. The end result is the broad scale encouragement of plagiarism and establishment of the idea that “research” is simply the process of copying “stuff” off the net. opinion and imitation rather than fundamental insight through rational thought and experimentation. It also encourages the idea that knowledge is ubiquitous thus enabling everyone to be an expert in a world where one person‟s opinion about almost everything is as good as any others.. particularly in the fundamental disciplines. without citation. the subject matter is well beyond students‟ level of cognitive development. The major problems with literacy and numeracy have already been discussed.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>85 “our” most recent Nobel Prize winner. as their areas of interest are primarily social in nature and revolve largely around left/right politics. writing and comprehension. Educationalists do not appear to understand this. In other words. The veracity of the content is not important and. Without this. effective use of its search capabilities to investigate a substantive topic requires a knowledgeable and sophisticated user. In the school context. Professor Elizabeth Blackburn “ . warns that researchers first need deep specialist knowledge” if they are to make significant contributions to cross-disciplinary research. reading. “research” consists largely of using the internet to acquire information for assignments. there is an absurd emphasis on the use of presentation software (PowerPoint mostly) to present the results of internet trawling. the student does not have the foundation required to synthesise knowledge and understand broader relations between facts. Problems of similar scale have been created by the introduction of “research” into both the primary and secondary school curriculum. into the student‟s assignment. Large blocks of text are often copied directly. Using the internet at school for information-gathering purposes usually results in the uncritical acquisition of material of unknown veracity.. the students come to believe their understanding is demonstrated by their ability to use as many of the presentation . The end result is that. The disappearance of the expert! To compound the problem.

Most first year students now bring with them a very cavalier attitude toward facts. an unshakable belief in all that resides on the internet and no concern for acknowledging the ideas of others. many are incapable of speaking without their PowerPoint crutch and. On the third occasion. Undaunted by such problems. Little wonder then that plagiarism at the university undergraduate level is now so rife that assignments have to be checked electronically to determine the extent of similarity with published work and other assignments. According to Dr Spender. when PowerPoint is employed. is in fact a new and fast and obviously digital way of synthesising information. One cannot blame students entirely for this problem as they have not been required to put in the hard work to become proficient in the English language and its logic or taught in any systematic way to summarise written text. Universities now have policies on plagiarism and teaching staff invest considerable time and effort explaining plagiarism to students. following discovery of plagiarism. university administrators have great difficulty taking appropriate action. the visual and auditory garbage so dominates the presentation that no-one actually follows what is being said. By the time they reach university.. As it turned out.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>86 features of the software as possible. However. a different one for each offender. this should have led to a grade of Fail for the course.” Yeah . At the least.. noted Educationalist and “Futurist” Dr Dale Spender has castigated university academics for admonishing the “cut and paste” approach to university assignment work.. it is very counterproductive for students embarking on a science degree. the offenders received a verbal wrist slap from the Cost Centre Manager. The academic who instigated proceedings was then ordered to prepare and mark two new assessment items.. On two occasions. to replace the one for which the students received zero. it is just part of the way students learn and “ . providing examples of acceptable and unacceptable writing and highlighting the importance of referencing the work of others. when the hardcore offenders are identified. a course coordinator gave the two students involved verbal warnings in the presence of a witness. The academic took the matter up . the students received a mark of zero for the plagiarised work and formal proceedings were instigated. While this might be just the ticket for Communications or Marketing students. The “cut and paste” habit is a hard one to break. An example of the pathetic response that university management can make to bad student behaviour is this account of the handling of a case of serial plagiarism. whatever.

Of course there‟s nothing like leading by example. it often seems that the least deserving students gain the most benefit from the appeals systems while deserving students need to be actively encouraged to use them. the students should be finding their own way in the learning world just as they will have to do in . I have seen situations where a group of students have been caught cheating red handed and instead of faculty management pursuing the matter. but twice. for this is what the Vice Chancellor is supposed to be. I had a student who was permitted to sit the same examination four times. In July of 2002. In early 2002.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>87 with the faculty‟s learning and teaching manager and was swiftly advised that the University was an educational institution. On the final attempt I was ordered to mark but not grade the examination. Mr Ellis and the VC “reached mutual agreement that the Vice Chancellor should leave the University”. a former chairman of BHP. For students who “get caught” or fail to perform. the Vice Chancellor of Monash University was forced to acknowledge that he had plagiarised the work of others not once. one can only guess at the extent of the damage done to Monash and the wider academic community. In addition to the reluctance of management to pursue cases. While it was clear that many academic staff were very dissatisfied having a plagiarist for an academic leader. the Monash University Council. passed a motion of confidence in the Vice Chancellor. there is now a legion of administrative mechanisms available to students to challenge any adverse grading or finding. life has never been easier. upon examining their official academic record some time later. the academics concerned were ordered to provide written apologies to the students for making their lives transiently uncomfortable. Instead of lecturers turning themselves inside out to meet the learning requirements of individual students. it could have been worse. Ironically. Unfortunately. By my count the student failed again but. it was obvious that someone higher up the chain had awarded them a pass. in books that he had written on alcoholism. the messages affirmed in the minds of many people were that it‟s only wrong if you get caught and that it certainly helps to have friends in high places. The last attempt was almost a year after the first. While academic principles eventually won the day. not a penal institution! Still. a third case of plagiarism by the VC was identified. This pandering approach is back-to-front and very unhelpful for all concerned. headed by Jerry Ellis. As it seemed that the tide could be held back no longer.

This apparently infectious agent broke out in its initial form in social science faculties in the 1970s. In short order. Instead. indicates that every opportunity is taken to keep students in the juvenile stage of their life cycle. The analogy is also fitting in that Educationalists are sparing no effort in the construction of a Tower of Edu-Babble dedicated to their own aggrandisement. It is a structure designed to be impregnable to nonbelievers and to hide the inanity of the “profession”. as it is generally understood. the social science landscape became one in which facts and figures were identified as cultural constructs used for oppression. It is the bedrock of a vacuous discourse utilised by pseudo intellectuals and embraced only by the ambitious and the gullible. What is implicit in StudentCentred Learning is that. It seems only fitting then. that the language of the Educationalist has become known as Edu-Babble. should not be given any weight or currency beyond that of the “science” of any other culture. there is a belief in Education circles that all students can succeed in any course. if students fail to perform. The Tower of Edu-Babble The word babble is derived from the Old Testament story of the building of the Tower of Babylon. All ideas became equal except the idea of seeking truth which became a quaint anachronism. To be a successful Educationalist. Chapter 3). being so displeased with the idea of humans building such a grand monument to themselves instead of him. Yahweh. The fact that the scientific method can and has been . which required no factual basis. one has to master Edu-Babble. The ensuing belief in the existence of multiple science “knowledges” meant that the study of science. The Educationalist approach to university education claims to be about creating independent learners and creative thinkers (see Graduate Attributes. Science and the scientific method were just the tools of tyranny wielded by white Western male Scientists. Such personal development will be essential for success outside the university. however. truth became belief. For some reason. Simple observation. came down and made the languages of the city‟s inhabitants incomprehensible. The only way that this can be achieved is to lower standards to the point where failure is difficult or impossible. it is the lecturer‟s fault.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>88 the working world. The retailer/customer relationship now prevailing in our universities effectively frees the student from taking responsibility for their own performance. stunting their intellectual and personal growth and making them anything but independent or creative.

‖ . It puts the student on the spot and there is potential for failure. who claims to have coined the phrase in 2000. Take for example the word “authentic”. creating Edu terms for which English words are readily available and then fabricating phraseology using combinations of this jargon which defy any coherent definition. It has been made purposefully obscure by giving Edu meanings to ordinary English words. which is not possible in the Educationalist‟s world. let alone the truth. defines sustainable assessment as: ―Assessment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of students to meet their own future learning needs. seems to have escaped many Social Scientists and the vast majority of Educationalists. no examination of any type can be authentic. By way of example. Emeritus Professor David Boud from the University of Technology Sydney. Educationalists have brought us “sustainable assessment”. A Committee member summarised these by stating that the project did not adhere to any of the principles of the scientific method. Indeed.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>89 applied by all manner of people. “Oh. At this meeting. the Committee pointed out the serial failings of the project method. It was then claimed in typical Edu-Babble style that the project method represented a more modern and culturally relevant approach to science and was therefore perfectly valid! In the company of babblers. This very effectively excludes those who have not been appropriately indoctrinated and those who have neither the time nor the inclination to learn a worthless language.. colour or creed. I recall a case at my former institution when a project proposed for a Master of Science (MSc) degree was rejected by the Higher Degree Research Committee on the grounds that it did not contain sufficient science. one quickly learns that Edu-Babble has much more to do with the propagation of particular beliefs about how society should be organised than it does with any genuine interest in education. The wouldbe supervisor responded by saying. The official Edu-Babble definition of authentic assessment is assessment “ . which is completed in real life or life-like contexts”. For the Educationalist.. No conversation these days is complete without invoking the spectre of “sustainability”. you must be talking about the traditional scientific method”. irrespective of race. Educationalists use it to describe a certain type of assessment. The would-be supervisor demanded a meeting with the Committee to challenge the rejection.

instruction from outside the subculture” (this refers to the vaulter‟s subculture) and who uses “ . And as for “using” knowledge. July 2008). not vertical”. students are “prod-users”. “The pedagogical geometry is horizontal.. In my experience. Will we train our next generation of toxicologists by giving them a box of chemicals and seeing whether they can prod-use the LD 50 effectively? Those not dead or chronically poisoned by the end of the course will be awarded a Pass! . they will request a doctor who has “vaulted over the meta map” and actively avoided “ . it is very rare to find an undergraduate student producing scientific knowledge. however. being simultaneously producers and users of knowledge. Lecturers are not experts. This statement comes from an opinion piece written by Education Professors McWilliam and Jackson and published in the Higher Education Supplement of The Australian newspaper (No Longer Tuned to Master‘s Voice. On the other. trial and error as the dominant mode of learning”. Perhaps this is so in the humanities.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>90 The clear implication of this definition is that (for want of a better adjective) “conventional” assessment has destroyed the ability of students to further their own learning after leaving the education system. financial ruin or lost lives result from failure.. No doubt the next time the good professors have the misfortune to be admitted to hospital. Educationalists claim that students should be assessed on the basis of their ability to handle real-world problems in real-life situations! I can think of few better arrangements for guaranteeing failure. as they exist on the same intellectual plane as the students! So why should their utterances be given any greater weight than that of a first year student? Indeed. Does Professor Boud seriously contend that the thousands of students who graduated prior to the introduction of soft-options education were incapable of future learning? Thus on the one hand Educationalists are telling us that there is too much knowledge in the world to bother learning it in any logical fashion – it is much more important to learn how to learn. More sophisticated Edu-Babble might include a statement like. It is one of their opening rationales for proclaiming that the lecture is dead. The propagation of such paradoxical ideas could only come from people who have no experience of the real world or who have never had to take responsibility for solving genuine real-world problems … where catastrophe. why have lecturers at all? After all. No doubt they would also feel completely at ease when crossing a bridge designed and built by similarly educated engineer prod-users.. well that could mean just about anything..

being lectured to is unlikely to be high on their list of preferences. When the issue of the poor academic performance of the first year intake arises. halving the funding and quadrupling unproductive administrative activities while maintaining or increasing pass rates would demand a drop in standards. Only those with formal Education credentials and fluency in Edu-Babble are qualified to teach. . This is no different from doting on a child by giving in to all demands while placing no boundaries on behaviour. The end result is a spoiled brat who will avail themselves of every opportunity to parasitise the Australian community. develop courses or formulate appropriate curricula. Maintaining enrollment and retention rates at appropriate levels are commercial imperatives. They go on to point out that for today‟s student “ . being normal young modern people would be a university degree in return for as little work as possible. Perhaps the professors are referring to lectures in their own disciplines in the social sciences. Educationalists will have none of it. academic standards must be lowered. The fall in standards in the two decades following the creation of the National Unified System has been substantial and obvious. which demands that paying bums be put on seats. In order to provide the soft ride. which for most of them. come-what-may.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>91 It seems the main reason for administering the last rites to the lecture is that attendance at lectures is poor. They continue to pretend that all is well in the primary and secondary systems. squandering resources on what amount to administrative fixes provides endless opportunities for achieving KPIs. attaching no responsibilities to privileges and delivering no consequences for bad behaviour.. While a managerial career is unlikely to prosper by tackling the source of the standards problem. Most academic staff view the problem of maintaining standards as being one that should be addressed primarily by improving pre-tertiary education and reinstating reasonable University entry requirements. the problem lies not with the students‟ lack of basic academic skills or motivation but with university lecturers who don‟t know how to teach.” In other words. Educationalists respond with ever more strident denunciations of the teaching ability of university academics. Whether university managers truly believe this is immaterial.. assess. Intuition alone would tell one that doubling the number of students. which are the stuff of career advancement. since the empirical evidence shows they have accepted the Educationalists‟ line. In their view. the experts should abandon their knowledge and experience and give students what they want.

by this stage of his recounting of events. I was dumbfounded. managers have applied the administrative equivalent of strong arm-tactics to “encourage” their existing staff to comply. 14 2007) by Dr John Gava of the University of Adelaide. As an example of just how poor some of these courses are. execute and publish scientific work in peerreviewed international journals and has an impressive publication record. The vast majority of science academics consider this coursework to be unsubstantiated bunk which must be gone through to keep one‟s job. So I asked him how he resolved the matter. which was a review of a few articles nominated by the lecturer. when my colleague and 90 or so other staff turned up at the following semester‟s course. he was not sharp enough to read and interpret articles on Education theory! After a long and unproductive telephone conversation with the Education lecturer. An article published in The Australian Higher Education Supplement (No Point in Learning to Teach Nov. Occasionally. While I am not aware of a university having formally made this requirement retrospective. my colleague came to the conclusion that the problem was that the lecturer‟s opinion on the topic differed from his. . Late in the semester. We now have the curious situation where people who have extensive practical experience in all aspects of tertiary teaching are being told by Educationalists how to do their job. a faint sign of opposition emerges. Scientists must swallow a minimum of four semesters of pedagogical theory to obtain a Graduate Certificate of Education – the minimum acceptable qualification. formal Education qualifications were of little use and may even be counterproductive. Needless to say. argued that for university teaching. he was contacted by the Education lecturer and advised that he would fail the course because his final assignment. was not up to scratch. Not surprisingly. So.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>92 The huge push by university management to force academic staff to complete a formal Education qualification is a prime example of such a “fix”. Simple he said. consider the following incident – a colleague of mine at a sandstone university recently set out to keep his job by acquiring his Education qualification (from his employer). they discovered that their lecturer had never taught a university course before. although the lecturer could not establish in my colleague‟s mind the factual basis for their opinion. although my colleague is sharp enough to conceive. I just changed my interpretation to the one the lecturer gave me on the phone and I passed!! Is this the kind of approach to science teaching that Australia‟s science academics are supposed to adopt? As an after note.

At present. This seems to be a common outcome. however. Of those who had specific comments on the balance between theory and practice. learners and learning. pedagogy. It‟s clearly a sensitive issue for the Education establishment. as evidenced by Skilbeck and Connell‘s comments in their recent research of teachers in their first 10 years of teaching for the MCEETYA Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership Taskforce: And below is Skilbeck and Connell‟s comment. the majority had negative views. Clearly. at least. initial training has not succeeded in demonstrating a relevant. curriculum studies. awash with a quality and quantity of jargon that suggests its purpose is to mystify rather than explain. They generally . who must complete a Bachelor of Education in order to be eligible for employment. The unfortunate reality. with many responses expressing dissatisfaction with the amount of theory they were expected to study. In their minds. Of those who commented about their course content. again. is that modern Education theory is being used to strip science . But what do primary and secondary teachers. if the doyens of pedagogical theory cannot convince school teachers of the worthiness of their product. they will have fewer prospects amongst their colleagues in the science disciplines who largely perceive teaching theory as a collection of unsubstantiated opinions. convincing ‗theory of practice‘ (as distinct from on-the-job learning) which conjoins the various components of preparation to teach: general education.on the evidence of this project – show little readiness to relate [teaching] research evidence and systematic educational knowledge (‗theory‘) to their practice. subject specialisation. most teachers in their first ten years do not perceive the relevance of much of their formal study at university. school experience and personal evaluation. a significant majority had negative comments. think about their exposure to pedagogical theory? Quoted below is the finding made by the Department of Education Science and Training (DEST) from their survey of final year teacher education students in 2006 (no later survey seems readily available).Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>93 this drew a bristling flurry of opposing articles and letters from Educationalists.

Unlike University status. not by the number of teaching seminars they attend or the number of teaching qualifications they acquire. teaching is not an intellectual activity. or that they do not appreciate the importance of good teaching or that they do not respect good teaching. Intellectual status accrues from the nature and quality of research published by an academic. at the stroke of a pen. as such. . Discipline knowledge serves the academic much as acting skills serve the actor and a good lecture is not unlike a good stage performance. A major step toward this goal was realised with the Dawkins reforms which. however. Holding this view does not automatically make academics poor teachers. not by the number of courses that they teach or rewrite. it resides more in the emotional domain than the intellectual.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>94 degree programs of prerequisites and content. courses on teaching theory should be made electives for Bachelor of Education students and university Educationalists making pronouncements about how science must be taught should have a formal tertiary postgraduate Science qualification and a substantial publication record in the international peer reviewed science press. according to Educationalists should not exist). or suggest that they are uninterested in teaching. What this statistic reflects is that those attracted to the profession do not consider teaching to be on an intellectual par with research because. In the interests of reciprocity. These programs formerly resided in the Colleges of Advanced Education. The demand that all academics acquire a teaching qualification is in fact little more than an ambit claim for empire on the part of the Educationalists. the act of teaching is primarily a communication task and. At the heart of the chest-beating is the Educationalist‟s long-held dream to be recognised as existing on the same intellectual plane as the „traditional‟ disciplines (which. While there is no question that substantial discipline knowledge is essential for successful teaching (at least in science) and that the intellect is central to gaining that knowledge. gave university status to undergraduate teacher training programs. to be lesser institutions than universities. notably the people who taught in them. A recent survey indicates that 93% of academic staff join the profession primarily because they want to engage in research. which had no research function and were therefore considered by some. intellectual status is bestowed by peers rather than the bureaucratic pen. at its core.

students who are incompetent are allowed to progress to more advanced levels. The heights of academia are populated by those with the greatest capacity to reveal truth through the mastery of abstract thought. One could summarise the Educationalists‟ approach to education as one in which failure does not exist. success from extending oneself beyond preconceived limits. What fills the Scientist‟s sails is the fresh breeze that blows at the frontiers of knowledge and the challenging mental navigation required to cruise those waters. to float their dream of intellectual supremacy upon an ever expanding ocean of ego. While aficionados may debate the merits of coaches. not unlike primary and secondary school. the Educationalist enterprise becomes one which is devoted to and obsessed with achieving the impossible. failure and recovery from failure. The peaks and troughs of the undergraduate experience. Much like the students who take the easy road to university entry. The net effect of this vacuous approach to tertiary education is that. the unproductive administration forced on academic staff and the fundamental conflict caused by the serial imposition of Education fads is simply the price that must be paid to keep the managerial gravy train on track. experiences that are so vital to personal development and preparation for life beyond the university are . how many people would be able to name even one of their teachers? Unfortunately.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>95 Just as performing the same play night-after-night is unlikely to satisfy the creative urges of the actor. university managers have taken the easy path for themselves and elected to paper over the cracks in the system with Edu-Babble. high teaching loads semester-aftersemester. We need only look at sport to understand this. what the world admires is the athlete who conjures from nowhere. While Darwin and Einstein are household names. a demand to focus on teaching method and prodigious quantities of pointless teaching-related administration will not satisfy a creative scientific mind. Whether the rest of us want to admit it or not. in accordance with the Law of Murphy. while the Educationalists utilised management‟s authority to grant them empire. the unbelievable winning play in the dying seconds of the game. The passing of the underperformers. insight and clever investigation. Management utilised the hot air of teaching theory and its ability to obscure failure to keep the bottom line floating above the red. it is those abilities that we would like recognised and remembered rather than for any course content couture or teaching technique tweakery. in the end. As failure is a fact of life. the confused and unpredictable sea of reform has created a peculiar symbiosis between Educationalists and university managers.

the system achieves the opposite of what it claims to be delivering! . in all likelihood they will pass. So while the rhetoric is all about preparing students for life beyond the university. the action is all about shielding students from challenge and failure. The student can avoid responsibility for their performance as they can be confident that. It is now unnecessary for students to learn to adapt quickly to different learning situations and to maintain effort and remain focused when the work appears to be dull or of little direct interest. or that a fail can be converted to a pass if they push for long enough.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>96 largely eliminated. Yet again.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>97 Chapter 5 Every Child Wins a Prize .

In the Pre-Dawkins era. Students now know that they can do virtually any combination of high school subjects and still be offered a place at a university. Unlike people of earlier generations who fully expected university to test their mettle. it is hard to get an OP worse than 15. however.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>98 In the Queensland education system. to 25. which is the best. The advertising strategies used by university marketers certainly give them no reason to think otherwise. The OP score provides a rank position for all students completing high school in the state of Queensland. today‟s student has every expectation that the soft ride will continue. not even English. let alone the hardest. while the middle aged and new generation universities may offer places to students with OP equivalents as poor as 22. Today. . Perhaps less well understood by the student is that they have been given a particularly easy ride to first year university. which is the worst. A score in the twenties indicates that the student probably didn‟t attend school for much of the time. equity and economic efficiency. Educationalists have supported the removal of prerequisites by providing pedagogical rationales based largely on their personal notions of social equity. A score of 15 or worse places a student well into the bottom half of highschool leavers and in many instances would equate to a student being competent with substantially less than 50% of the work covered at high school. universities have had to largely abandon most if not all scholastic entry requirements. Many universities have no prerequisites for entry to certain degree programs. My high school teacher colleagues tell me that if a student simply hands in the required work (examinations are apparently not that common and their weighting in the OP calculation is a mystery). which is used to gain entry to university. It is perfectly understandable that many choose the easiest road rather than the most relevant. In order to enrol students with such vastly disparate scholastic ability. Far from being an instrument of exclusion. irrespective of the standard. depending on the competition for entry to particular degree programs. Scores range from 1. the sandstone universities would enroll students with an OP equivalent of about 11. high school leavers are awarded an overall position or OP score. This has been swept away in the name of access. students from about the top 20% of high-school leavers. the use of entry prerequisites enabled the university to draw students into degree programs in which they were likely to succeed and to which they were academically suited. universities would enroll students with an OP equivalent of about 6 or better – in other words.

the Cell Biology course that I coordinated in 2006 (my last as it turned out). Very few first year students could write coherent phrases. let alone grammatically correct sentences. Close contact with probably 2500 first year students over seven years made me painfully aware of how woefully unprepared the first year intake was for university science. there is a clear relationship between OP score and performance in first year university. there is little point in achieving this goal simply by dropping entry standards. which is to set up passing criteria that maximise the number of students who can pass. resistance and have carried on down the same road ever since. A large amount of university resources. a significant number of incompetent students are being carried over the line by appropriately devised rules. As much as Educationalists might like to deny it. Of these students. including considerable academic staff time. as evidenced by their inability to follow written instructions. As a result. was consumed in dealing with the endless paperwork generated by these students. Similarly. their inability to comprehend simple written English. indicated that reading and/or comprehension was poor. . While the university may well have met its enrollment targets and could boast of its demonstrable commitment to access and equity. this was achieved by taking money from students who were unprepared for tertiary study and had little chance of succeeding. For example. even in the more simplified form in which it was taught. (presumably with votes and unemployment figures in mind) have much to do with this appalling state of affairs. included 34% of students with OP scores of 15 to 22. While no-one is against improving access to university. they would have been considerably worse had I not done what all course coordinators inevitably end up doing. It was simply glaringly obvious that a majority of students did not have a grasp of the most basic academic skills. There is no doubt that the funding arrangements initiated by the Hawke government and carried on by subsequent governments. did not complete all assessment items or required special or supplementary examinations. It is equally fair to say that university leaders offered little. In other words. As predictable as the numbers in my course might have been. 70% failed outright. a large part of our tertiary sector is now little more that an adolescent-minding centre that offers ineffective remedial teaching for the product of the failed primary and secondary school systems. if any.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>99 The net result has been a huge influx of students who would have been scholastically and psychologically unprepared for tertiary study at a pre-Dawkins university.

Even though under the current circumstances these trainee teachers have little chance of becoming competent in any scientific discipline. this state of affairs changes very little as these students advance through their degree program. to the great detriment of future school students. will be largely hidden by the use of Constructivist teaching and curricula and a . While this situation is grim. The Constructivist approach to teaching mathematics has denied students the opportunity to develop basic numeric competence. How can students with this level of skill pass. no less an authority than Universities Australia (the peak body for university Vice Chancellors) concluded in their 2008 report on equity and access that the lack of a thorough academic grounding in primary and secondary school was the greatest barrier to success at university. nearly half the prospective teachers achieved a ranking of no better than the bottom 40% of school leavers. they will be coddled through the system until they graduate. however. There is also almost total reliance on calculators for even straightforward arithmetic which has resulted in the inability of students to spot even grossly incorrect results – the calculator is always right. The true level of their competence. it is actually far worse than it appears on the surface when you consider that amongst these semi-literate and semi-numerate students are many enrolled in the science teacher training degree programs (BEd/BSci). by my estimate. In other words. let alone excel in science at the university level? Indeed. For example.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>100 Not surprisingly. As it appears that the Vice Chancellors are aware of the problem. the overall percentage of students enrolled in Cell Biology in 2006 with OP scores of 15 or greater was 34%. I believe that this results from the laissez-faire attitude towards achievement in mathematics that appears to be the norm at a great many primary and secondary schools as does the preponderance of under-skilled mathematics teachers. It is virtually impossible to work on foundational problems when available time and resources are scarcely sufficient to cover the course work. one may well ask why it is that they have failed to deal with the matter. With respect to numeracy. while the equivalent statistic for those enrolled in BEd/BSci was an astounding 45%. more than half the first year science students who I encountered could not successfully manipulate simple fractions and a higher percentage could not rearrange simple algebraic expressions to solve for a single unknown. at my former institution. This has produced a generation of students who are either fearful of handling numbers or consider numeracy to be unimportant.

While one can have some sympathy for these students. irrespective of the institution. it is simply not right to compound the problems by allowing incompetent students to pass. or “math phobia”. without the stated “assumed knowledge””. Contributors included a cross section of institutions from sandstones to new generation universities. If any doubt lingers. Dr Ross Moore of Macquarie University (which has no mathematics pre-requisites for most degree programs) discussed a mathematics unit designed for prospective Primary and Early Childhood teachers. Two themes that recur in the presentations include inadequate or absent mathematics entry requirements and the great difficulty experienced in teaching courses in which students with vastly different mathematical ability are enrolled. The potential for failure is therefore very high. He states that a “major aim” of the course is to assist students to surmount their “…anxiety. the failure rate at the end of the semester was 56%. A broad array of quantitative mathematics performance data collected over several years was presented by Dr Aaron Wiegand. Educationalists have presided over the creation and entrenchment of a system that enshrines broad scale scholastic underachievement for young Australians and then trumpets it as success. What a tragedy! My description of the situation cannot be considered anecdotal. In February of 2012. While nobody expected to fail.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>101 lack of objective assessment of student performance. The authors polled 100 students in a basic first year UWS course regarding their anticipated performance in the course. as they are the product of a failed pretertiary system. The overwhelming conclusion from the forum is that the numeracy skills of a substantial proportion of the first year intake are grossly inadequate. They also point out that many first year students have a very unrealistic view of their own mathematical competence. which is a real stumbling block for many students who take this unit”. the University of Sydney‟s Institute for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education (IISME) hosted a forum entitled ―Preparedness for First Year Mathematics: Issues and strategies for dealing with diverse cohorts‖. just a cursory glance at his data will convince anyone capable of rational thought that the approach to mathematics teaching in primary and . The presentation by Dr Carmel Coady and Dr Leanne Rylands from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) posed the question “Are Australian universities really being honest with their students?” The authors point out that “Many universities are accepting students into courses that require a certain level of competence in mathematics. who teaches mathematics at my former institution.

University bureaucrats are well aware of the problem. Algebra and logarithms were handled properly by on average about 25 to 30% of students and fractions fared only a little better. was that about half the intake did not know the correct order of arithmetic operations. Contributors to the IISME forum identified a truly impressive array of mathematics support programs offered by universities. many University bureaucracies consigned that money to general . I dare say that if analyses of similar depth were performed at other institutions. For example. maths drop-in centres. While the dying days of the Howard government saw a faint-hearted attempt to boost funding for university mathematics teaching. as they could have done. While it is clear that a large part of the problem is the Constructivist approach in primary and secondary school. Just as disturbing. as Educationalists claim. There is neither the time nor the resources to deal with this problem at university. How can university mathematics academics be expected to lift this large group of students from their appallingly low base of expertise to a level where they are competent to join a profession or for that matter teach subsequent generations of students. the overwhelming impression from the forum is that precious little headway is being made. Unfortunately. the end result would be little different. by creating reasonable entry standards. as noted by Nalini Joshi. maths workshops and seminars. only half the first year intake could correctly add a positive and a negative number.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>102 secondary school is a failure. with the teaching ability of university academics. which are not well patronised by the students who need them most. university bureaucrats have lacked the will to apply any real pressure in this area. These results point clearly to a huge problem with the mathematics curriculum and teaching in the pre-tertiary arena and not. course-specific learning support and maths learning centres to name some. No university bureaucrat has the stomach for either. Apart from resourcing support programs. the president of the Australian Mathematics Society. These include bridging/preparatory courses. The parallels with the findings of the Industry Skills Council report are striking (See Chapter 4). To make matters worse. their response has consisted mostly of hand-wringing at the required moments and exhortations for the teaching staff to do more with less. It simply cannot be done on the scale required. many students appear unmotivated to improve their performance. Nearly 80% of students could not do long division and over 70% did not understand the equation for a straight line graph. Such action would undoubtedly impact negatively on the university‟s bottom line and would also provoke a confrontation with the Education establishment.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>103 revenue. In a submission to the Society. which are compounded in indefinable ways when statistical analysis is performed on the ranking numbers assigned to the responses. a question is posed (e. number-crunching administrators seem all too willing to attribute unwarranted weight and meaning to such statistics. these surveys plumb the student‟s feelings about matters. metrics are the “measurements” made to determine whether Key Performance Indicators have been achieved. strongly agree. First and foremost. As a result. In keeping with the student-centred theme.g. It is unlikely that all students will complete any given survey. Government Education officials and university bureaucrats have become fascinated with “metrics”. neither agree nor disagree so on). the bureaucrat replied that the university was under no obligation to spend the money on mathematics teaching and in any case he did not consider it likely that the government would follow the matter up. In most surveys. while the limitations of analysing rank data is taught to undergraduate science students. the problem is that the bureaucrats have forgotten or perhaps have never understood the limitations of this type of analysis. “The lecturer was friendly and readily available for consultation) and the student responds by ticking the appropriate box (e. Apart from generating a gargantuan quantity of paper at the end of every semester. agree. Student perceptions. the focus of the academic staff drifts inevitably from the real business of teaching and research toward doing whatever it takes to improve the statistics on which their performance is measured and hence on which their continued employment rests. There are many reasons why a person may not respond rationally or even truthfully. thus diverting it from mathematics teaching. Metrics Mania Over the last twenty years. They may not even understand the questions.g. Each response is given a score (1. and they are indeed just that. most students will be expected to complete a minimum of about fifty surveys and for those who are keen there are many more on offer. . there is inherently significant uncertainty surrounding the quality of the data. During the course of a typical three year undergraduate degree. much of university metrics is about measuring student satisfaction with everything from the friendliness of teaching staff to the quality of café facilities. are acquired through routine survey. In bureaucracies. a university academic recounted how when he questioned a high level university bureaucrat about their failure to invest the funds in mathematics teaching. Indeed. Meanwhile. 2. 3 etc) which ranks that response with respect to the other responses – nothing more and nothing less.

In fact before student feedback surveys became . These surveys are. which is the average of all the individual question ratings. SFT was billed by management as being confidential. This is also the purpose of having a third party collect the completed surveys. The results are forwarded to the academic who was responsible for the course and the academic‟s manager. Commonwealth Government funding for universities is tied in part to the conduct of Student Feedback on Teaching (SFT) surveys. unless they wished to share the information with others. The surveys are anonymous.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>104 Student Feedback on Teaching A major part of the student-centred approach is the routine revision of courses and restructuring of degree programs purportedly to better suit the student‟s learning needs. based on assessment outcomes and the results of student feedback surveys. The academic staff are responsible for distributing the surveys and a third party (usually a student) is responsible for collecting the surveys and delivering them to the administrative unit that processes them. students would make themselves identifiable on the survey to the administration so that those clearly not suited to their current degree program could be offered counselling to identify a more appropriate career path. First. particularly negative comments. Academics could identify areas in their teaching that they might wish to modify. in effect. is the notion that academics would not seek student feedback if it were not compulsory and. If SFT were truly student focused. It can immediately be seen that the SFT process is based on two highly negative assumptions about academic staff. mandatory and are undertaken at most universities as part of the Quality Assurance system requirements. Perhaps even more worrisome than these assumptions is the university bureaucracy‟s assumption that all comments about teaching. second. This is achieved by weakening or removing subject matter that students find difficult or dull. In its original incarnation. Academics are then responsible for responding to the results. A university bureaucrat will have the final say on the questions to be included in the surveys which are run in class time. The outcome of the survey is usually a rating on each survey question and an overall rating for the lecturer. that they would use the results of the survey to take retaliatory action against a student for making negative comment. Those struggling could be advised what action to take to develop the skills necessary for success. the responsible academic would be the only person to see the survey results. to reassure students that the lecturer has no way of identifying and taking retaliatory action against students who make negative comments. are in fact correct.

The vast majority are naïve from an education. set easy assessment items. however. it is a very simple matter for a poor lecturer to disguise their performance. Provided they are “mates” with the students. the confidentiality of SFT surveys has been eroded to the point where student comments now form part of a staff member‟s permanent record. The upshot is that.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>105 compulsory. there is a temptation for staff to simplify courses. It is therefore often difficult to identify poor teachers based on student responses or to successfully link negative comments to particular facets of teaching. relax assessment requirements and ingratiate themselves with the students in the hope of acquiring good survey scores. . offer leniency to the underperformers and in general keep the student within their comfort zone for the semester. promotion and employment decisions. it is difficult to see why a first year student‟s opinion of a lecturer should so readily be taken at face value. Provided the pass rate is good. the lecturer will receive a pat on the back from the administration and will in all likelihood be hailed as a successful and innovative teacher. As time has gone by. Any lecturer who runs a challenging course that requires students to apply themselves and enforces the academic rules with a firm and even hand should expect to be unpopular. pay. amongst other things. While there is nothing inherently wrong with surveying student opinion of lecturers. the lecturer will usually be perceived by first year students as a good teacher. knowledge and life experience perspective. motivation and/or the necessary scholastic ability. It is a very simple matter for this to be translated into negative comment. The fact that they may have learnt next to nothing about the area of study or themselves is of no consequence either to them or the lecturer or indeed to the university. in first year. Considering the naivety of the bulk of the student intake. which can influence. Conversely. many academics ran their own surveys and were free to tender these as evidence of performance in whatever forum they saw fit. particularly with the underperformers. there will always be a fair number of students who will not be able to tell the difference between poor teaching and their own scholastic or motivational inadequacy. The typical first year class will contain a good percentage of students who lack direction. The surveys have become an instrument of management. Under such circumstances. it is quite easy for a poor teacher to be rated quite positively. worthy of emulation by lecturers who have garnered negative comment.

it is acknowledged by most academics that if you teach a large first year class. In the first instance. even if these are irrelevant. . the more conceptually difficult the material. a pace of delivery that they consider is too fast. the extent of the work required for the course and personal traits of the lecturer. it is not uncommon for surveys to include questions on matters over which the lecturer has no control. however. The reality. They simply work within the range of questions supplied. For example. there may be questions on the use of elearning technologies. Even if e-learning did not form part of the course. assessment or teaching style that management considers a threat to themselves or the bottom line. Interpreting student feedback surveys is notoriously difficult. its utility for pressuring certain staff to make changes to courses. you will generally be rated more poorly than if you teach a small third year class. In addition. For example.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>106 Perhaps the most egregious example of this approach that has come to my attention was that of a lecturer of a third year class who gave a multiple choice examination that contained the same questions in the same order as the practice examination that the students had received a few days earlier. The lecturer then self-nominated for the university‟s teaching award and won! No doubt the SFT was excellent and the student endorsement required for the teaching award was glowing and easy to obtain!! The shortcomings of student surveys on teaching are well documented. for example the quality of library and information technology facilities. the lecturers are lumbered with the ratings given by the students for questions of this kind. lecturers are probably better off relying on their instincts and advice from colleagues for improving a course rather than trying to reshape the course to reduce student complaints. most students do not provide written comment. giving it an understandably poor rating. Certain issues can receive diametrically opposing comment in equal measure. I once received a comment that “The lecturer tried to teach us stuff we didn‟t know”! In the face of all the uncertainties and issues confounding the interpretation of feedback surveys. is that management has little interest in any methodological failings of SFT as their interest in the surveys revolves around meeting Quality Assurance requirements. the more likely it is that you will be rated poorly. University managers attempt to mollify staff concerns over the potential impact of SFT on their careers by claiming they understand the shortcomings of the approach. most students will go ahead and score the question anyway. Much of the negative comment from first year students relates to lectures being boring. Similarly. Whether they like it or not.

For my money. No doubt someone will be awarded a ridiculously large grant to conduct talkfests on the matter. particularly the correlation between good ratings and leniency with assessment. Imagine what that does to your batting average! When it was pointed out to management that this approach was statistically incorrect. it might well be asked why a first year student‟s opinion of course content and assessment should be so important. it was the standard practice at my former institution to award a score of 0 on survey questions which students marked as N/A (i. the last word on this matter comes from a 10 year-long study published in 2007 by the US National Bureau of Economic Research. I strongly suspect that those who have tried to extract truth from simple controlled laboratory experiments would view the probability of doing the same with student surveys as being vanishingly small. A great deal of time and effort goes into course and degree program development to ensure there is a logical progression in the student‟s acquisition of knowledge and practical skills. which examined the effectiveness of teaching evaluations.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>107 As an example of the disregard or incompetence (choose either or both) of managers with even basic survey methods. Student Feedback on Courses The problems associated with Student Feedback on Courses (SFC) are similar to those associated with Student Feedback on Teaching. Apart from the issues noted above. . It was concluded that the use of SFT leads to grade inflation (more about this later) and does not provide incentives to raise the standard of teaching but may lead to a fall in standards. Again. Surely it is the discipline expert who has the expansive view of the area of study and understands the basic skills and concepts that must be acquired for the student to successfully pursue the area in question and its role in supporting other disciplines. We are indeed in strange times when administrators are lecturing Scientists on statistical method. the response was a torrent of Edu-Babble claiming that the approach was more “rigorous”. The news was not good. Educationalists will wax lyrical about how ways will be found to hone these blunt instruments into scalpel-like assessment tools. irrelevant).e. the authors of this work found that a lecturer‟s physical attractiveness (“hotness”) and gender had substantial impacts on ratings – just what one might expect from hormone-laden mediasoaked teenagers. not to mention being unfair.

however. Is it any wonder that toward the end of semester they are suddenly overwhelmed by the work that needs to be covered for end of semester assessment? The work formula is made clear to students at the beginning of semester – course credit points (12) minus weekly contact hours (usually 4) equals the number of hours per week considered necessary to pass the course (perhaps they need a calculator for this). If a student has no interest in studying a course in which they chose to enrol. Unfortunately. If. it is coupled with a poor pre-tertiary education and little motivation. If the course in question is a compulsory part of their degree program. however. The Impact of Student Surveys The effect of the feedback surveys has been to marginalise the ability of discipline experts to prepare and deliver meaningful courses and degree programs. When Educationalists and administrators see these comments. what is evident is that a great many students do very little work outside of the four or so weekly course-contact hours and of course a good percentage do not have sufficient self discipline to attend lecture and practical classes on a routine basis. At the teaching coalface. Leaving study until the last minute is not unusual student behaviour. the quantity of material and the work required to pass. then clearly they need assistance to identify courses to which they are more suited. their immediate reaction is to demand simplification and reduction of course content and removal of difficult assessment tasks. is that today‟s student expects that a Pass will be forthcoming no matter how poor their performance. then it is very likely that they are unsuited to the program and again should receive assistance to identify a more appropriate program or some other career pathway outside the university. What is unusual then. the probability of failure is extremely high. much of the negative comment about courses made in the SFCs is centred on the perceived difficulty of the course.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>108 Like SFT. It can only be presumed that students ignore this information or consider it to be little more than puffery on the part of the course coordinator. introduction of weak or . Their interests lie in maximising enrollment and retention rates. The removal of content. The anonymity of the SFC surveys denies the administration the opportunity to target assistance. it appears that the administration is not much interested in delivering such assistance since their assumption is that negative comments truly indicate failings of the course. Educationalists are never short of pedagogical rationalisations to support the changes that managers think will aid in the achievement of these objectives. Lecturers cannot be held responsible for the scholastic ability and motivation of first year students.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


inappropriate assessment items and removal of prerequisites means academics can no longer rely on students having a particular knowledge base when they start a course or be competent in the subject when they pass the course. In this situation one is left with the option of teaching generalities at a superficial level or teaching the basic knowledge required to support advanced material of much narrower scope than would have been originally taught. Without prerequisites, students are at liberty to complete virtually any courses in any order, no matter how useless. Again, it is not uncommon for students to plan their degree around what they perceive as the easiest courses. This approach does not help students, the institution or employers. It must be remembered that the implementation of student feedback surveys simply represents the response of university bureaucrats to a government accountability requirement. Rather than identifying high quality teaching or useful courses, the surveys measure the acceptability of lecturers and courses to students. For anyone so inclined, the outcome of a student survey is particularly easy to manipulate. The process is more likely to catch hard taskmasters than poor teachers. For those with unacceptable student feedback, the outcomes might include a requirement to complete a formal education qualification, counselling for management-perceived personality problems or perhaps a course review that may result in cancellation of the course or in the case of team-taught courses, removal from the teaching roster and course co-coordinator responsibilities. In my own case, a disenchantment factor of about 10% in a class of 450 was sufficient to have me barred from giving lectures in, or coordinating any first-year course. Once a staff member‟s teaching load drops below a certain point, retrenchment is a formality. Management will boldly claim that these surveys help staff improve their teaching. The reality is, however, that any lecturer who holds the line on standards and enforces academic rules will inevitably draw negative comment, which becomes a permanent record. This provides the option at any time for management to call into question the staff member‟s teaching competence or fitness of personality. It is therefore another lever with which to apply pressure to staff whose views and/or work style are considered unacceptable by management. Although strategic plans make strident claims about celebrating diversity, it certainly does not extend to teaching style or course content and assessment. In fact the effect of Student Centred

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


Learning, indeed the whole Educationalist approach to education at primary, secondary and now tertiary level, has been the production of a vapid educational monoculture that places little, if any, intellectual demand on the student. This is reflected in the gross incompetence routinely encountered in dealings at all levels of Australian society and the complete lack of concern and even hostility of the incompetents toward those who expect reasonable standards.

Grade Inflation
As noted above, the 2007 study on US National Bureau of Economic Research found that the most pervasive outcome of Student Feedback on Teaching surveys is the appearance of grade inflation. Although it has not received much attention in the Australian media, it is rife within our tertiary institutions. Grade inflation involves manipulation of the course-passing-criteria to maximise the pass rate for a class as a whole. As a result of this process, many students get bumped up a grade – hence, “grade inflation”. The days of simple assessment, say a mid and end of semester examination, are long gone. With the Student-centred Learning approach comes the requirement to use an array of assessment items supposedly better suited to the different learning styles of the “massified” (try finding that in the dictionary) and diverse student populations. In most cases, this has resulted in a substantial increase in the number and type of assessment items. I can recall a proposal at my former institution for a first year course that involved 13 separate assessment items. The first year course that I coordinated (Cell Biology) had nine separate assessment items. While the number substantially increases the administrative load for a course (imagine keeping track of 13 assessment items for each of 400 students) it offers the coordinator great latitude in establishing the passing criteria at the end of semester, when it becomes clear on which assessment items the students have performed poorly. This is the basis of grade inflation. As an example, I recall one year in Cell Biology when about two thirds of the students failed to complete a particular assessment item. It wasn‟t a particularly difficult or even time consuming piece of assessment. From what I could make out, many students felt they could ignore it because it was only worth 10% of the total assessment. According to the university‟s academic rules, I was entitled, some might say obliged, to fail all of them. To do so however, would have been my ticket to the dole queue as it would have produced a horde of angry customers and no doubt a fair amount of publicity. It would have marked me as an old-school academic uninterested in “socially caring

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


pedagogy” or the commercial and strategic requirements of the university and more interested in adhering to outdated notions of academic standards. Thus, part of the “passing” criteria established for that particular semester ignored the student performance on that particular assessment item. This was only one of many cases occurring every semester where rules were bent or simply ignored in order to keep pass rates up. Even amateur analysts of human behaviour would appreciate that once students become aware that academic rules are negotiable, they rightfully conclude that such rules are unimportant and that they have every chance of passing irrespective of their performance. In some first year courses, a student can pass with scores well below 50% in one or more assessment items or less than 50% overall. I confess to being involved in a spectacular instance of grade inflation which occurred in a physics course run by a contractor. Being a contractor, the lecturer in question was unaware of the etiquette involved in achieving an acceptable pass rate. He handed in his grade roster with something like a 60% failure rate! By the time this was discovered, he had finished his contract and vanished and the problem was handed to me to resolve. When I examined the marks, it was clear that the vast majority of the students performed extremely poorly on the problem-solving section of the paper. Many had not attempted any of the ten questions in this section, rated at about 30% of the total assessment. I therefore suggested that we remove this section from the grade calculations and apportion grades on the basis of performance on the remaining sections which were multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions. Management, however, declared this unacceptable because the university might be sued by a student who had done well on the difficult section. The matter was then taken out of my hands and, to this day, I have no idea how or who resolved the matter but the final pass rate was normalised. During the following semester when students visited me for advice on whatever matter, I made a point of asking them how they went in physics. There were rolling eyes, a grin, a laugh or two and comments something like ... “I passed but I don‟t know how”. In other words, the university had made a joke of the physics grades, for that year at least. Another appalling example of grade inflation was relayed to me by a colleague in a sandstone university. An official complaint from a student alleged that he/she had been marked too hard and deserved a High Distinction instead of a Distinction. Due to an administrative bungle, the other students in the class were alerted and many subsequently filed similar complaints – all considering themselves

While broad scale grade inflation was originally fostered by faculty management. . harassed by a swarm of grade-hungry students buzzing about while he held a report recommending no action. “I got rolled on that one”. Give them what they want. thus giving the system a semblance of credibility. The end result of both. grade inflation is routine. He undertook the investigation and duly reported that everything was fair and reasonable and no different from previous years. could not bring himself to make a decision and instead passed the buck to the University Senate which rightly claimed this was a faculty matter. Again. These lackeys. All faculties now have a position with a title something like Learning and Teaching Coordinator. worse still. are often still technically practicing academics. consuming a disproportionate amount of scarce resources on the way.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>112 worthy of higher grades! A “class” action in more ways than one! The Dean. however. how many others ensure they are never in a position where rolling is required. While soft marking may not be common. is the same – students receive a disproportionately high reward for their effort and many students who cannot cope continue to progress through the system. He called a meeting at which intense pressure to inflate the grades was brought to bear on the course coordinator including. passed the parcel to a senior professor in an allied discipline. The Dean was then in a quandary. unable to make a decision. One of the primary responsibilities of the Learning and Teaching Coordinator is to vet course failure rates and ensure they are acceptable to management. the grades went up. One wonders how many others “get rolled” and. back to the hapless Dean who. managerial blood pressure went down and important feathers were smoothed. So. this gem from the Dean. “These are fee paying students. Their emergence as graduates acts to degrade the value of the degree and belittles the effort of the hard workers and high achievers. academic staff have now taken over this role. allegedly. I‟m not sure what went through my colleague‟s head during this period but his comment on the matter to me was simply. the system acts to obscure failure thereby minimising the possibility that underperformers will be formally recognised as needing specialist help or a new career path.” In short. fearful of the potential fall-out. It is usually occupied by an academic staff member who has given up the fundamental academic mission and seeks to secure a rung on the administrative ladder as their best option for personal advancement. whose role is to oversee the minimisation of failure rates.

Conversely (or perversely) . is to engage in an act of futility that may jeopardise an academic‟s employment. He was strongly advised by the Learning and Teaching stooge that he should reexamine the grades to “achieve” a failure rate of 15%. They will be advised their failure rate is too high and that they should go back and re-examine their grading so that an appropriate outcome might be achieved. at my former institution. But the effect of all this administrative machinery is to reward bad behaviour. worse still. The system offers students who shirk their study responsibilities many options for academic success while simultaneously punishing academics who wish to maintain reasonable standards with a crippling burden of paperwork or overt harassment. complexity and pervasiveness of administrative systems and procedures whose alleged purpose is to ensure the quality of teaching and courses. After massaging the statistics. The importance to management of grade inflation is almost exclusively personal as their careers depend fundamentally on enrollment and retention of a certain number of students every semester. Anyone who runs a large or challenging course will have been brought to book at some time. he managed to achieve an acceptable rate of 16%! To argue the case for the maintenance of a standard or that failure is primarily a reflection of academic ability and motivation. Interestingly. High failure rates threaten their position. as failed students may decide to transfer to a university more “responsive” to student needs. the failure rate in Education courses was not only miniscule but the proportion of high grades (Distinction and High Distinction) far exceeded that of any of the Science courses. go public with their grievances. Rewarding Bad Behaviour One cannot help but be impressed by the number. inevitably degrading the quality of education that can be provided. should the appalling facts ever come to light. Management have accepted the Educationalist‟s position that all students are capable of success. A colleague of mine at a sandstone university submitted a grade roster with a 28% failure rate. The fact is that many underperforming students would be better off leaving the university to either prepare themselves thoroughly for re-entry or to pursue elsewhere a different career path to which they are more suited. a high failure rate is therefore the result of poor course design and/or poor teaching or some other failing on the part of the lecturer. Repeat offenders can expect special attention.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>113 Managers are thus enabled to distance themselves. or set the complaint systems in motion or.

In spite of university policy. in the end. it‟s much easier to go with the flow. While the passion may wane and the cynicism rise. . the system protects students who contravene the rules while delivering humiliation and unnecessary work for academics attempting to maintain standards. It is indeed perverse that the university administrative systems seem designed to achieve the opposite of their stated aim.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>114 academics prepared to adopt modern teaching dogma to smooth the degree path for lazy and unmotivated students are rewarded by having their own career paths smoothed. “mission statements” and codes of student behaviour. The energy of hardworking and dedicated people is sapped to the point where many abandon the academic mission. if you want to keep your job.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>115 Chapter 6 The Scholarship of Teaching and Education Research .

“ . not restrict it.. It appears that much of the impetus for this can be attributed to a report published in 1990 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching entitled Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate. Educationalists and managers no doubt believe that shovelling resources anywhere in this area enables them to demonstrate their commitment to education. Boyer nominates The Scholarship of Teaching as one of his four areas of endeavour. For their part. Yet. two features are quite obvious. The first is that it is not meant to be a blue print for academia and the second is that it describes an educational utopia. Boyer identifies four areas of endeavour.” With respect to measuring teaching performance.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>116 In the last few years. Boyer himself states in his preface to the work.. although Boyer had no intention that his report should be used as a recipe for running academic life and obviously had serious reservations about how to assess teaching performance. in which he believes academic staff could (emphasis added) be engaged and that their performance in these areas could (emphasis added again) be used as the basis for determining rewards such as promotion and tenure (note that tenure of academic staff no longer exists in the Australian tertiary system). or rather imposed it.” (Recall the failures of SFT in Chapter 5) Thus. how to evaluate teaching remains a mare‟s nest of controversy. without discussion or critique. most universities in Australia have adopted. who was President of the Foundation at that time.. universities have been swept by a puerile fascination for education “research” and in particular. As no-one will dispute the need for good teaching. we underscore the point that our intention is to spark discussion. Boyer rightly states “ . their claim that all academic staff should have formal education qualifications and be engaged in Education research. university managers appear to have taken the bait and have indiscriminately committed resources to rafts of projects that purport to be teaching research. The work is authored by the late Ernest L Boyer. Educationalists have seized on this aspect of Boyer‟s work to promote with religious zeal. if you read Boyer‟s work (and I suspect that many of his Australian promoters have not). .. research into teaching methods. In his work.

. Since it takes most students a minimum of three years to graduate.hence the need to reward staff for undertaking such tasks.” Immediately. from time to time. If nothing else.” Clearly. it is a matter of fact that in Australian universities. design a new one... this study showed that retention is a complex phenomenon. Frequent changes to the curriculum are unlikely to lead to any consistent improvement in the quality of graduates. course creation and degree program restructures which account for the wasting of an inordinate amount of academic staff time. had difficulty balancing study with other commitments or had changed their career goals. could. . A study of retention rates undertaken in 2005 by the Centre for the Economics of Education and Training found that almost 70% of students who withdrew from university study in 2005 did so largely because they wanted a break from study. focus on the scholarship of teaching. these activities are not commonplace .Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>117 In Chapter 4 of Scholarship Reconsidered (The Creativity Contract).. there is virtually continuous course revision. Boyer suggests that all postgraduate students (i. there is no way of assessing the effect of any of the changes on the quality of graduates or even the effect on enrolments or retention. With respect to preparing academics for undergraduate teaching. He goes on to identify a number of activities that the scholarship of teaching might entail – “The professor might agree to revise a course. Less than 13% of students said that the way the course was taught (which does not equate directly to poor teaching) had a large influence on their decision to withdraw. This is enlightening as it provides a glimpse of Boyer‟s academic frame of reference. we can see that Boyer does not believe that the scholarship of teaching should be occupying everyone‟s time on an ongoing basis. Boyer offers some examples of how his ideas might be put into practice. If academic staff in Australian universities were to be promoted on the basis of undertaking these activities. Firstly. in Boyer‟s academic world. it is understood by most players that the primary purpose of the paper shuffling is to enable middle level managers to report to senior level managers that they are doing something to boost enrolments and increase retention rates. a seminar on teaching.” He goes on to say. academics in training) participate in “ .e. While these activities are ostensibly to improve the quality of learning and teaching. he indicates that an academic staff member “ . using videos or film segments. for example. or prepare teaching materials. there would be nobody below the rank of professor! Indeed.

when envisioning the diversity of US institutions only foresaw “Some comprehensive institutions .. If a humble seminar involving both discipline and pedagogical expertise would suffice for training postgraduate students. It has been facilitated and essentially formalised. the seminar on teaching would be taught collaboratively by a ranking professor in the discipline. The fact that the work is substantially theoretical and intended as a starting point for discussion on the development of an expanded system for awarding promotion and tenure in the US tertiary sector seems to have been missed completely. establishment in 2004 of the Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (now known as the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. The Scholarship of Teaching and Education Research – Australian Style Proclaiming the small section of Boyer‟s work that deals with teaching research as gospel.” The response of Australian university managers to Boyer‟s work suggests a very superficial understanding of its content and context.” It is clear that Boyer had no grandiose plans requiring all academic staff to waste a considerable portion of their time obtaining formal education qualifications. by three largely administratively driven initiatives of the former Howard government. They include Quality Assurance and the establishment of AUQA in 2000 (see Chapter 3).Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>118 “Ideally. and a colleague knowledgeable about how students learn. then surely this would be more than sufficient for academic staff that already have practical teaching experience. Whatever the reason. making the scholarship of teaching a top priority. Even Boyer himself. ALTC) and the Learning and Teaching Performance Fund (LTPF). . Educationalists have overrun Australian institutions with the Scholarship of Teaching/Education Research agenda. the empirical observation is that all Australian universities are on the education research bandwagon. Boyer notes the propensity for institutions to imitate each other. At numerous points in Scholarship Revisited. And if these obvious facets have been missed. doing research on pedagogy. presumably to be part of the next big thing or in the hope that institutional prestige will rise if prestigious institutions are aped. then it is not surprising that the intent of Boyer‟s work has also been misunderstood. which commenced in 2005 and from which a University teaching league table is published.. Universities also fund a significant fraction of Education research through internal research grants and by the establishment of positions devoted partly or entirely to the teaching/education research agenda.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>119 The mission of the ALTC is to: “ . it will apparently unravel the links between the ALTC awards and leadership in teaching – whatever that means. Universities are also very keen to be recipients of the ALTC‟s competitive grants. so must the applications. irrespective of how good a teacher they might be. To be seriously considered for an award. the interest or the command of Edu-Babble required to prepare a grant that might excite the ALTC reviewers. irrespective of the merits of the project. Probably the best known of these are the Carrick Citations for Australian University Teaching. It seems unlikely that science academics who are actively engaged in research would be prepared to drop their scientific work to take up education research. well versed in the likes and dislikes of the Carrick reviewers to assist in the preparation of the applications. Indeed. Winning these also requires the assistance of people who understand the current whims of the ALTC grant reviewers. establishing administrative positions for Learning and Teaching at the level of Associate Dean and formulating a Teaching and Learning Management Plan. In a science faculty that is fortunate enough not to have Education professionals on staff. virtually no-one will have the credentials. promote and advance learning and teaching in Australian higher education”. Just as interesting is the ALTC Citation awarded to a university administrator for contributing to “…the creation of a strong teaching. the guidelines indicate that the applicant should provide evidence demonstrating that they have conducted and published research related to teaching.. Clearly. While the recipient is certainly a master of process and clearly the ALTC believe that more bureaucracy will improve . In fact some of the better resourced universities have teams of people. It provides funding in a number of areas. without a legion of Educationalists on the project there will be virtually no chance of success. University managers are keen to accumulate as many citations as possible for public relations purposes. Preparing an application is a time consuming process and requires an excellent knowledge of Edu-Babble (see Chapter 4). learning and performance ethos within the University.” The contribution included establishing a Learning and Teaching Policy. The ALTC funds some curious projects. like the self-serving ALTC grant for the study of ALTC award winners! While some might consider that this is a grant for self flattery and navel gazing. anyone who is not doing education research is behind the starting line when it comes to winning an award.. It‟s all about trends and fads and as the tastes of the reviewers change.

one need go no further than the case of an academic at a sandstone university who went from Senior Lecturer to Professor in less than 12 months (technically impossible under the University‟s own promotion rules!) simply by abandoning the academic mission and becoming a flag bearer for curriculum development... The Learning and Teaching Performance Fund (LTPF) is another Bureaucrat‟s box-ticking dream. apparently on the basis that he had not taken “ ... thereby enhancing their potential for promotion and greater power. The message is obvious . Just to be considered eligible to apply.demonstrable involvement in teaching activities deemed acceptable by management trumps good teaching. He was also advised he had shown “ .. advantage of opportunities to engage with ALTC activities within the University” and was “ .. These types of incidents have a significant psychological impact on staff.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>120 teaching.10!) courses in a year. specific administrative practices and procedures must be in place and the university must systematically collect student feedback on teaching . ” even though he was included amongst the small group of faculty staff that management officially designated as being actively engaged in research. The promotion was awarded for constantly badgering staff to waste their time rewriting courses and degree programs. As an example of the advantages that can come from playing the learning/teaching game. One involves doing the bare minimum to stay employed because it is obvious that talent and hard work are not rewarded. The net effect of management‟s perverse view of academic performance is to promote two forms of negative behaviour. The other is to redirect effort from productive activities to pointless formal pedagogical exercises that are designed to assist university bureaucrats achieve their KPIs. It didn‟t matter that his student feedback surveys clearly placed him in the top echelon of teachers or that his students had nominated him twice in four years for University teaching awards and that he maintained this standard while having to coordinate up to ten (yes . not engaged in scholarly activity in relation to your teaching”. one wonders what demonstrable impact this has had on the quality of the University‟s graduates and whether it would even be possible to measure the impact. No doubt the university has the appropriate system to quantify performance.. Compare this experience to another academic whose promotion application was rejected. little evidence of research activity ..

If considered eligible. redirects effort from the real business at hand to the fallacious activity of maximising the institutional score on the metrics. there is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth from those who appear too far down the order to be eligible for cash. While evidence-based research is a poorly understood and relatively new concept for Educationalists. The ensuing effort to raise survey scores inevitably puts downward pressure on academic standards. Perhaps the desire for glory outweighs the satisfaction that comes from being a quiet achiever. degree completions. the Course Experience Questionnaire. Evidence Anyone? Evidence is the coin of the realm in science and Scientists are particularly good at evaluating evidence and determining the veracity of conclusions drawn from it. degree completion rates and student retention rates. Upon publication of the LTPF league table and subsequent divvying up of the dollars. At the very least. employability and the student experience can be solved by the education research agenda. The fact that this hasn‟t happened shows just how convinced bureaucrats and Educationalists have become that all “problems” with retention rates. the attempt to apply bureaucratic metrics to something as subjective and intangible as the quality of education or teaching. the order in the league table oscillates wildly from year-to-year. they have been engaged in what they call “Action Research” for some time. The result is that all University‟s make public proclamations that the LTPF formula is biased against them even though a moment of reflection would reveal that the problem is not one of a biased formula but rather that the formula is not fit-for-purpose. An institution that may have been close to the top one year falls to the middle of the pack the next. there is no other form of research. So touchy is the allocation formula. Again. I suspect that Scientists are somewhat bemused when Educationalists start talking about “evidence-based research” as for Scientists. Neither would it appear that any university bureaucrats have investigated the costs and benefits of entering such contests. Having attended a number of seminars in which Action Research was the methodological basis of . the universities should agree to boycott the fund and negotiate with the government to create a better way of distributing the funds.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>121 and courses (see Chapter 5). allocations are then made using a formula that incorporates the outcome of the Graduate Destination Survey. if the operation of the LTPF is as unpredictable as claimed.

” . it may be a social form which can help educators address the contradictions. it does no more than give form to a particular kind of democratic aspiration to engage in changing the world as well as interpreting it. They range from the nebulous. It was originally developed and published by BG Glaser and A Strauss in the sixties. As a notion. it is similar to the aspiration sloganised by the environmental movement in the words ―think globally. who states that he “ . however. as such. because in science. like Grounded Theory. Back here on Planet Earth. There are. act locally‖. of their words and our world. for want of a better word “traditional” research. The early part of the article seemed promising and I thought there was a good chance that I would achieve a clearer understanding. The final paragraph of the article read: The notion of action research is just that: it is a notion.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>122 the work being presented and never having received a good explanation of what constituted Action Research and how it differed from. Dr Bob Dick from Southern Cross University. In this. it is largely opinion for which some form of support can always be found. not a thing. I attempted to come to grips with the matter by reading several articles on the topic. Unfortunately.. my optimism waned as I progressed and toward the end of the article my hopes were dashed. published in the International Encyclopedia of Education Research and Studies. to the prescriptive. it is not at all obvious how such an amorphous concept could be a useful basis for conducting research. It offers an embryonic local form of connecting research with social. numerous other Education research methods available to the Education researcher. One often sees references to Grounded Theory in the methods sections of Education research articles. In other words. like so many social science theories. constraints and limitations of their theories and practices. had to read a lot of Glaser before I understood (or thought I understood) the process. like Action Research. the actual process of doing research is so simple and so ingrained in the scientific culture that Scientists rarely publish articles on the topic. each author developed their own versions of the theory and others have published additional versions since. I finally gave up my quest after reading an article by Stephen Kemmis. and. educational and political action in complex practical circumstances. I was indeed amazed by the volume of material on the subject. Sometime later..

(if you can call it that) takes place largely during teaching time. memoing. coding. So. They are spending increasing amounts of time preparing submissions for Carrick Citations and education research funding. It is symptomatic of a system created by bureaucrats that universities now encourage Scientists not to do science – the work they have trained for and presumably the work the taxpayer has employed them to do. such research will provide little benefit for intelligent and motivated students who will be performing at close to their potential anyway. it appears to amount to little more than a colour-bynumbers approach to preparing an article for publication in the Education literature. what scale of reversal of the students‟ pretertiary education problems can the university hope to achieve and at what cost? . sorting and writing. It‟s then just a matter of composing the ideological rhetoric favoured by the education journal of your choice and publications will follow. you can use the students in your classes as the guinea pigs and the experimental work. no-one seems to acknowledge that these students have had 12 years of education prior to entering university and yet they struggle to survive even in a system in which standards have been substantially lowered. It‟s cheap. note taking. Perhaps this approach is understandable. to take a neutral position. The question that must then be asked is. a growing number of science academics are joining the higher education research bandwagon. in spite of the obviously fatuous nature of Education research. education research may well be perceived by some Scientists as a much easier career path. Compared to the effort required to succeed in scientific research. So while there is a “researchy” ring to the title Grounded Theory. Unfortunately. KPIs will be achieved and the academic will be seen to be supporting the university‟s strategic goals.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>123 summarises Grounded Theory as: data collection. of what use will the conclusions be? Clearly. the focus of higher education research must be largely about trying to improve the performance of students at the lower end of the academic spectrum. Even if we assume that education research will yield interpretable data. it is certainly not a “theory” in the scientific sense. While this is a laudable goal. Rather. given that funds for scientific research are thin on the ground and especially difficult to obtain for young academics and those employed at the smaller and newer universities.

The findings from this type of work will never be . To return to the question of the purpose of education research. delivered in 2007 at the University of the Sunshine Coast by Dr Marcia Devlin of The University of Melbourne‟s Centre for the Study of Higher Education. It may do. an article of faith. to some extent. at best. any improvement in performance will be achieved at a disproportionately high cost. simply because by its nature.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>124 My own opinion is that the application of the results from this type of research will genuinely lift. We don‘t yet have any proof that. Given the army of people involved in education research. but those improvements might have occurred anyway because the individual person undertaking the scholarship is a dedicated. There is not yet any hard evidence that the scholarship of teaching will necessarily lead to specific improvements in teaching or learning institutionally or nationally. Surely it‟s a “no brainer” that first year university is not the place to teach basic arithmetic and English? Are Australia‟s universities simply remedial education facilities? And surely it makes more sense for universities to focus their scant resources on teaching the best students and undertaking the best research and for State education departments to utilise their resources to ensure that students have attained a standard of literacy and numeracy that will allow them to participate effective at university. What Dr Devlin should also have added is that the hard evidence of which she speaks is very unlikely to materialise. what is the evidence that the scholarship of teaching is worth the time and effort involved? … This is an excellent question as it highlights that our collective agreement in Australia to take the avenue offered through the scholarship of teaching is. Some of our more astute colleagues might ask. education research is not amenable to controlled or genuinely quantitative study. the performance of a very small percentage of students. should they choose to do so. This is simply because the deficits in the basic academic skills of the majority of poor performers are too great to overcome with the resources given to University courses. perhaps the last and most honest word comes from a keynote address entitled The Scholarship of Teaching in Australian Higher Education: A National Imperative. this is where we should be putting our energies. in the Australian context. gifted and/or committed teacher who was likely to improve their teaching and/or to inspire high quality student learning in any case.

direct comparison with the 2005 sample cannot be considered valid and the manner in which the data are presented could be considered deceptive. David Wood and R Ian Menz. which would have included students who didn‟t even show up for the exam. The work was published by The Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Inc. In fact. In the Results section of the paper. The hypothesis of the day will therefore be that belonging to the progenitor with the most political clout. one cannot go past the study titled Are the benefits of clickers due to the enforcement of good pedagogy? by Karen Burke da Silva. is that the data for the highperforming 2006 group were derived from a small subgroup of students (slightly less than 25% of students enrolled) who attended all lectures and attended at the same time in each week of semester (lectures are often repeated for large classes and students can attend in the time slot of their choice). although readers who did not pay close attention to the text would assume that it is was 73%. performed better by perhaps 4 or 5 % . The overall class average for 2006 is never stated. . is that poor student performance in first year biology is due to the poor teaching ability of Scientists and thus Scientists need formal training in Education. Such a small difference could be accounted for at least in part by random variation between the groups. The tenor of the work. if you examine the graph showing the course grades for all students in 2005 and 2006 (Figure 1 in the paper). (HERDSA). In contrast. The work purports to examine the impact on student learning of the introduction of Personal Response Devices (Clickers) by comparing examination results and student feedback surveys for students completing first year biology at Flinders University in 2005 and 2006. In many cases. adhering to current education and management dogma. however.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>125 clear cut and there will always be competing hypotheses that cannot be separated. on average. all from Flinders University. the average for the 2005 group was calculated from the results of all students. the inherent methodological problems associated with Education research are compounded by the poor research skills of the investigators. What is not highlighted. As it is clear that the 2006 sample is highly biased. As an example of these problems.nothing like the 20% that would be concluded from the text. it can be estimated by eye that the students in the latter group have. it is stated that the 2006 clicker and embedded questions group averaged 73% in their final examination as opposed to 53% for the 2005 group – a staggeringly large difference.

One also wonders to what extent the 14 people whose names appear at the head of the ALTC project report bothered to examine the work on which the grant was based. Even their calculation of the t statistic is questionable as the value of a critical variable (df. who claim to be two of Australia‟s premier Education bodies. In short. The HERDSA and the ALTC. Such is not the case. the authors go on to apply a statistical test (Student‟s t test) to compare the 2005 and 2006 averages and conclude that the difference is hugely significant and could not be due to chance. While the inability of academics at this level to successfully apply undergraduate-level statistics is shocking enough. as this work formed the basis of a successful grant application to the ALTC. Application of Student‟s t test under these conditions produces meaningless results. Education research and the Education establishment? . degrees of freedom) used in the calculation cannot be correct. So although the work underpinning the grant says nothing about student learning or the competence of science lecturers. who awarded the authors $187. it is a hallmark of Education research publications.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>126 Undaunted. Student‟s t test is a basic statistical test which is taught to all undergraduate science students. it seems clear that at least some of the assumptions have not been met. the authors have also failed to understand that the t test is not appropriate for large sample groups. yet nowhere in this study is it established that the assumptions on which the t test is based have been met and again.000 to organise activities to improve the teaching skills of Scientists. this pales compared to their failure to entertain any explanations of their data other than the one suiting their beliefs. It might be argued by some that as the work is shoddy. it is inconsequential. While interpreting data to support a favoured hypothesis is the type of mistake commonly made by undergraduates. should be ashamed of themselves for uncritically accepting and promoting such incompetent work. Examining all potential explanations of the data is one of the most fundamental requirements of research. The test is based on a number of assumptions. no conclusion regarding the effectiveness of teaching or clickers can be made from the statistical analysis. To top it off. Is it any wonder that Scientists have such a poor opinion of Educationalists. There was not even mention of the possibility there might have been a difference in the average scholastic ability of the two groups of students. however. by examination of the graph provided. it was considered acceptable by both the ALTC and the HERDSA.

.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>127 Chapter 7 Management v Academic . No Contest! ..

hours of work and industrial relations. 2008) of the University of South Australia. the divide is an abyss. universities are unhealthy places in which to work. It is a tribute to their mental resilience and commitment to their profession that academics continue to do their best under such appalling conditions. On . the creation of which should have been foreseen. The tertiary system would come to a rapid halt if all those who were entitled to. Clearly. Judith Saebel and Silvia Pignata (Job Stress in University Staff: An Australian Research Study. Twenty years after Dawkins. the levels of strain reported by academic staff are higher than those reported by prison officers. Indeed. On the one hand we have a highly skilled and committed academic work force who believes their job description obliges them to deliver advanced education and research for the benefit of students and the nation. About half the academic staff considered their managers to be incompetent. for intellectual people. University academics rated their job satisfaction. The top three issues responsible for stress were university management (an immense surprise). The purge is definitely working and is ongoing. about 19% of the working population has GHQ-12 scores indicative of potential mental illness. Stress results when an organism is required to act in the face of fundamentally conflicting information. One of the few studies of workplace stress in Australian universities has been conducted by Professor Anthony Winefield and his colleagues Carolyn Boyd. constant job insecurity and heavy-handed reprisal for anything that vaguely resembles disagreement with the management line. In Australia.a desire by government to purge universities of those who would not cheerlead its university-as-factory vision and actively support the implementation of the concomitant tertiary-sector policies. which is used routinely in health care settings to identify the level of risk to an individual‟s mental health. decided to take stress leave. Part of this wide ranging study involving two surveys each of over 6000 staff members at 13 universities assessed stress using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). The conflict is obvious. trust in senior management and perceptions of procedural fairness as low. responsibility without concomitant authority or resources. The working environment for many academics is typified by demands for unrealistic levels of performance. Winefield‟s surveys determined this figure to be in the vicinity of 50%. Amongst academic staff.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>128 To say that there is a divide between University management and academics is a gross understatement. Perhaps this was a desired outcome of the “reforms” .

To the surprise of no-one. Assignment marking is especially time consuming. Most Enterprise Bargaining Agreements in force at universities indicate that academics are contracted to work something in the order of a 37 hour week. student surveys. the formula never produces a value that is longer than the contracted . Preparation and delivery of lectures. we have a managerial class with a cyclopic focus on personal career advancement based on their ability to achieve bureaucratically conceived goals that are effectively divorced from the needs of higher education. Substantial unpaid overtime is being worked.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>129 the other. community service and preparation for the following semester. committee duty. Risk Assessment. ethics approvals. Their response is the creation of the disingenuous “work load formula”. student consultation (face-to-face and email) and. tutorials and practical work alone accounts for more than 60% of the official week and this does not include all the activities associated with teaching . Time must also be found to complete the paperwork for Quality Assurance. if the end result is to be fair and of value to the student. It‟s an impossible ask. course and program reviews.the University of Queensland) have asked staff if they would like to donate a portion of their salary to the university – as if donating a day and a half per week of their time weren‟t enough! University managers are unperturbed by the situation as they are disconnected from the real work of the institution. which also involves the winning of research grants and the supervision of graduate students with effectively no technical or administrative support. To rub salt into the wound. And then there is the matter of undertaking and publishing world-beating research. If academic staff were to “work-to-rule”. one published by the National Tertiary Education Union in 2002 (Anthony Winefield and Colleagues) the other by the Australian Council for Educational Research in 2008 (Hamish Coates and colleagues) revealed an average working week of 50 hours or longer. (including both my former institution and my alma mater . administration. a number of universities. The necessity for is obvious after even a cursory examination of an academic position description.setting and marking exams and assignments. Two recent national surveys of academic work conditions. This is usually a pseudo-mathematical formula for the calculation of weekly hours worked by individual academic staff. the university would not survive a semester and research would grind to an abrupt halt. It gives management the option of classifying almost any staff member at any time as an underperformer. of course.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>130 working week. The demise of the collegial system of governance. has seen the sidelining or abolition of academic input into all but the most trivial areas of university activity. Thus. Managerialism not Management The Divine Right of Kings to rule has its equivalent in the corporate university with the Divine Right of Managers to manage. It is also apparent to them that to ignore administrators‟ demands is tantamount to misconduct and potentially subject to disciplinary action. managers at my former institution introduced the innovative concept of the zero hour task – indeed. it is not surprising that university bureaucrats continue to demand increases in “productivity” while simultaneously gutting academic resources and imposing an increasing load of meaningless administration. not only ignoring the substantial amount of unpaid work essential to the functioning of the institution. they have no genuine input into determining optimal resource and organisational priorities. Most staff are aware that the bulk of the work undertaken for the administration will never be read. but enabling bureaucrats to claim that staffing levels are appropriate. With unrestrained administrative power. let alone acted upon. zero hours were allotted for certain tasks. micromanagement of staff through the imposition of pointless demands to collect meaningless metrics is a hallmark of university administrators. while it falls to academic staff to deliver the teaching. In order to make the formula work. Not only do administrators make nearly all decisions about academic matters but there is now essentially no official process whereby the academic voice can receive an impartial hearing. The workload formula is doubly regressive. which was a prime aim of the Dawkins “reforms”. Woe betide any academic who thinks there may be another way. The workload formula does not reflect the well documented reality of academic working hours but enables senior management and government bureaucrats to maintain the fantasy that we have a properly staffed university system. It is not uncommon to be asked by three or more administrative departments for the same information to be completed on different forms! Any suggestion that the required information might be sourced from another department or integrated into a single efficient data base usually elicits a curt response – even from junior administrative staff. It was pointed out by Philip Clarke and Nicholas Graves (The Australian. research and service product on which the University bases its reputation. 20 January 2010) that current technology “…has lowered the marginal cost of creating bureaucracy to almost nothing but the . Indeed.

” This equates to an enormous amount of wasted time and effort and therefore taxpayers‟ money that is ignored by university and government bureaucrats in their unceasing quest for ever greater piles of information. Apparently the form did not permit cutting and pasting from other documents. by allowing the VCs to cloak themselves with the trappings of corporate success – inflated salaries. Opinions and ideas from the equivalent of assembly line workers would be incompatible with business principles as Dawkins saw them. although it now required different information. There could be no room for considered thought by knowledgeable academics on any matter. The Dawkins Reforms Dawkins understood that for his corporate vision of Australian universities to be established. their time is free. namely the minister of the day. academics should charge the administration for the time taken to complete the administration‟s paperwork. This would certainly focus their minds on the necessity for the information and is entirely consistent with the user-pays philosophy that is prevalent throughout the education management bureaucracy. His first task was therefore to turn the Vice Chancellors into the government‟s vassals. corporate boxes . even a helicopter - . grandiose living allowances.” They go on to cite the case at one Australian university where academics have to complete “14 forms for a PhD student to get from pre-admission to graduation. I examined the form and then the actual deadline for completion of course outlines. the administration sent a new form. expensive foreign cars. The tertiary hierarchy below had to be put on a short leash. I recall an instance at my former institution where a quite lengthy form relating to course outlines was sent to all academics for rapid completion. which was several weeks away and decided that I would ignore the matter for a while. Staff dutifully set about completing this information only to receive an email advising that further amendments had been made and a new form would be emailed soon. After the wasting what must have amounted to many hundreds of staff hours. This was done partly with the carrot. University administrators seem to believe that because academics are on the public payroll.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>131 cost of responding has not changed. which meant that the entire document had to completed from scratch. It was not long before there was grumbling in the corridor. There could be only one top dog. I completed the form a week or so after the deadline for course outlines when I felt fairly confident there was no more time for Latrobe University. As suggested by Clarke and Graves. there would have to be top-down control.

While such an approach might be useful for a corporation making a specific product with access to a feedstock of guaranteed quality and a ready market. The Vice Chancellors moved with some haste to oblige the minister by abolishing the practice of staff election of academic leaders. let alone fighting for. the Dean. then perhaps funding penalties for failure to meet these requirements would. performance and development requirements and target student load requirements that had to be approved by the Minister‟s department. which in the past had allowed them to fund activities that faculty considered worthy such as the purchase of research infrastructure. it is entirely unsuited to a situation involving large numbers of individuals undertaking diverse tasks to deliver a largely intangible product such as an education. It was a simple but key manoeuvre in the centralisation of power. like their private sector counterparts. (now known as the Cost Centre Manager) was now the Vice Chancellor‟s the offer of absolute power over all university staff. Thus. Many faculties lost virtually all discretionary funding. These positions were filled with people selected on the basis of their willingness to do whatever was required by the Vice Chancellor in his new role as the Minister‟s lackey. instead of the Vice Chancellor having to negotiate with Deans who represented the needs of academic staff. And if these measures proved inadequate to encourage VCs to establish centralised control over their institutions. Given the Minister‟s focus on student throughput. Dawkins established for all institutions. The idea of standing for. They advance their careers by managing for themselves and whoever is above them on the career ladder. No more would the VC have to negotiate with anybody else on campus. forcing onto the faculty whatever was demanded by the centralised administration within a centrally determined budget. are driven primarily by personal ambition. For his stick. Not many VCs would be interested in jeopardising their new found finery by taking the minister to task on matters of intellectual freedom or educational principle. in terms of matters of faculty funding. the Vice Chancellors set their bureaucrats to work converting faculties into factories. The VC was effectively the CEO of a public corporation with only one shareholder – the minister of the day. intellectual freedom or staff control of academic matters is nonexistent. any principles supportive of rigorous standards. While some sympathetic souls may argue that management has been forced down this path by . curriculum and conditions for teaching and research.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>132 and so on . It was through such reforms that tertiary education was delivered into the hands of managers who.

Subsequent to a verbal exchange during the presentation of the proposal.000 salary cut for punishment. The suspension was equivalent to a $40. One is also left to wonder at the future in academia for the type of person who lodges an abuse complaint after receiving a modicum of sharp criticism. The “Laughing at the Disabled” Case Examples of heavy-handed tactics used on academics are endless.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>133 government policy alone. Management is then at liberty to use the grievance as they see fit. handed out by the Vice Chancellor who headed his hand-picked committee of three which upheld the complaint. Unfortunately. They were also charged with attacking the proposal in a way that misrepresented the nature of the proposed work. By their actions. Offends and Entertains”.Creating Comedy that Confronts. something like: “I have a handicapped child and I pray to God that my child never comes into contact with someone like you”. When one compares the crime with the $40. the heavy-handed way they deal with dissent and their opportunistic use of vacuous business school jargon and Edu Babble to rationalise highly regressive educational changes. makes one realise that they are mercenaries offering a genuine impediment to higher education. the way staff codes of conduct are interpreted means that anyone who feels they have been offended by the words of others can claim abuse. The two lecturers were duly charged with verbally abusing the PhD candidate by saying in a raised voice. The use of abuse complaints to attack staff that hold views that do not align with those of management is a very common tactic. University managers have . one need only witness the relish with which some of these foot soldiers have taken to mindless micromanagement of academics. One recent celebrated case is that of the suspension without pay for six months of two lecturers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) for being highly critical of a PhD proposal that was originally titled ―Laughing at the Disabled . “heavy-handed” hardly seems an appropriate descriptor – jackboot would appear to be much closer to the mark. The draconian nature of the punishments that can be dispensed by management is obvious from the QUT case. a complaint of abuse was lodged by an unnamed staff member. which was university management‟s way of referring to an opinion piece published by the two academics in the Higher Education Supplement of The Australian newspaper. The nature of the disciplinary action would appear to have much more to do with the public-comment component of the matter and a desire to intimidate other academics who might be contemplating doing the same on any number of other issues.000 fine.

As a footnote to this matter. no doubt much to the relief of QUT management. Today. The university‟s response was to demand that the staff member apologise to the drug company that owned the vaccine. should be grist to the academic mill. thuggish and incompetent management. the fact that it played out as it did points directly to egotistical. Irrespective of who wins or loses. . In the intellectual enterprise. as the facts of the case and the terms of settlement are now confidential. the university may well have been much better off. Irrespective of how one views the outcome. often passionate and heated. A racial vilification action was lodged against QUT and the PhD student. There is no safety for academics even when they speak publicly about matters directly related to their expertise. wasted time and taxpayers‟ money will be the main consequence. Nevertheless. To their credit. it is interesting to note that in 2009 the “Laughing with the Disabled” project (note that the title was changed) became the subject of a damages claim from an Aboriginal woman. In some ways. One can only imagine how much this tawdry affair cost the university. the stress incurred by the staff in question and the productive activities on which the money and time could have been spent. it is easy to see why many staff would probably elect not to speak out on any potentially controversial matter. To note just one recent incident we need only examine the case of the General Practitioner and Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine at the University of Queensland. but alas is no longer. who asked perfectly reasonable questions about the marketing of a particular vaccine. Something you notice while working in a university is that management always has discretionary funds to spend on lawyers but rarely on teaching or research. a marketing division staffer. Dissent should be. the person concerned stood up to the establishment who later withdrew their demand. a staple of university life. Had management listened to the dissenting academics instead of brutalising them. Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and university media policies effectively muzzle academics from speaking out on any matter without the approval of a senior university bureaucrat or worse still. disagreement. the academics involved had the fortitude to take the matter to court and were eventually reinstated in an out-of-court settlement. irrespective of the extent of their expertise or the public interest.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>134 routinely demonstrated that they do not possess the intellectual or managerial skills to handle dissent of any kind. this was unfortunate. Fortunately.

After rejecting this notion. I was duly accused of abusing the administrator. It started with an order to appear at the Headmaster‟s office. . riled the VC even further and I became the subject of a broadside of epithets delivered by him. unfortunately. While public hangings as a tool for mass coercion left the civilised world a long time ago. let alone input from the Committee. the discussion being triggered by the commencement of major civil works on campus with obvious environmental implications. It was agreed that it would be best for all if I resigned from the Committee. shortly after the conclusion of a meeting of the Vice Chancellor‟s Environmental Advisory Committee. including the students. why didn‟t I read his column in the local newspaper? To this I replied “Vice Chancellor. without any notification.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>135 Simply keeping one‟s dissent within the university is no protection either. without notice or explanation. if for no other reason than to clear the confusion in my own mind about who did what to whom. its metaphoric equivalent in Australian universities is all too common and. I have incurred the wrath of management on numerous occasions – without even trying.e. For this. I countered by suggesting that those on the Committee with the information (i. he incurred the wrath of the Vice Chancellor who then punished him by cancelling his access to email. Again the VC was quick to point out that the information failure was my fault. the VC held me responsible since I chaired the meeting. which I had the misfortune to chair for two years. I don‟t think I should have to read your column in the Sunshine Coast Daily to know what is happening on my own campus”. It turned out that the abuse had occurred during a discussion about the lack of information reaching the committee. was my only face-to-face interaction with the Vice Chancellor. Upon entering the VC‟s office. Face to Farce Needless to say. While the alleged abuse had not been apparent to me or others at the meeting. It transpired that an administrator who sat on the committee had visited him in tears allegedly as a result of being abused at the meeting. Such a vexatious response suggests a great number of inadequacies on the part of the Vice Chancellor. the VC then proffered the pearl that if I wanted to know what was going on. My attempt to discuss the matter. in effect isolating him almost completely from the university community. There is the example of a Professor at a Victorian sandstone who sent an email to his colleagues that was critical of the university management‟s decision to lease a corporate box at Docklands Stadium. One of the most amusing. effective. however. those representing the administration) should have tendered it rather than me attempting to guess what information people possessed and then asking for it.

the other shags will . Those who suggest there may be an alternative will be subject to the universal management put-down which involves being told they lack vision or are not in command of the facts. It is indeed remarkable how loyal most staff remain to their institution in the face of consistently shabby. if not more interesting. Clearly. mutual respect and the celebration and enhancement of diversity in all its forms. given that management have no interest in putting themselves in a position that might expose either their incompetence or their skulduggery. They have little interest in opinions or proposals from academic staff and are always keen to restrict access to information. if not openly hostile treatment. The advice from the VC and the bloated ranks of senior management is that if you don‟t like how things are run then go somewhere else – it‟s my way or the highway. There appears to be a belief on the part of management that they have a mortgage on the best ideas. If they make a habit of the practice. During the informal discussion that usually follows the closure of a meeting. While the shag sits on his rock and the boss loads the Remington. Accordingly. apparently to indicate that talking to academic staff was not a useful pastime – if you get wot I mean Guv! My Way or the Highway While the statements of goals and aims in the strategic plan will describe a work environment typified by consultation. the thuggish treatment of staff forces all matters academic into the dull orbit of bureaucratic uniformity. spies were about and I was shocked to learn a few days later that someone from the corporate section of the university had contacted my colleague. And while a lone ranger might receive extensive encouragement from their colleagues in the tea room.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>136 But there is a footnote to this affair that is just as. there is no need to undertake genuine consultation with affected parties on any matter. Staff meetings have become superfluous and some faculties or departments might meet only a few times each year and attendance is understandably poor. the cavalry will be nowhere in sight. I happened to mention that the supervising engineer on the civil works in question was a former private sector colleague of mine and that we had recently discussed the nature of the project. when the critical moment arrives. can usually expect to be ignored or belittled the first time. The person who stands up at a staff meeting or planning day and asks questions or requests that management provide and debate evidence to support their position. they can expect to be hounded. This is not surprising. which more often than not have been withheld by management.

it took about six months before I was given permission to move into laboratory space that had been unoccupied for a period considerably longer than that. His response was to blame me for the failure of both committees to act on his instruction and he said he wanted the equipment mothballed. sacrificed in such an environment. witness the unused space and then proceed to my office crammed with teaching paraphernalia and experimental equipment. wasteful and stressful as it was. I moved the equipment to my office and notified the Dean accordingly. He stated that staff could not be trusted to make arrangements on the use of space. Is this country so flush with . who was summarily booted out of one our most prestigious sandstone institutions after identifying and duly notifying the relevant authorities of fraudulent use of an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant. Day after day. this is nothing compared to the treatment that others have suffered.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>137 examine the ceiling or their shoe leather. I once made the mistake of coming to an informal arrangement with the director of a research centre on my campus to temporarily occupy some of the centre‟s space with my experimental apparatus. if somewhat uneasily. I was given a deadline to remove my equipment despite there still being no laboratory space available! In the interim the Dean implemented a farcical sequence of reviews by two committees and an academic and technical safety officer to determine what should be done with the apparatus. I was duly ordered to attend a meeting at which the Dean made it very clear that he controlled the use of all space and could deny me office space if he so desired. With the deadline almost upon up and no advice from any committee. The extent of job insecurity and the anxiety and fear of persecution from management have reduced most faculties to a collection of isolated passive/aggressive individuals who constantly complain in private but never take a stand in public. As it turned out. Colleagues are readily. Failure to submit to micromanagement is a one-way ticket to trouble. As tedious. acknowledged at the highest levels both nationally and internationally. two workplace health and safety officers were dispatched to inspect my office. When this arrangement became known to the Dean. I would walk past the laboratories. No laboratory space was available at the time. I advised that I didn‟t think mothballing was a good idea as there was no suitable storage area on campus for such sensitive equipment. In response. There is a little known case of an emeritus professor in the sciences. They concluded there was no reason to preclude me from continuing the work in my office.

in addition to the usual hounding. At the end of the process.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>138 talent that we can afford to treat our best and brightest like this? Unfortunately. Although the Dean carried the title Professor of Environmental Science. The aim is to stress the person to the extent that they opt for resignation. When They Have to Let You Go My own engineered redundancy came to fruition in 2007. butchery and euthanasia of courses and prerequisites. The end result is the creation of faculties populated by fearful people with little sense of collegiality or any feeling that significant educational or research headway is being made. In retrospect. It meant that no science student would have any basic environmental science education before proceeding to their area of specialised study. worse still. which was until that point compulsory for all first year students. Hounding is the general tactic applied to anyone whom management has decided they would be better off without. Staff take note of management actions such as these. The first and most important matter for any manager is to destroy whatever is in place upon arrival. was largely the product of the academic staff. Those made of sterner stuff can expect an engineered redundancy. The Dawkins “reforms” made the tactic of divide and conquer a specialised attribute of top university managers. who had only recently taken up his post. . one couldn‟t help feeling a little uneasy about the future of the Environmental Science program. There ensued 18 months of meetings and emails. All the usual forces were at play. of his or her responsibilities. by various means. ergo. it started in 2003 when the Dean. obscurity and unemployment is generally the fate that awaits whistleblowers in all occupations. Finally management comes to the startling conclusion that the staff member‟s expertise no longer contributes to the strategic direction of the faculty and. was certainly the harbinger of things to come. The existing degree program structure was not only a creature of the previous Dean but. the staff member is relieved. Cancellation of the foundation environmental science course. they must be redundant. committed the faculty to a complete restructure of all degree programs. only one of my three courses remained and the first year foundation environmental science course in which I played a significant hand had been cancelled. slicing and dicing. This is a process where.

I was advised by a mid-level manager that if I included a significant component of e-learning and e-assessment in the course “…there might be a promotion in it for you”. I had no access to my records. As predicted by other colleagues. In 2006. Being one of my areas of specialty. I was to be relieved of all lecturing and course coordination duties in Cell Biology. In 2005. although as far as I know. This replaced most of my teaching component in the course. I had to return to campus to be interviewed by the Review Committee. even though he had already acted on the review. virtually as an afterthought. Ostensibly this was just the first of a series of first-year course reviews. This. Cell Biology. rough waters were ahead. I was given a copy of the report and. on the basis of the report. The same manager then forced a change of content to justify the cancellation of another more difficult first year course in another program. neither I nor the course received much support. Clearly. tacitly acknowledged that he was not interested in what I might have to say. I was accused of having the wrong personality and of . for which I was totally responsible.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>139 Not only did this have major implications for the teaching of the Environmental Science degree program but it was entirely inconsistent with the University‟s documented and published commitment to promoting environmental education. It appeared to be a course that nobody wanted. I had no reservations about taking it on. I was duly called to the Dean‟s office and advised that. Another second year course in which I had significant responsibilities was also cancelled and it was announced there would be a faculty review of Cell Biology. was cancelled. I was made course coordinator for the large compulsory first year course. my third year course Environmental Management Strategies. I had no idea of their opinions until I read the report. as the Committee‟s report clearly indicated they were not interested in facts. Amongst other things. After the committee submitted its report. the Dean offered me the option of preparing a response. again without the benefit of my course records. As the review was initiated while I was overseas. no other first-year science course has received a similar review. In retrospect it didn‟t matter. The Dean‟s idea of due process! As all those who taught the course were interviewed individually. while I was on sabbatical leave and without any meaningful consultation. I responded I would prefer to let the course run in its current form for a semester before drawing any conclusions about its strengths and weaknesses.

Instead. Nevertheless. in this unplanned experiment. since little of the available data from which findings could be made had been examined. to the best of my knowledge. Of these students. indicated that it was similar to that in Statistics and much less than the failure rate in Mathematics. An excellent example of this was the committee‟s claim that my “ . The uniformity of the performance made me feel that I was the only one who hadn‟t seen the script. The data indicated that. 106 failed Statistics while only 79 failed Cell Biology. there was a reasonable body of evidence available for grade results. Although it was disappointing.) The Committee did not examine any retention data. they used the course failure rate drawn from what I recognised as the interim rather than final grading results. none of the teaching staff had attended any of my lectures. but unexamined..Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>140 giving boring lectures. as a working hypothesis. with the exception of 2003. everyone had been coyly holding back their dissatisfaction with the course and my approach to course coordination. one would expect review committees to expend reasonable effort collecting and examining facts. Their “findings” were in fact opinions based on their preconceptions and the need to achieve a particular objective. Comparison of the failure rate to that of other first-year science courses run in 2006.” (The assumption here is that the impact would be negative. I assumed that their beliefs were correct and set about collecting and analysing the relevant data to test the hypothesis – work that the committee should have been duty bound to perform. Indeed. however.. very little evidence supporting any of the committee‟s so-called findings. Clearly. The collective competence of the committee was inadequate to ensure that they were examining the relevant data! As I had coordinated the course for two years and the course had run for substantially longer than that. failure rates were very similar year-to-year. shedding light on both the course and my performance. While people are free to give their opinions. in spite of having an open door policy on ideas and regularly meeting with the teaching staff during semester. approach was not appropriate for first-year teaching and has the potential to impact significantly on first-year retention rates. there was considerable evidence available. the student performance in Cell Biology . even though. it was clear to me that their “findings” were not findings at all. I also examined the failure rates of the 286 students who were simultaneously enrolled in Cell Biology and Statistics. So. There was. it was not unexpected to see my “colleagues” fall in so quickly with management. As I read the Committee‟s report.

slightly more than a quarter of all the students in the course. In short.e. Analysis of the OP data demonstrated that the proportion of students with an OP of 15 or greater (i. two academics who would consider themselves Scientists and a secretary. What I actually said with respect to OP scores was that since I had taken over the course. “The working party also noted that the Course Coordinator‟s desire to blame the OP scores of the students was counterproductive and a concern for a First Year course. those in the lower 40% of high school leavers) had increased from 8% in 2004 to 34% in 2006. The report amounted to yet another example of university Education academics making statements and decisions about the teaching performance of . to put it another way. the data suggested that I had a positive effect on student learning. No-one would have had more face-to-face contact with these students than I did. in effect. as expected. the Cell Biology teaching staff should be congratulated for maintaining academic standards without substantially increasing the failure rate. a university staff member conducting a research project examining the relationship between academic performance and OP score. a recent convert to the Educationalist cause. The failure rate for my students was 28% compared to 33% for the course as a whole. With regard to failure rate. asserting that the OP score had no bearing on scholastic ability or.” (For a discussion of OP score see Chapter 5) This was possibly the most disingenuous statement in the entire report and dishonest as well. In addition. as determined from their OP scores and that in view of this. there had been a substantial rise in the number of academically poor students. had established. The committee consisted of a Professor of Education. All of these data were readily available to the Committee and yet there was no indication in their report that any attempt had been made to examine it. The Committee was. there was no evidence I had any negative impact on the failure rate and therefore no reason to believe that I might do so in the future. It was clear that the Educationalists had a major hand in writing the report and no doubt the science academics did their best not to rock the boat.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>141 was far better than the performance in Statistics. I then examined the performance of students who I personally tutored. a clear inverse correlation (remember the smaller the OP score the better the student). the high school assessment process in Queensland produces meaningless results. If anything.

he said. marking or student consultation was spent defending myself from baseless attacks . The obvious conclusion was that the committee had no interest in procedural fairness or truth. during which I was forced to fight several other battles with management who took every opportunity to harass me. Apparently. Bye Bye Blackbird What did the Committee spend it‟s time on? From what I could discover the only “data” that the committee had “examined” were the negative comments from student feedback surveys. Every moment not committed to teaching. I wasn‟t giving any lectures! Perhaps. the course survey rating compared to the rating for a postgraduate course offered by the Business faculty and some interim. I advised him that I looked forward to the meeting. I was advised by the Dean that the Committee was displeased with what I had written and wanted to take me to task over it. I advised this would not be good for me. But. I replied. Management had followed the appropriate procedures to rid themselves of a competent and experienced Scientist in the absence of any credible evidence that I was underperforming in any sphere of my duties.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>142 others on the basis of their beliefs rather than the facts. in spite of the frequent reminders I had emailed to the Dean. The eagerness with which certain unscrupulous individuals conspired to end the career of another staff member regardless of the facts is truly breathtaking. I was summoned to the Dean‟s office and told that I wasn‟t meeting my workload requirements. The system was in perfect working order. this had something to do with my courses being cancelled and my removal from teaching and coordinating Cell Biology. between them they could not muster the interest or even the sense of due process to establish the facts. I was then offered lecturing duties in a course in which I had no expertise. It . the Committee could never agree on a meeting date. gradedistribution data. The Dean concluded that I was therefore‟s version of the slow public hanging. the students or the university and consequently I had to decline. After a few weeks. This scenario played out over about nine months. which were all tutoring and laboratory practical hours. Following submission of my reply. and therefore inaccurate. I advised that I was still teaching the requisite hours. Their job was to remove the final obstacle that would enable management to make me redundant. Not surprisingly. which included an attachment dealing with the complete failure of the Dean and the committee to ensure natural justice.

The event should certainly not be called a planning day because if there are plans. All that is needed is a meeting qualifying as consultation and another management KPI is in the bag! Attendance is usually high. retention rates. These gatherings are often held off campus in the hope that a happy holiday atmosphere and catered food might magically solve the chronic dysfunction in management/staff relations (in favour of management of course). they have already been made and are not up for discussion. Unrelenting harassment of a staff member is a very effective way of keeping others in line. unprofitable courses and programs. faculty members will be “encouraged” to attend a “bonding” or “planning” day (or days if you‟re really unlucky). It’s Your Job That’s on the Line Once or twice a year. abandon the pursuit of truth. . Those who have had a successful career and are close to retirement take their superannuation and their research data and pursue their intellectual activities from the comfort of home. harangue day or waffle day or some combination of the three would be a more accurate tag for the event. unhindered by the tedious and malevolent intrusions of university administrators. Those with talent inevitably set about seeking greener pastures. And the prospect of a day out of the office with catering brings a surprising number of administrative staff out of the woodwork as well. including Scientists. The net result is that the wrecks of our once-proud tertiary institutions will be staffed largely by those who have surrendered. rationalising the matter by claiming that the hanging was in the best interests of the victim. The day usually gets off to a bad start as the Dean will open proceedings with a litany of calamitous statistics on enrollment numbers.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>143 brings out the worst in colleagues. Some will become management apologists. Many resign when the stress is no longer bearable. I concluded my response to the committee‟s report by expressing my disappointment at seeing academically trained people. research productivity and regional engagement. Propaganda day. depending on the venue and the anticipated quality of the food. Those who care most about education. when judging a colleague. Somebody once said that you can measure a person‟s commitment to their principles by what they will sacrifice for their defense. most of whom will no longer want to be seen in your general vicinity. research and their institutions are the ones who will take a stand on principle and ironically they will be the ones targeted by management.

The dire warnings of underperformance and institutional doom inevitably lead to a call for courses to be rewritten or dropped. As the prospect for genuinely achieving the required level of productivity is remote. since no market intelligence is ever available and there is no plan to gather it. This impacts severely on morale. usually something to do with the latest pointless government or university accountability requirement. While the tactic clearly works. As the Professor of Education proudly reeled off the proposed titles for the new bachelor programs. will continue the harangue. Occasionally the staff are addressed by a luminary on a matter of current interest. Needless to say there is no rational basis on which changes can be made. such is not the case. There will be no time for questions. staff cuts. It is generally accepted that this approach is adopted to keep staff in constant fear of losing their job in order to make them more compliant. I have a distinct recollection of one such instance when Quality Assurance (QA) was . as these people would at least be teaching what comes naturally rather than the absurd collection of baseless theories that are supposed to help trainee Learning Managers facilitate a quality learning journey for the youth of the nation.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>144 The diatribe moves logically to the conclusion that academic staff are underperforming and if the socks don‟t come up. academic staff cuts of course. One would have thought that intelligent and presumably self-confident people would be in a position to ignore the divide and conquer strategy but in general. one of my colleagues quipped to me quietly “how about a Bachelor of Self Promotion?” Personally I thought that was a good idea. There is merely the goal of increasing enrolments and retention rates. along with prerequisites and new courses to be prepared that will be more appealing to students. are inevitable. My only stipulation would be that some other faculty should have the pleasure of offering the degree and housing the (ir)relevant staff. should anyone be bold enough to ask one. I can recall at one planning day the Education section of the faculty came up with 13 new repackaged Education programs. There will then be a call to repackage existing courses to create new “sexy” programs. After the Dean‟s harangue. due to the bureaucrat‟s tight schedule. At some point the staff will be divided into groups to work on the “problem”. the constant employment insecurity invokes a general feeling of powerlessness to change anything for the better. the frequent brow beatings encourage to staff to make their employment more secure by whiteanting each other at opportune moments. who often arrives late. a senior university bureaucrat.

The manager of IT would drone on about corporate IT structures and governance and how tricky it was to „get it right‟ and the inevitable university-wide disaster that would occur as a result of infractions of copyright and software license agreements if Scientists were allowed to run their own computers or heaven forbid…a network. My most interesting interaction with IT resulted from a request to use an obsolete computer (which was destined for public auction or disposal) to control a piece of electromechanical equipment that formed part of my experimental apparatus. Having worked under a fully accredited QA system myself and. Sad to say. this fellow started out with the words we had all heard so many times before . being left thoroughly unconvinced of the benefits of QA. could do no better in his latter days than to be an apologist for managerial anti-education reform. Again. While it took me about a month to design. This of course was IT‟s rationale for total central control of all computing and electronic communications resources. To me it is inconceivable that someone possessing the knowledge and wisdom that a lifetime at the forefront of scientific research should bring.QA is inevitable. As a change of pace or perhaps just to fill in time. A few heroic souls toiled for months and sometimes years to have specialist computing requirements approved and in some cases operated equipment and used software that was not approved. academic staff and the university system. no matter how inconvenient for others. For my former faculty. as. teacher and administrator. Academic requirements had to be shoe-horned into whatever was best for IT managers. it took IT six months to approve the use of an obsolete computer before I could start to . this was usually the IT department. The luminary was a retired professor from a Sydney sandstone. there‟s nothing you can do about it so you‟d just better comply with whatever comes down track – and the presentation went downhill from there. like most of my private sector colleagues. being caught at such a game would have served readily as a basis for disciplinary action or possibly dismissal. build and bench-test the device.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>145 the topic of the day. there will be a presentation from a corporate section of the university. depending on who you were. I was keen to hear a rigorous argument demonstrating how it would benefit students. This was particularly brave or perhaps foolhardy. He was reputedly a successful Scientist. it was never a matter of what IT resources best suited teaching and research but how IT managers might best distance themselves from risk.

The final insult on the bonding-day agenda was usually a workshop on some irrelevant topic. the bulk of the staff retreat to the isolation of their offices wondering how they are supposed to educate people under such conditions and what they will need to do to keep their job. it is just common sense that for a degree program with a minimum completion time of three years. but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams. and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion. taking a healthy dose of denial and a round of rationalisation as and when required. The staff working at the front line are usually as helpful as they can be under the conditions and certain staff routinely ignore management directives not to provide support for particular pieces of equipment. IT made it very clear they would not be providing support of any kind for this computer. inefficiency and demoralisation. Academics are used to dealing with new ideas and the changes they bring. As part of the approval. The unceasing and uncritical drive to change everything on a semester-bysemester basis is a major source of annoyance to students and needlessly creates tension between academic staff and management. Ancient though they may be. I might add that. the difficulties experienced with IT stem from management. For example. These words. It is part and parcel of research.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>146 commission and integrate the device into my set up. or similar. in general. the sentiment rings true today in Australian universities. achieve a KPI and get promoted. Utterly deflated. how to align learning objectives with assessment! Or how to embed graduate attributes across the curriculum!! How to prepare your Personal Performance Portfolio!!! All matters to do with bureaucratic requirements supposedly for the enhancement of the students‟ education but. Inevitably. we would be reorganised. If we take the simple example of program restructuring. most comply with management‟s whims. What runs counter to their minds is to blindly accept that any and all change represents an advance over the current situation. in reality. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising. All Change is Good We trained hard. simply requirements to be completed so that a bureaucrat could tick the right boxes. At length the ghastly business is over. it will take . Petronius Arbiter who lived in Rome around 100 BC. are usually attributed to the Roman.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


probably five years before the inherent value of the program to the graduates or their employers can be established. Managers simply aren‟t interested in working on that sort of time frame. There must be growth at all costs and, in the routine panic that ensues following the setting of enrollment targets, the order goes down the line to rewrite or cancel difficult or unpopular courses, abandon prerequisites and restructure degree programs. Although there is rarely any evidence to indicate how or why existing material should be changed or any rational basis on which to develop new material, changes must occur. As one Cost Centre Manager was heard to say about a particular course after receiving advice that changes were unwarranted, “But I must change something”. To suggest that it might be better for all concerned, especially the students, to leave things as they are, is to invite ridicule and stand accused of being out of touch with the market, of not being a team player (there‟s no “I” in team folks!) and to be lacking in vision, which is of course the sole domain of management – albeit short-term and tunnel. Program restructuring is often justified on the basis that program “flexibility” must be enhanced. Enhanced flexibility means that students should be able to enrol in any course at any stage in their program and should also be able to start a full-time program in second semester and complete the program in six consecutive semesters. Thus, course prerequisites have to be minimised or removed and compulsory courses reduced in number or eliminated – unless the course was the brain child of the Vice Chancellor! Again, common sense dictates that under these conditions, the depth of the course material and the logical presentation of sequentially more advanced work are seriously compromised because the lecturer cannot assume that students have acquired the necessary knowledge in previous courses. Changing courses to achieve flexibility is commonly referred to as “dumbing down”. And the proof of the pudding is certainly being eaten in the form of the large percentage of graduates who emerge from the system with little more than a fog of shallow ideas circulating in their heads. Many students also find the constant restructuring annoying, as they cannot graduate with the program contents they originally enrolled in and the better students often find the hollowed-out advanced-level courses unchallenging. On the other hand, the weaker students tend to select the courses they perceive are easiest to pass. Students who lack direction usually complete a group of courses that do not

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


complement each other. The net effect is the production of graduates with useless degrees and who are effectively unemployable without substantial additional study or training. It is clear that the fascination for restructuring, renaming and creating new programs by “repackaging” existing courses is management‟s only solution to meet enrollment targets. Unfortunately, due to the frequency and extent of changes, it is impossible to determine what effect (if any) the previous changes had and there is no base from which to develop the next set of changes. As a result, the changes are simply those that fall within the acceptability boundaries set by management. So, even though staff may follow orders and restructure a program, management may well reject part or all of the proposed changes and institute their own. Within 18 months of my redundancy, the Environmental Science program at my former institution was restructured twice and it was restructured several times preceding my departure. Compared to the program as it was when I arrived, the current program is a pallid and malnourished Heath-Robinsonesque affair that doesn‟t deserve to carry the name Environmental Science. I recall that when I joined my former institution, seven of the eight courses required for the first year Bachelor of Environmental Science were compulsory. In second and third year, courses had to be completed in blocks of four which had complementary content. Academic staff invested substantial effort, thought and knowledge into the preparation of this curriculum. It was not only solid academically (at least by the standards of the day) but it made good use of the meagre resources available (in 2000, course budgets were $600, roughly half the HECS payment for one student!). Management, however, viewed its structure and the depth of content as a hindrance to enrollment and completion rates. In 2008, there were four compulsory first year courses and no foundation environmental science course. There were only six advanced level courses required, nearly all of which were second year courses. The program rules allow students great latitude to pick and choose. The original degree structure offered many advantages for the students and academic staff and therefore the university. Unfortunately, these advantages were not deemed consistent with the strategic direction of the faculty and the program structure was abandoned in favour of one with substantial “flexibility”. Management no doubt hoped that making courses easier and allowing students to do courses in virtually any order would result in increased customer throughput and improved

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline


customer satisfaction ratings. Given the rate at which changes are made, it will never be possible to determine the effect of any particular change. Perhaps that‟s part of the plan! The panic that enrollment statistics engender can certainly lead to some strange decisions. In a bizarre reversal of management‟s penchant for abolition of prerequisites and the only case of which I know, faculty management made a course retrospectively compulsory. In other words, all students had to complete the course to graduate, irrespective of how far they had advanced toward the completion of their degree. As fate would have it, I was the Program Coordinator for the Combined Degree at the time of this edict. Combined degrees are four year programs that result in a degree from two faculties (e.g. BSci/BBus). As the timetabling for these degrees is particularly tight, fitting in a new course in the latter stage of completion was almost impossible. Within a couple of weeks, I had over 100 angry students come through my office wanting to know how they were supposed to complete this course without abandoning another course they had planned on doing that was also compulsory. It turned out that there were only two ways in which the problem could be addressed. The first was to complete the course as an addition to the degree which would require the student to pay the full fee for the course and delay degree completion by six months. Understandably, this was not a popular idea with the students. The other approach was to use an administrative fix, which required specific paperwork to be prepared for each student. The end result of this thoughtless move by management was many hours of unproductive administrative work for a significant number of people and considerable angst for the students. By the time it was over, I had two full lever arch folders of records for students from the combined program. That much of the slicing and dicing of courses and programs does not achieve management‟s aim of increasing enrolments is suggested by DETYA studies indicating that most students attend the institution geographically closest to them, provided there is a program to which they can gain access. In addition, most students do not have the ability to distinguish between similar programs offered by different institutions and most do not have the financial means to live and meet tuition costs at institutions distant from their home. What this means is that the catchment for Australian students is more-or-less fixed for most institutions. It follows that constant changes to courses and programs is unlikely to be a recipe for increasing enrollment.

all administrative positions comes from student HECS. probably on the advice of a consultant. Any input from staff that might help the running of the faculty but does not align with management‟s plan will be ignored. Constant job insecurity also severely detracts from research as it becomes difficult to focus on intellectual matters demanding medium to long-term planning when one‟s job is on the chopping block at six monthly intervals. Ultimately. Executive and Associate Deans. these positions serve little purpose as they typically come with responsibility but no real authority or budget and will include more administration with little or no teaching relief or financial remuneration. Academics never know if the next restructure will see them out of a job. It also has negative impacts on morale as staff see their academic judgment on educational matters ignored in favour of management‟s opinion. Not only are the salaries high but there are vehicles and expense accounts to fund. not to mention the requirement for their offices to be staffed. frequent program restructuring has a huge impact on resources by wasting substantial amounts of staff time on unnecessary paperwork. These positions are hugely expensive. Organisational Restructuring If there is a lull in the butchering of courses and programs. While the new structure may open new positions within the faculty (it may also close some). For faculty staff. While those wanting to undertake full time research will have to find their own salaries. corporate level restructuring follows a very different path. university management will decide on the new structure. the Commonwealth subsidy for each HECS place and income . in fact. materially supported and renovated with the arrival of each new occupant. their support staff and the lurks and perks would be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. the money for these high level corporate positions and. faculty and university management may attempt to create the illusion of progress by resorting to an organisational restructure. The last decade has seen huge growth in Deputy Vice Chancellors.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>150 While the effect of restructuring on enrolments is unknowable. On the other hand. it is again a waste of time to become involved in this process. The cost of these of these high level positions. None of this provides any direct support for teaching or research. Senior Policy Advisors and the like – mostly courtiers in the Vice Chancellor‟s entourage. Pro Vice Chancellors.

For the most part. squabble over the remainder…hardly the efficiencies that Dawkins claimed to be looking for. And while academic staff are doing unprecedented amounts of administration. First. the extent to which it is practiced in universities is wasteful and extremely damaging to morale. few of the appointees have any substantial private sector experience and so would be unlikely to find a position of equivalent rank. Finance. which must also be funded. Managers. these positions and their offices will be funded from the income made from undergraduate teaching. Student Services and so on. It is easy to see why student/teacher ratios are high and course budgets low. When the exorbitant cost of these positions is raised. There are also other high-level positions outside the academic hierarchy. the cry always goes up that these salaries are in no way competitive with those in the private sector and that the highest possible salaries must be offered to attract the right people. Human Resources. If instead they elected to stay in the university sector we should be seeing enhancement of institutional income from their ability to attract substantial corporate funding and large numbers of full-fee paying corporate education customers. however. While occasionally there may be valid reasons for modifying organisational and program structures. In many cases I suspect they have little more than a pathological need to wield power over those who make them feel intellectually inferior. who effectively bankroll the lifestyle of senior management. The faculties. Secondly. seem unperturbed by this since change is their raison d‟être. This argument is riddled with fallacies and doesn‟t apply to any other part of the university. It is ironic that on the one hand managers berate staff for lack of productivity but then squander large amounts of staff time and money on unproductive restructuring.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>151 from full fee paying foreign students. there are proportionally more administrators on Australian campuses than ever before. . Universities have a severe case of administrative bloat which is not surprising since bureaucratic control causes replication of their own type. The reality is that most of the people who move into these positions are people with academic degrees who would not be competitive in the private sector and who no longer have the desire or competence to succeed at teaching and/or research. if these people were in any way marketable they would join the private sector and quadruple their income. These include the managers for the Marketing Division.

In fact it‟s difficult to see this approach as anything other than a stop-gap measure to shore up income. numerous institutions have or are considering the adoption of a trimester year. all students are required to complete one of six undergraduate degrees. perhaps this is just a transitory phase in the continuing conversion of these universities to high schools. In Melbourne University‟s own words. teaching three semesters. they are “…leading this nation‟s curriculum change to produce graduates of international standard”. innovation and the like. year-in year-out at the tertiary level. consisting of three 10 week semesters. It will therefore unleash yet another major structural upheaval as it will require the establishment of teaching-only positions. No doubt the end result will further degrade the system through an exodus of many of the remaining competent staff for whom research is the major reason for entering the profession. there is every indication that establishment of the program stems from the recognition that most students arriving from high school are not scholastically ready to enter a professional degree. On the other hand. This will leave the teaching-only positions to be filled largely by casuals and part timers. Graduates will then apply to a real university for a place in a real tertiary degree program. Even the most dedicated of teachers would find it difficult to avoid burn out.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>152 Three for the Price of One In a desperate bid to keep the dollars rolling in. before they can undertake a graduate professional degree such as law or engineering. since students will be attracted to the degree because it enables them to complete the traditional three year degree program in two years. While the rhetoric is long on statements about quality. There will also be negative impacts for academic staff. It has also been noted by some that this . Under Growing Esteem. Institutions will adopt this approach believing it will give them a competitive advantage. as teaching a trimester year will effectively eliminate the possibility of undertaking research. eking out a precarious living within the academic benthos from where they are unlikely to rise – it would bust the budget. international standards. This transition has already been completed at Melbourne University and the University of Western Australia looks set to go the same way. It has been achieved by adopting the North American degree program structure which is part of Melbourne University‟s strategy called Growing Esteem (a marvelously managerial title). it‟s hard to argue that the quality of student education can be maintained let alone improved. As the scheme will lop off more than a semester‟s worth of teaching contact for the students.

The Devaluation of Expertise If there is a common theme underpinning the failure of the modern university it would be the devaluation of traditional expertise. Ironically. Yet what is a problem? It is simply a question for which all standard solutions fail. comprehension and mathematics. it‟s very difficult to pick them up on the fly particularly when. If you don‟t have a solid grounding in the basics. the basics are reading. no amount of tinkering with structures will make any difference to the quality of graduates or the standard of degrees. should be the passport to the higher realms of knowledge". This is a sure sign of a shallow course with trendy content taught by people who lack genuine expertise in anything. in many cases. writing. chemically-induced optimism would be required to believe that this program restructure will be the one that turns the rhetoric into reality. those who . University learning and teaching documents contain sufficient blather about turning out critical thinkers and problem solvers to cause nausea. not money. Irrespective of the pros and cons of the North American degree program structure. Provided primary and secondary schools continue as they are and universities are driven mainly by commercial imperatives. restructure of degree programs have been legion and the implementation of teaching innovations ubiquitous. It underpins the calls by Educationalists to abandon direct disciplinebased instruction and replace it with a thin gruel of issues from currently topical subject areas.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>153 restructure potentially gives the university three years of additional income from each student. is laughable. The idea that you can throw a school or undergraduate student a problem to solve and that they will learn whatever fundamental principles are required to solve it. the only avenue left to the would-be problem solver is to return to basic principles. all to no effect. Clearly."Brains. Beware any science course with a title that ends in “studies”. Since Dawkins. When the standard solutions are of no use. Melbourne University‟s marketing video for their new curriculum quotes a line from a speech delivered in 1905 by Frank Tate (then Director of Education) at the opening the Melbourne Continuation School . The devaluation of expertise is also evident in the large scale abandonment of teaching basic scientific principles – the building blocks upon which the higher order concepts are built. This is particularly so at the primary and secondary level.

university managers are yet to understand or acknowledge the centrality of academic staff to the university operation. one has to remember the desires of academics and those of management are completely different. . those who identify with the management psyche and who are long on style and short on substance. To round out the failures. During the commiseration and head scratching that follows. The lack of respect for expertise is also evident in hiring processes that offer the candidates little scope to display their expertise or intellectual ability and unduly favours buzz-word jockeys and sycophants – in short. The situation amounts to little more than a vendetta against competence and independent thinkers. The modern manager is his own worst enemy. While a university cannot exist without academic staff. They still do not realise that. Most staff have witnessed some truly remarkable hiring and student entry decisions. While staff might be looking for a knowledgeable individual who could bring new expertise and some intellectual spark into the faculty. Hence.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>154 promote the idea have never had to solve a real problem – certainly not one that would see you sued into the next millennium if you got it wrong. as a demographic. including some clear cases of nepotism such as that which arose recently at a University of Queensland. the need to have job candidates deliver a vacuous discussion of official paperwork rather than a tour de force of their research experience. management are looking for someone who will be compliant and unlikely to threaten their interests at any level. They fail to recognise that universities are unique institutions which are required to deliver a rigorous advanced education and provide adequate support for meaningful research. 800 years of history shows that universities have prospered in the absence of corporate managers. academia is like no other employee group.

Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>155 Chapter 8 Where to From Here? .

irrespective of its value to Australian students or Australia.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>156 If the tertiary sector is surveyed from the high ground of retirement. The verbiage produced since Dawkins. if anything. to defend the indefensible and disguise failure as success is truly astounding. the system supports a crippling load of parasitic activities unlikely to be shed by any treatment not also fatal to the patient. the unceasing pursuit of performance metrics and the trappings of corporatisation must be truly astounding. It is. Constantly required to alter course to capture the fickle education consumer dollar. It has been reported that prior to delivery of the report. In short. their vascular system is in good condition. micromanagement. Some pundits routinely point out that positive changes have resulted from the National Unified System. Just stop for a moment and ponder the field days that bureaucrats and Educationalists are having responding to the Bradley Review (not to mention the Cutler report). the reality is that most have and will continue to waste their time on these reviews as directed by their administrations. Research of international standard is required while staff have less funding. has aided the decline in the quality of education. The government demands that universities diversify but their education policies and funding arrangements make conformity the only possible option. at who knows what cost. University budgets now rely on income from full-fee paying foreign students who must be constantly recruited and provided with an acceptable education product. they are also supposed to power the nation‟s long-term success in the knowledge economy. Universities must take all comers for the sake of the bottom line and yet graduates are supposed to be world class. less time and less support than ever before. While my guess is that few academic staff believe the managerial and Educationalist blather that ensues from such events. We have a Quality Assurance leviathan that. Universities are supposed to be agile players in the global education market. however. This is undoubtedly true. . one is struck by the contradictions within the system. yet are constrained by a truly staggering array of external (i. government) and internal accountability requirements. The amount of money wasted on pointless administration. universities employed teams of administrators each devoted to developing a response to one of the possible outcomes.e. Neither is much use without the other. akin to saying to an alcoholic that although their brain has been destroyed.

in his naivety. albeit in code. while academic staff must devote themselves humbly to the University strategic plan for the greater good of the institution. The well-worn arguments about equity and access will be wheeled out in defense of business-asusual.e. Of course it did and not only was that paradigm sound but some of today‟s braver sandstone Vice Chancellors are now saying. asked the Vice Chancellor why he and the Vice Chancellors from the other institutions weren‟t combining forces to vigorously negotiate a better deal. Australia‟s Vice Chancellors are unlikely to be similarly pliable when it comes to the greater good of our education system. the former Institutes of Technology. Thus a pathway would be available for students who have sufficiently raised their scholastic performance to gain entry to what will inevitably be viewed as the more prestigious institutions. John Hay. the sector will be divided into a group consisting of the large research-intensive universities (i. John Hay‟s response was that Vice .g. that we should return to it in some form. marine science and tropical medicine at James Cook University) and the rest. So. a group consisting of universities recognised as specialists in niche areas (e. Under their scenario.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>157 We also hear from the upper echelons and social warriors that there is no going back since they believe that the pre-Dawkins tertiary sector contained nothing of any worth. which is Vice Chancellor code for returning to a tiered tertiary system. to a lesser extent. the sandstones) which will offer degrees across a broad range of disciplines and professions. At the time. The problem is that various institutions will perceive themselves as losers and the Vice Chancellors of such institutions are very unlikely to go down that path willingly. the Howard government funding cuts was the main agenda item and my colleague. The mindset of the Vice Chancellors came across very clearly to a colleague of mine at a meeting addressed by the then University of Queensland Vice Chancellor. Accordingly. although it would require all concerned to obliterate from memory the last 20 years of reforms. The latter will become primarily teaching institutions. there is talk about the need to increase university “diversity”. There is certainly considerable merit in this approach. these also-rans would be similar to the former CAEs and. offering certificate and diploma-level programs providing a certain quantity of student feedstock for the research intensive universities. In this sense.

While it would result in very little functional change to their operations or financial status. They have raised expectations to the point where nearly everybody expects there will be a place for their child at university followed by a degree and employment. calls the shots – even of supposedly autonomous institutions in a supposedly deregulated market. This would also undermine the position of the Educationalists who have propagated the myth that high school performance has no bearing on tertiary performance and that we are all equally talented intellectually. So the sandstone bosses continue to tiptoe through the tulips. If indeed we return to the promotion of excellence. The return to a tiered system would also make obvious the vast difference in scholastic achievement of school leavers. Australian institutions are locked into costly and destructive competition both at home and abroad. No university bureaucrat has climbed their way to the top to become the Vice Chancellor of a university with second-rate photo opportunities. for the sake of votes. the government is not markedly better off. rather than the self-preservation cause of their colleagues at the non-sandstone institutions. who have recently gained access to government support in various forms. education is now an open game on an unlevel playing field. If the universities are in a Gordian knot on this issue. Although they can and have made the Vice Chancellors dance to any tune. To wind back such expectations by re-establishing meritocratic institutions that focus on a fundamentally different form of education would be politically unpalatable. They are free . as the high achievers would naturally fill the research-intensive institutions. University marketing departments have reinforced this notion. leaving the other institutions to compete for the remaining customers. This attitude explains why the non-sandstone Vice Chancellors would never agree to become the heads of what might be branded as lesser institutions. they have emphasised their support for a socially equitable rather than a meritocratic tertiary sector.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>158 Chancellors were primarily interested in their “own” particular institution rather than finding and fighting for a united front! A rare moment of honesty indeed. competing not only with each other but also with private providers. looking for ways to conscript the government to their (dare we mention the word) elitist cause. they perceive it would make a great deal of difference to institutional and personal status. The tertiary landscape has changed far too much for that. it will certainly not resemble the pre-Dawkins era. The government. after all.

as Asia‟s investment in education matures. we have seen Central Queensland University effectively go broke due to their exposure to the foreign student market. leaving Australia‟s institutions to compete in the niche “sun and surf” student market.or. our students and foreign students will see Harvard Australia as a better option than.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>159 to pick off profitable courses and degree programs at will. the bulk of our institutions relying heavily on enrolments in popular (i. will assist the Phoenix (or should that be Rosella) rise from the ashes. They can ignore much of the extensive government. say. again with considerable government support. This will seriously compromise our foreignstudent funding model. Spectacular incidents. the University of Sydney . considerable excitement is added to this high-wire act by the ability of disreputable providers. The income from foreign students. all at huge expense. No doubt their new logo. But more dangerously for the sector is the serious long-term commitment by Asian countries to build their own substantial and competitive tertiary education institutions. such as the bashing of Indian students in Melbourne in 2009. for a host of reasons beyond the control of Australian institutions. the buy-out of their private partner for an undisclosed sum and the total rebranding of the institution (now CQUniversity Australia). University lecturers know there is huge disparity in the academic ability of students entering different institutions and. Where profit is the motive. As we have seen. How much has it cost the country to shore up the Indian student market? Foreign universities are now free to set up shop in Australia. be they private or public. it is only recently that the issue of “standards” has surfaced publicly. educational and social obligations and infrastructure required of Australian institutions. it‟s likely to be a no-holds-barred competition to which our institutions are ill suited. for that matter. to poison the full-fee paying foreign student well. upon which many institutions have become dependent. The future for institutions without a brand name on which to trade may indeed be bleak. And it may well be. profitable) courses for much of their income. This forced significant staff layoffs.e. will undoubtedly reduce the flow of foreign student dollars. Surely. Is it not foolhardy in the extreme to fund the nation‟s universities from a volatile and highly competitive market in which we will have ever decreasing influence? Indeed. in most cases there is an even larger disparity in ability . can evaporate in a matter of months. Like “diversity” in the university system. part of the five million dollar re-branding exercise. many foreign students will see greener pastures at home.

To me it seems to have much more to do with commitment. By showering resources on . Resources will be spread just as thinly. At present. we could expect the result to be the further lowering of standards to the lowest common denominator. Consequently the disparity in the quality of the graduates from any given program is also leading employers to perceive that degrees awarded from different institutions are not of equal quality. Confronting the standards issue suffers from the same problem as the institutional diversity issue. While many will point to funding as the root cause of the problems. A triumph for the bureaucratic machine but simply another tertiary-sector disaster. The growth in senior management and their associated costs will continue and infrastructure will not be renewed. Those in the middle may well stay on Prozac so that the idea of mediocrity will not feel like a bad option. because after all who wouldn‟t be committed. this would not alone reverse the decline in standards so evident since Dawkins. This imbalance must be redressed. The exclusion of academics from faculty governance means the workforce will remain demoralised causing further resignations of senior academics whilst hindering the recruitment of junior staff. the evidence of the last 20 years suggests our universities operate in such a way as to shortchange the more intelligent students. those who are most likely to suffer at the hands of the truth will spare no effort to obscure it. If history is any guide. Without reprioritising. I do not. Administrative and technical support for academic staff will not materialise. management decisions on academic matters are made primarily on economic grounds and are therefore fundamentally at odds with academic imperatives. no change in the quality of our undergraduates is likely. Stalling progress would simply require the establishment of interminable and costly reviews and investigations into the appropriate metrics to be used. making much smarter decisions about the use of resources and clever targeting of additional funding.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>160 between students within a given institution. namely. not only for the obvious educational benefits. The student/teacher ratio will not change. Even if we assume that the Australian university sector were to become stratified again. Stratification will not change the basics of funding and governance at the heart of the standards issue. but also for the mental wellbeing of the staff who are charged with the responsibility of delivering a world-class education. Are our politicians genuinely committed to the idea of fostering the nation‟s intellectual elite? While this may sound like a disingenuous question.

Scarce academic staff time is devoted to the poorly performing students rather than those most promising and motivated. waste is plentiful in the administrative arena. which contributes not only to administrative bloat but surrenders academic staff time to an array of unproductive activities. Having people work at the limits of their expertise is simply business sense. Regarding how we foster a knowledge elite. The government must return to the position of decades past and put trust in the academy. . the government would have to curtail and roll back its insatiable appetite for metrics. to deliver tertiary education. rather than managers. If the government is genuinely interested in seeing the nation‟s intellectual talent reach its potential. Until this is achieved. spending vast sums to convince others that less is more and that failure is success. then our institutions will be left to the tender mercies of managers. It would actually be far more cost effective to raise the quality of the intake by reforming the primary and secondary education systems and reinstituting appropriate entry requirements. For example. the quality of courses is degraded to obscure chronic underperformance. The global financial meltdown has made short work of our 20 billion dollar budget surplus and it now seems highly unlikely that any new money will be forthcoming from government. Under no circumstances should remedial teaching be part of the university mission unless the funding is drawn from State education department budgets. Clearly. as they have the necessary infrastructure and the breadth of research and discipline expertise. I believe this is a relatively simple and inexpensive matter. To achieve economies of scale.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>161 underachieving students. If there is no genuine commitment to a knowledge elite. As pointed out in earlier chapters. For its part. the existing funds have to be redirected from unproductive administration to teaching and research. then it becomes a matter of how to do it and how to fund it. elite science education would most likely be delivered at the sandstones. Entrance to programs would be based on ability determined largely by performance on a standardised entrance exam developed by the discipline experts who teach each particular program. these undergraduate programs would only be offered at a handful of universities. the responsibility for remedial instruction in the tertiary system should rightly fall to education academics at the direction of discipline experts who would devote their time to the academically competent students. We follow the Australian Institute of Sport model by establishing strands in the tertiary sector which cater specifically for the needs of the most intelligent and motivated students.

Elite students could undertake five instead of four courses each semester with a common. Probably many of these graduates would proceed to postgraduate training and eventually some to academic positions. of those who are. It is probably the only issue upon which everyone agrees. given the substantial budget appropriated to support the poorest performing students. The “new” funds would be substantial at the sandstone universities since they win the vast majority of competitive grants.subsidise their federal competitive research grants with money from HECS and student fees. Financial support is essential because these students would be expected to perform at a substantially higher level. But where will the money come from to fund an elite program? Currently. Students for whom it is impractical to commute would have their living costs subsidised to enable them to relocate for study. anyone who had completed a minimum of one year of an undergraduate science program at an Australian university would be eligible to sit the examination. physics and chemistry and a choice of two from history. better still. universities cross. mathematics. This happens in every other walk of life. their overall performance would be reviewed to determine whether they should stay in the elite strand or whether they should be offered a position in a standard program. Should a student fail one or more courses in any semester. This requires an incentive to reduce or. Students would then specialise in the remaining two years. Financial assistance would be means tested on a sliding scale. Not everyone will be admitted and. If the Rudd government had accepted this recommendation. The call for full funding of competitive grants now comes from all parts of the tertiary sector and is a central recommendation of the Cutler Report (Venturous Australia). . philosophy. This results from an inexplicable move by Simon Crean and the Keating Labor government in 1996. then the end of the cross-subsidy would have freed up additional funds to support the educational objectives of an elite undergraduate program. The degree would carry a name identifying the graduate as having come from the elite strand. psychology and a foreign language. avoid the distraction of paid work unrelated to their degree program. a proportion will not make it to the end. focused introductory year consisting of two semesters of biology.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>162 In addition to school leavers. which ended the indexation of operating grants and hence caused a shortfall in funds as research costs rose. One could hardly say that this was inequitable.

organising them into research teams and planning their research programs It looks very much like a Politburo five year plan or perhaps Mao‟s Great Leap Forward would be a reasonable analogy. why not restructure the bureaucracy? A reduction of administrative staff. Here is the opening description of the position: . if the destructive competition between institutions were eliminated. Strategic Planners and the like – how many do we really need? Almost none. thereby jeopardising corporate KPIs. LearnLink. Take for example the position for Leader. “Research”. for example. despite that expansion. Then there are the Chancellery courtiers . “Learning and Teaching” and “Human Resources”.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>163 And if something has to be restructured. No doubt. PVC Development. Bureaucracy at the senior level has ballooned in spite of claims that one of the major purposes of the Dawkins reforms was to bring financial and bureaucratic efficiency. PVC Flexible Delivery. is long overdue. funds for research are available to less than 20% of applicants and. The initiative could come complete with re-education for those academics who fail to “come on board”. the burgeoning numbers of support staff and the trappings of office is steep in anyone‟s language. most notably in the areas of “Quality”. The cost of these positions. Surely logic dictates that we rationalise the bureaucracy in our tertiary institutions rather than continually cutting funds for teaching and research. If you examine other parts of the bureaucracy. an advertised university position for a “Research Guru”. How many Pro Vice Chancellors (PVCs) does the system need? A quick glance at some of the organisation charts reveals positions like PVC Engagement. PVC International relations. even then. over 50% of academic staff believe the standard of undergraduate degrees has declined over the last two decades. PVC Academic Quality.Policy Advisors. PVC Social Inclusion and so on. Similarly. you will see collections of staff whose jobs carry particularly obscure responsibilities. And the Guru‟s responsibilities? Heading a Research Facilitation Unit helping staff gain research grants. they might have time for research projects and grant-writing. do not support the full cost of the projects. And who knows the extent of the collaborations which might arise if staff actually had time to engage intellectually with their colleagues and the funds to travel to conferences and other institutions? Universities are replete with these parasitic enclaves. Try. if the academic staff were not overloaded with teaching and administration. particularly at the senior management level. Yet.

which have produced few success stories.” When business leaders are asked what they want from universities. yet again. Let business do the commercialisation.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>164 The overarching role of the Leader LearnLink is to create and gain University wide ownership for the vision and philosophy of LearnLink and to lead and manage LearnLink academic and general staff in providing a cohesive organizational unit that is committed to best practice in supporting its students learning journey. Institutional Propaganda. commercial education activities have cost universities considerable sums. the position should be called Leader. Perhaps LearnLink does good work? If so. Even the leading US universities can only muster about 2% of their income from commercialisation of research. is the failure of Australia‟s pre-tertiary education system. most are unlikely to ever do well in a university environment. Likewise. Senator Kim Carr. many Vice Chancellors have changed . The financial results are very clear. The general consensus is that overall. best practice. Having uncritically accepted the Dawkins vision of university-as-corporation. If we are looking for places where money could be found. On the face of it. If scant university resources are to be used effectively. The admeisters who write this stuff must laugh all the way to the bank. we could do worse than apply a cost/benefit analysis to university commercial ventures. it hasn‟t worked. What this points to. The evidence clearly points to the failure of university bureaucracies to deliver on their basic responsibilities – the resourcing of a teaching and research effort that is in the national interest. Indeed. It doesn‟t work. Unfortunately. why employ someone to sell it to the rank and file? Is it genuinely cost-effective and does this sort of activity rightly belonging in a university? If students need such extensive support. Vice Chancellors have been overpowered by visions of themselves as lords and masters of corporate empires with tentacles penetrating every corner of the globe. simplicity and managerialism are mutually exclusive. it is not at all clear that resources put towards commercialisation of university research. students must be literate and numerate before they enroll. learning journey – it‟s buzz-word bingo heaven. vision. Ownership. represents value for money. It would appear that the former Innovation Minister. Don‟t try and pretend that universities are really big businesses. was also convinced of the folly of the commercialisation road – “…We also know the fact is that our universities are not great at commercialising their discoveries and it‟s been a great myth that we can turn our universities into Silicon Valleys. the answer is very simple – well-educated graduates.

Their children should know Australia‟s history. Much of what is trumpeted as corporate success is in fact illusory. It follows that. action is needed on several fronts. the pseudointellectuals. fact-based curriculum building on itself so that skills. resources could be used to much greater effect. The cost of manufacturing and maintaining the illusion has caused universities to fail their fundamental obligation to the Australian public. Rest assured that the practitioners performing these procedures will be recent graduates from a problem-based e-learning program delivered by casual staff with a full suitcase of education credentials. let it commence with lavage of the tertiary sector gastrointestinal tract to expel the resident parasites – the managerialists. lap banding and abdominoplasty. Considering their . Substantial changes are needed in the primary and secondary schools. If parents want their children to be literate and numerate and understand their place in the world they must push vigorously for a return to direct instruction in English.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>165 their title to President. the snake oil salespeople and the ever expanding coterie of Education poseurs. multiplication tables) and by repetition of tasks should be reintroduced together with assessment by examination and clear reporting of student performance. If the system is to be taken out of its death spiral.g. These practitioners will have prod-used the Botox LD-50 and achieved all of their university‟s Graduate Attributes as determined by assessment that is both authentic and sustainable. Botox will be administered to those who scowl. the emperors do indeed appear to have no clothes. Parents must demand a focus on instruction enabling their children to read. in spite of historically low funding levels. The administration should then be subject to radical liposuction. are used continually and become self reinforcing. mathematics. If the higher education is to be convulsed yet again by reform. They must demand a logical. Learning by rote (e. once acquired. as their egos preclude being “vice” to anything. it is also true that university managers have diverted much of the meagre resources to unproductive activities. history and geography. the history of the world and the geography of the planet. In spite of the Armani suits. write and comprehend standard formal English and to be competent with basic arithmetic without the aid of calculators and computers. the hangers on. While it is true that the sector has endured successive governments which have reduced the funding of tertiary education so that we now rank close to the bottom of the OECD countries.

these educational goals should be readily achieved using no more than 70% of that time.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>166 children are in class for about 30 hours each week. Parents should also push for changes to teacher training by demanding teachers with a higher level of discipline knowledge. universities have a responsibility to weed from the teacher training programs those who have not gained command over their chosen discipline. It will stunt the creativity of young minds. The theories they espouse have been monumental failures and it is time to return to a pedagogy we know worked for generations. Many good teachers continue to abandon the profession because the system did not value their expertise and did not permit them to do their job. I can see the hackles and hear the howls of the Educationalists at the mere mention of such ideas. No amount of professional development or coursework on teaching theory can make up for a lack of discipline knowledge. Their time is done. It will derail the self-esteem train. that this is exactly what Educationalists have achieved by their innovative primary and secondary pedagogy over the last three decades. In this respect. It will be unfair to the socially and economically disadvantaged. The teaching profession should provide pathways for experienced people from other professions to become teachers without having to obtain a formal education qualification. we need to know in general terms where our skills may lie. There needs to be recognition that we are not all intellectually equal. The space made in the program by jettisoning teaching theory courses can be utilised for the enhancement of the discipline component of the program. just as importantly. Since teachers themselves consider courses on teaching to be irrelevant. leaving 30% for other pursuits. they should be abandoned and replaced with on-the-job training and practical support during their early years from teachers who are acknowledged by their peers (not the administration) as being good teachers. . What better way to bring relevance and perspective to student learning than to be taught by someone with real-world experience? I am always surprised at the number of my colleagues from various professions who say they would really like to teach but simply couldn‟t stomach the junk teaching theory they would have to embrace to obtain a formal qualification. It is important to know how we rate against others in a variety of pursuits and. The idea that everyone should go to university is just as detrimental as the constant focus on inflating self-esteem irrespective of performance. The reality is. A good education should enable young people to identify where their talents and desires lie so they can seek fulfillment in those areas. however.

Those who still hold true to the ideals which brought them to the academy must seek like-minded colleagues and be prepared to support each other. Such acts will undoubtedly lead to punishment. This leaves academic staff as the last best hope. this also seems unlikely without a substantial and sustained mauling by public opinion – an understandably unlikely event. Twelve months in the working world after school gives young people an invaluable perspective on themselves and their future. It is not good enough to enroll simply because friends are enrolling and neither should parental pressure be the basis for enrollment. their students and the nation by acquiescing to Australia‟s absurd university regime is far greater than the harm that will befall them through action to right the system. have gone .Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>167 When students have completed their pre-tertiary schooling. Those currently entrenched at the top of the bureaucracy are not likely to admit failure and relinquish power willingly. it is difficult to be optimistic about the future of our universities. independence and the right to challenge the assumptions underlying the administration of their workplace. A person who is very practically oriented should consider becoming a first-rate tradesperson rather than a second rate university graduate. Academics must therefore end the isolation that the bureaucracy has foisted on them through their use of the administrative machine.they have nothing now to lose except the chains of bureaucracy. they should think carefully about embarking on a university degree. Tenure. If primary and secondary education does not improve. Unfortunately. . enrollment and deferral for 12 months or more is a very good option. a mandatory gap year would benefit all concerned. Issues must be made public on university campuses and in the media on an ongoing basis and the university media gag must be ignored. No individual should ever have to take action alone and no individual should have to defend themselves alone against management. They have much work to do if they expect their institutions to become places of genuine higher learning. For its part. the federal government created the conditions for the ascent of managerialism in universities and has the power to end it. the nation‟s once esteemed universities. Neither are they likely to do battle with the government to bring about positive change. Indeed. Fear in many forms pervades our universities. For students who are undecided. Academics will not overcome this fear until they realise that the harm which befalls them.

which the record will show as inglorious. able to brush the managerialists. to becoming an accepting malcontent. will require the emergence of a Churchillian figure. There are some faint glimmers indicating that a few in government and some in the upper echelons of the universities appreciate the problems and some of the basic answers. rather than resign myself. I will consider the effort worthwhile. as I have seen so many others do. If my work convinces one other to do likewise. however.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>168 When I look back at the path trod in my Australian academic career. Making genuine headway. I realise that the driving force for this book was the need to publicly expose a great wrong. the educationalists and political correctness to one side and to lead into action those willing to put their careers on the line for the benefit all students to come and the nation our young people will inherit. .

he continued his postdoctoral work at the Békésy Laboratory of Neurobiology which is part of Pacific Biomedical Research Centre located at the University of Hawaii. waste management. . a venerable Brisbane Engineering and Town Planning consultancy. He is the author of 25 papers published in peerreviewed international scientific journals. of of in of The award of a prestigious Fogarty Fellowship enabled him to complete three years of postdoctoral work at North America‟s leading publically funded institute for biomedical research. the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda Maryland USA) where he worked in the Laboratory of Neural Control and Laboratory of Neurophysiology. From 1988 to 1992. advanced instrumental techniques. He was awarded a Bachelor Science degree with First Class Honours from the University Queensland in 1979. He was made redundant by the university in July. Against the advice of all his colleagues. He returned to Australia in 1996 and took up a position with John Wilson and Partners. statistics. During a stint with a San Francisco-based environmental non profit organisation providing assistance to the community and city government with scientific aspects of military base cleanup. he accepted the position of Lecturer in Environmental Management in the fledgling Faculty of Science at the recently-created University of the Sunshine Coast. 2007 and subsequently re-entered private enterprise. he completed additional postgraduate studies within the Department of Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley Extension.Australian Universities: A Portrait of Decline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>169 About the Author Dr Donald Meyers is a Brisbane boy. as a project manager for environmental and environmental management projects. At USC he taught across a broad range of disciplines including environmental science. environmental management. physics and cell biology. He then undertook postgraduate work neuroscience at the same institution and was awarded a Doctor Philosophy in 1984. supplying environmental consulting services to a variety of private and publicsector clients.

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