13 Aug 2012

Grattan Report A Win For Uni Bullies

By Stuart Rees
The managerial mindset that rules our universities scores a win every time a think tank recommends slashing subsidies or streamlining courses. Education should be for the common good, says Stuart Rees
In the Olympic Games, we would be surprised if competitors who finished last received gold medals. But in Australian universities, management crafts its own gold standard: be rewarded for applying a failed model — increased class sizes, staff doing more with less and students asked to pay fees which they can ill afford.

The pursuit of tarnished gold is revealed in a report on higher education by the Grattan Institute, whose director Andrew Norton proudly recommends a 50 per cent reduction in government subsidies for fees, and for university students to pay more. Fred Hilmer, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales chimes in with his usual prescriptions for worshipping the market, encouraging competition and raising prices.

Norton and Hilmer's prescriptions reveal the selfishness of economic rationalist policies and the bullying that management uses to implement them. They echo Margaret Thatcher's claim that "there's no such thing as society".

Thatcher's emphasis on individual striving and reward, with no vision of collective wellbeing and responsibility nurtures Norton who thinks that people who do not go to university should not have to subsidize those who do, that citizens should only contribute to a service if it benefits them. Such values are the very opposite of the views of the visionary post-war UK policy architect Richard Titmuss who insisted that public policy should be about a common good built through the dominance of altruism over egoism.

Professor Hilmer's glee over the Grattan Report was apparent in his plea that universities should be able to set their own fees. The characters setting the fees would presumably be the same invisible, unaccountable managerialists who have already contributed to the financial woes of Sydney University and UNSW, among others.

At universities such as UNSW, the deterrent effect of exorbitant fees partly explains declining enrollments of international students. In the face of such evidence, the managerialists want to charge more. It's the financial equivalent of "the flogging will continue until morale improves".

Belief in economic rationalism fosters management controls that contribute to workplace bullying. At UNSW the governing body or Council has delegated its decision-making authority to three senior executives — of which Hilmer is one. The same pattern is repeated at the Faculty level, where Faculty Boards have disappeared, where a Dean's role is to tell staff what's happening and what they should do. Speaking with NM, a senior UNSW academic said, "we just click our heels and carry out management orders. The threats of forced redundancies are part of a pattern of saving money by getting rid of permanent academic staff ands casualising the rest. Morale is rock bottom".

Not to be outdone by its neighbour, Sydney University also likes control to ensure compliance. The latest NTEU Newsletter reports that "bullying by management is present in the majority of workplace disputes. Whether in being made offers they're told they can't refuse, disagreements over the value of an academic's work, or unreasonable directives to perform additional work, bullying is real and shows little sign of dissipating".

Application of the new gold standard appeared at Sydney in 2011. At a time when staff were being told that the university was broke, an average $61,000 bonus was paid to each of five deputy vice chancellors. These rewards are unsurprising if universities are organized as business operations to be run according to "market values" — golden handshakes for chief executives who have deceived their shareholders, left their companies with massive debts and their former staff with no work.

The economic mantra to compete whatever the cost means that there's no shortage of investment in boasting. Melbourne is better than Sydney which is better than Queensland which is better than UNSW which is better than ... A sociology of boasting might reveal the time and money that goes into this activity but some of the absurdities are known. Sydney University recently paid millions to a Chicago management company for advice on how to appear more modern. Their recommendations were to remove the Latin motto from its shield, to publish a booklet to tell staff how to speak to students of different age groups and to force all foundations to adopt only the University's logo.

Such motto madness also flourishes at UNSW where a fatuous and childish slogan, "Never Stand Still", has been introduced on every bit of publicity. No-one knows how much was paid to a public relations company for this piece of "branding" but I'm reliably informed that the word "Australia" is to be added to that university's crest because nobody seems to know where to locate UNSW.

This is to say nothing for the mountains of glossy university magazines which describe alumni achievements or which list the names of those who have responded to the latest appeal for funds. These pamphlets have nothing to do with students' education, but are a response to the instruction to "dramatise our virtues".

Economic rationalism and managerialism entrap students in a cage of "efficiency". Aided by computer technology, efficiency can mean that they seldom read a complete book, let alone re-read it. Caught out by limited funding, the managerialist culture ensures that the days of time and space to enjoy university education — to read, discuss, experiment, write, re-write and be stimulated by the experience of face to face discussions in small tutorials — are over. Students' stamina is being tested, not necessarily their intellects.

To his credit, Federal Minister Chris Evans recognizes that if the findings of the Grattan report were implemented, Australian students would carry $3 billion more debt a year. He says, "We don't want a situation where students leave university, join the work force and have debts that shadow them for years, preventing them from marrying, getting a mortgage and developing their lives."

But Evans also needs to be reminded that among OECD countries, Australia spends only 0.7 per cent of GDP on higher education. Only students in Japan, Korea and the USA pay more.

The financial malaise of public institutions, not just universities is perpetuated by an individualistic worldview. Hilmer, Norton & Co believe the economy must dominate society. To them, human relationships are merely a by-product of economic transactions.

To challenge the economic rationalists, we need a vision of a common good which would also be cost-effective. This means giving support to departments which are vulnerable because they can't generate income and encouraging collegiate partnerships between staff and students in smaller, less well endowed institutions. The goals of university education can include not only a better educated society but also a civil and socially just one.

A highly motivated, well informed and skilled workforce will depend on much larger investment from Federal governments. It will also require an end to practices that place managers on the podium for gold, when they've really failed to perform at all.

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Posted Monday, August 13, 2012 - 19:03

ummm...so how exactly are well-educated and informed citizens NOT beneficial to society?
And using the logic that why should all people fund tertiary education if they don't use or benefit from it...I say...I don't use a prison...I don't compete at the Olympics...I don't use many public spaces in major cities as I live in regional Victoria...
These people's logic is flawed, and what a concern that they can affect young people's lives/futures and the quality of social existence of our entire society. Who gave them this role? They don't deserve this role nor are they trained and qualified to make decisions that affect large sections of society (and that reach into the future too).
When will this all change?
Who gives these people so much power?

Posted Monday, August 13, 2012 - 19:45

What do you expect.
Its Fred Hilmer the Father of Privatisation and economic Rationalization in Aust. Stuffed up Fairfax in his 1st foray of actualy doing rather then talking and now this blockhead is back in Uni's.

say no more, I wouldn't pee on that bloke if he was on fire in the middle of the street.

The mans a Vampire, bring back the Inquasition or what ever they called it. Economists their all drop kicks.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. thomasee73
Posted Monday, August 13, 2012 - 21:02

What I think is deliciously ironic is that it all started with Philosophy, which invented Science, and Empiricism, which turned into Positivism, which - when applied to economics is Rationalism, which when applied to education decides that Philosophy should not be materially supported....

Philosophy - the line of inquiry that was killed by it's intellectual descendants - not merely starved by competition for resources, but almost actively sought out and destroyed.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. thomasee73
Posted Monday, August 13, 2012 - 21:02

What I think is deliciously ironic is that it all started with Philosophy, which invented Science, and Empiricism, which turned into Positivism, which - when applied to economics is Rationalism, which when applied to education decides that Philosophy should not be materially supported....

Philosophy - the line of inquiry that was killed by it's intellectual descendants - not merely starved by competition for resources, but almost actively sought out and destroyed.

Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 03:29

"there’s no such thing as society"
...well, unless we want it.

thomasee73: "Positivism, which - when applied to economics is Rationalism"
-That word (rationalism) does not mean what you think it means.

Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 07:38

pandot - I think thomas was just playing with the words...

thomas - now let me get serious mister...this idea of positivism and empiricism usualy suckers me in! I had to laugh - I was in a student tutorial last week to help students with work they find difficult. The groups was evenly split between science and community welfare majors. The science students quickly picked up the information and scientific method and left us community welfies for dead. Thing is - they couldn't get us understanding what they understood...it wasn't til there was a concept that I actually DID understand, that the differences between how these groups of students think, use language and their brain's strengths. The sci students couldn;t get the other comm welf students to undersstand the concept, but I COULD get them to understand it!! I was sitting there laughing to myself and the sci students didn't even get what was funny about the situation!! Those students might KNOW it and might pick it up quickly - but they had NO idea at all, how to help another person acquire that knowledge!! I might not have positivist strengths but I certainly know how to use language to communicate with others!!

Also, what made me think to write you a NM post, was an article I am reading about poverty. What the grassroots workers in the poorest countries use to measure poverty, is different to what the economist-types use to develop figures and statistics about poverty. Those with the empirical brain are working with sterile numbers...they measure income/expenditure quite easily and use this to claim poverty is decreasing. The workers on the ground notice factors such as closing of bus services, drugs running out in an urban slum medical centres, lack of school text books and teachers in schools and know these affect standards of living. Yet the economists do not include such elements within their number crunching techniques...thus notion of poverty get completely distorted.

Now, which approach do you think gets privileged? Which interpretation of reality do you think the World Bank will use? Which factors help or hinder addressing poverty and well being for poor people?

This might seem like it gets off the topic of this article...but I jst wanted to highlight the grave concern with privileging one style and perspective of interpreting information and numbers over others. And once again...WHY can the configuration of analysis that favours the positivist mind be empowered as the only desirable view? What is the cost of this on society? The cost is that we lose all the people with social and emotional intelligences, it becomes a revolution of intelligences where the positivists, the empiricists are like Stalin or Mao or Hitler...mowing down all others with their intellectual, empirical Sherman tanks...

Ok OK really getting carried away there hehe!

David Skidmore
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 09:00

The individualist/privatisation mindset regards tertiary education as private gain and so students should be forced to pay more. However, it is unlikely that Hilmer would like to be operated on by a surgeon who got into university by virtue of simply having more money than anyone else.

Tertiary education is entirely to the benefit of society as opposed to the individual. Society needs civil engineers, doctors etc. However, I as an individual do not need to be a doctor or need any form of tertiary education. But no modern society can exist without a tertiary educated workforce.

Therefore, given the ledger is so lopsided, the state should entirely fund tertiary education and Hilmer and his mates suggestions should be completely junked.

Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 10:10

This is a grubby neocon report from a grubby neocon institute backed by grubby neocon people.

The Grattan Institute is backed by the University of Melbourne, an elitist institution with an appalling record of connection with elitism, Educational Apartheid, perversion of scholarship that suits the interests of the corporate Establishment, and egregious censorship of its own academics and others. Thus the University of Melbourne backs the taxpayer-funded, universities-backed and academic -based web magazine The Conversation that has an appalling record of censorship and blocking of informed , credentialled academic opinion that it does not want Australians to read, know about or think about (see "Censorship by The Conversation": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by ).

The Grattan Institute is also backed by the Australian Government, the Victorian State Government and BHP Billiton that have a common terracidal policy of unlimited Australian coal, gas and iron ore exports that threatens to exceed the "terminal CO2 pollution budget" of the whole world (that cannot be exceeded if we are to avoid a catastrophic 2C temperature rise) by a factor of THREE (3) (for the Awful Truth see section E,
Climate change course": https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course ) .

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) commences
“1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit..." The Grattan Institute and its backers are evidently happy to violate this fundamental human right in the interests of the corporate Establishment.

Education at all levels should be free (see "Educational Apartheid": https://sites.google.com/site/educationalapartheid/ ) and there are a number of models for tertiary education that make this possible (see "Accredited Remote Learning": http://accreditedremotelearning.blogspot.com.au/2007/01/education-should... and "Excess Mortality, Literacy and Accredited Remote Learning": http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/27187 ). Indeed 46-Nobel Laureate Harvard and 77-Nobel-Laureate MIT have now extended free access to all their courses to provision of credit in their "edX" intitiative (see "Harvard, MIT Will Bring Classes To The Masses With Their ‘edX’ Online Learning Initiative", Innovation, Toronto, 3 May 2012: http://www.innovationtoronto.com/2012/05/harvard-mit-will-bring-classes-... ).

People like me are living proof that higher education should be free and at any rate can be vastly cheaper: a 5-decade-career scientist well past formal retirement age, these days I do the undergraduate teaching of a full-time academic in 10% of the time for 10% of the money at a good university - my students are already paying 10 times too much for their undergraduate tuition. It is utterly wrong that undergraduates should be asked to pay for the research and research complement of their nation.

For accounts of how our universities are being perverted by neocon censorship and exclusion see "Crisis in Our Universities": http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/crisis-in-our-... and “Current academic censorship and self-censorship in Australian universities” (“Current academic censorship and self-censorship in Australian universities”, Public University Journal, volume 1, Conference Supplement, “Transforming the Australia University”, Melbourne, 9-10 December 2001: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/57092/20080218-1150/www.publicuni.org/jrnl... ).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 15:23

Fightmumma, you are giving me the education I wish I'd had when young. Thank you.

Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 18:43

Oh yes fightmumma, is a damn fine Aussie.
She never ceases to amaze me, she gets better and better.

DrGideonPolya is right about Educational Apartheid.

The working classes go too smart, the anti Vietnam Protests proved that educated you ng people were dangerous to the Elites.

So they got them all hooked on drugs, stuck needles into their arms and just like the early Chinese our young are now too busy worring about their next fix, thats why we went to Iraq so easily.

Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 04:54

People an excercise in human decency, greed and stubborness, even fear. Watch, listen, have a look and listen at/to the audiance who they look like, how they are dressed etc.

Listen to the facts, look at Lucy Turnbulls face and then analyse the outcome and ask. FACT, FICTION or Revenge. Read all of the Bio's and then ask yourselves how did the vote fall the way it did.

IQ2: Only Capitalism Can Save Us

Its critics have been crowing ever since the GFC, blaming our market-based economy for most of the world's ills...from poverty, pestilence and exploitation to environmental degradation. But, what would we do without it?

"Only Capitalism Can Save The Planet" was the topic on hand at the most recent IQ Squared debate in Sydney. The lineup for the two teams included a businessman, banker, economics writer, activist, academic and poet.

Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 11:58

If these armchair experts would bother to drop their ideological blindfolds and look around in the world they would very quickly realize that countries providing free tertiary education are industrial powerhouses with vast benefits for the whole society trickling down from their highly educated and productive workforce.

Countries with no natural resources and no spoils from colonies such as Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark having the highest standard of living - only because their economy is based in a well educated, creative and productive workforce. Most German universities recently backpedaled on university fees that were introduced in recent years after realizing the vast damage to it's economy!

It is really simple - most parents realize that a good education for their children is just about the best long term investment they can make for the sake of the whole family. No different at national level!

Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 20:42

hherb - yes i think you're right - these people have probably always lived in academia, not the real world, and they probably never had to experience life the hard way where deficiencies in education and training impacted their life chances...therefore access to education as a helpful part of improving people's lives...is invisible to them.

Enlightenment Guy
Posted Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 11:49


Good point about Hilmer and Fairfax, but we must also remember how astute the UNSW Singapore move was! And also how many people suffered for that piece of strategic management. A very expensive disaster, pioneered by Fred. I would love to get some details on morale in Australian universities - it seems as if over the last 30 years a big administrative rump has developed, surely we could trim a bit of fat off that. From what I know in Victoria and NSW morale in the universities is really quite low - if morale is bad then you have to blame the guys at the top and their 'visions' (fantasies). In the end there are a few things in life that ought never be run for profit and which the private sector ought to be locked out of influencing: health, education, prisons, policing and the military come to mind immediately. But the CEOs (and that is what they are now) of our big universities want more and more private money buying research. Really, its a bit of a joke that we let these guys help shape the future of Australia. We need to just purge the administrative wing - probably the best place to start is removing those with degrees in management or who have come out of business schools.