Australian Universities have become increasingly squeezed over the last 2 decades through Dawkinization (dilution of universities with teaching-only, vocational areas), increasing dependence on student fees (especially from overseas students) and Federal Government parsimony.
For recent (2011) views of the parlous state of a top university, Sydney University, see “Sydney University academics speak out” ” written by 26 Sydney Academics (4 anonymous) (see New Matilda, 5 December 2011: http://newmatilda.com/2011/12/05/sydney-university-academics-speak-out ): “Staff who are not ‘pulling their weight’ can no longer be ‘carried’. According to estimates based on the university’s desired savings, up to 150 academic and 190 general staff jobs are under threat… Rather than research and teaching constituting the measure by which staff not "pulling their weight" are to be identified, the [Draft Change Proposal] DCP makes it clear that academics will be assessed purely on the basis of their publications ("outputs") between 1 January 2009 and 4 November 2011. The only way a staff member can avoid being "considered for possible redundancy or alternative arrangements" is by having four publications to their name in that period.” This sort of quality-ignoring, bean counting is puerile, absurd and antithetical to a sensible academic environment.
About 10 years ago I gave a nationwide broadcast entitled “Crisis in our universities” on the ABC Radio National Ockham’s Razor Program of the ABC Science Unit. This hard-hitting talk attracted a lot of interest such that a Google Search on for my talk “Crisis in our universities” on 9 December 2011 yielded 47,300 results with my 19 August 2001 talk the number 1 item on page 1. However the link elicited by this search recently became “dead” (see: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/science/ockham/stories/s347931.htm ) although it was recently revived as "live" link:
Over the last 10 years The ABC has lurched to the Right to the detriment of sensible, informed public discussion in Australia and indeed the very independence of Australia. More seriously, neocon-infested, Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist (NAZI)-beholden ABC has now developed an entrenched culture of censorship, self-censorship, lying by omission, lying by commission, holocaust ignoring and genocide ignoring.
About 10 years ago I gave a hard-hitting lecture to a conference about the state of Australian universities which was entitled “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/volume/1/jpu_1_s_polya.pdf ). However as the present example of ABC censorship shows, even if an academic is prepared to speak out on important issues Mainstream media and ABC censorship is likely to minimize any violation of the Mainstream establishment Wall of Silence.
Accordingly in the interest of free speech and in the public interest I have reproduced below the transcript of my 19 August 2001 talk “Crisis in our universities”:
“Gideon Polya: There is currently a major financial and ethical crisis facing Australian universities. The situation is so bad as to require legally-empowered public scrutiny of these obsessively secretive but nevertheless public institutions.
There is of course a funding deficit, but the real nub of the problem is a major departure from the core academic ethos of commitment to truth, reason, free speech, free inquiry, collegiality and public responsibility.
Australian universities used to be publicly-funded but otherwise highly independent public institutions that served as critical incubators for intellectual life. They are now shifting to being corporate, money-making organisations driven by a bottom line imperative to sell research to private industry and education to fee-paying student clients.
The problem with this transformation is that the customer is always right, leading to dollar-driven perversion of the academic ethos and academic standards to keep industrial or student clients happy.
Universities now have a major need for extra funding in addition to the Federal government grant and indeed about half of their income now comes from other sources, including full fee-paying students.
However economic realism does not mean that the core academic ethos has to be compromised. Further, while financial realities cannot be ignored, there are other critical public institutional attributes that can be budget-independent, for example, commitment to the core ethos, public service, intellectual diversity and rational public debate.
While more money for education and pure research is clearly needed, a more profound need is for a retreat back to decent values from our presently perverted university culture.
Dr Andrew Butfoy of Monash University has commented: 'Further cuts may be inevitable. Much here is in the hands of government and public opinion. But God help us if universities, of all places, confuse fund-raising with education, bullying with leadership and propaganda with truth.'
What has gone wrong in our universities?
Professor John Scott, a former vice-chancellor of La Trobe University, has commented: 'The prime roles of a university are threefold: to teach, to conduct research and to provide service, including constructive criticism, to the community . The teaching role has been severely threatened . Fundamental research is now difficult to conduct . critical comments by university staff have been censored . It is time that governments recognised that universities are not just an expensive luxury, but a highly important part of our national activity.'
Let us now consider these areas of concern, namely teaching, research and academic free speech.
First, teaching and the selling of degrees.
As the proportional funding of universities by the Federal government grant has shrunk to only about half of the total annual cost of about $9-billion, universities have sought to increase income from fee-paying students and from selling otherwise highly competitive places to fee-paying students with lesser accomplishments.
The Business Review Weekly commented recently that the 'universities are behaving like used-car salesmen' in the selling of degrees.
Top universities are quite happy to provide flexible distance-learning options as long as they can charge the earth; degrees are dumbing down and accordingly being devalued to meet the desires of the student clients; the charging of fees for overseas postgraduate research students (major contributors to Australian university research) is a continuing impediment; downsizing former academic teachers, re-naming academic divisions and wiping out whole departments and courses is robbing past students of institutional professional connections and devaluing their degrees.
Of course Australian degrees have necessarily been devalued over the last few decades by accommodating to the huge increase in participation in tertiary education. Degree value is hardly improved by anecdotal marking up of overseas full fee-paying students and supervisors having to significantly contribute to the postgraduate theses of students with inadequate English.
Australian universities have begun to financially exploit the avenue of Web-based education. However a well-established, extremely cheap scheme for provision of high quality tertiary education (for those capable of doing it) is the option of Reading Only Tertiary Education (or ROTE).
The acronym, ROTE is paradoxical, and the option profound because the student will buy the detailed syllabus and the prescribed top textbook by an international scholarly and didactic giant, study in a deep, holistic, absorbed and reflective fashion and ultimately sit a thoughtful accrediting exam set by a research-informed expert, and all of this for a mere $100 per unit.
Compare this with the astonishingly marked-up, proposed price of $10,000 per on-campus course unit for fee-paying students at a top university. What would the ACCC have to say about such a one-hundredfold price mark-up? Of course the bottom line is that university education requires educators who are active researchers.
Let us now consider the current downsizing of academic research.
Academics are expected to 'do research'. However the so-called Dawkinization of the universities (by Labor Minister Dawkins over a dozen years ago) meant (as a simplified generalisation) a fusion of vocational teachers from the Colleges of Advanced Education with the academic teacher-researchers of the traditional universities. The former were meant to be encouraged into research but the decline in research funding meant that simultaneously the latter were being pushed out of research.
Total Commonwealth support for Research and Development last year cost about $4-billion. However most of this was for applied research. A critical source of pure research funding for about 35,000 academics is the Australian Research Council (or ARC), a pitiful dollop of only about $100-million a year. The pure research funding in this country is a national disgrace.
A further source of pure research funding is the research-related component of university operating grants, this amounting to about $1-billion a year. However there are huge differences in how this intramural academic trough is accessed by big pigs, little pigs and church mice.
Research funding has increasingly involved industrial collaboration but pure research funding has become much harder to acquire. Thus fewer than 10% of academic in the overall system apply for large ARC Grants and of these only about 20% are successful. The vast majority of academics evidently do without any extramural research funding or operate with minimal funding.
The system demands that academic do research but simultaneously declines to permit them to do so. A reductio ad absurdum can be offered that if every Australian academic spent several weeks applying for a large ARC grant, then the total cost of actually writing the applications would be commensurate with the total money available.
The widely held expectation at the moment is that research funding and research strength in our universities will soon largely coalesce into first class institutions, mainly the Big Eight universities, with some specialist research outcrops elsewhere.
Finally let us look at academic freedom.
The core academic ethos involves commitment to truth, reason, untrammelled inquiry, free speech and collegiality, but this is increasingly being turned on its head by rampant anti-intellectual managerialism.
The University has been hijacked by a managerial clique that is now largely divorced from scholarship. Indeed such managerial academics have been described as 'refugees from scholarship'.
The intellectual core of our universities is in the humanities, social sciences and science, areas that are the sources of the international scholarly reputations of these institutions. Yet it is precisely these financially unprofitable but research strength areas that are currently being downsized in favour of business related vocational areas that can pay in terms of fee paying students.
Effective free inquiry within our universities can be constrained by Codes of Conduct that confine public comment to specific areas of expertise; by major limitations on research time, research funding and other resources; through the compromising of academic copyright; and by secret corporation-university no competing research legal agreements to which the constrained academics are neither privy nor signatories.
Time does not permit even a simple alphabetical listing of abuses suffered by academics in the new corporatising universities; they range from ageism, bullying, censorship and corruption through nepotism (familial and otherwise) to racism, secret constraining legal agreements, secret denigratory files, stalking, theft, threat and victimisation. What a disgrace. The elaborate academic courtesies seen at graduation ceremonies are a tremendous sham in the current environment.
A fundamental problem can be seen to be sustained academic unresponsiveness and self-censorship that is the more extraordinary deriving from institutions of learning in an ostensibly open and free society. However our Kafkaesque, Orwellian universities are now a bully's paradise.
Australian academics are perceived to be highly intimidated in an environment in which there is increasing financial constraint, massive overwork, constraining codes of conduct, effective absence of tenure for many, massive downsizing, threats of downsizing and aggressive, rude management.
Some recent occurrences illustrate problems for vocal academics, including astonishing victimisation, gagging and threatening of dissenting academics.
This is Australia in the New Millennium. Commonplace Australian academic realities have now overtaken implausible satire.
Public scrutiny and action is now urgently required to halt and reverse the perversion of our universities.”
In conclusion, censorship is antithetical to academic scholarship and to ethical media reportage. As Australia has radically shifted to the Right, so has the taxpayer-funded ABC. A neocon-infested, Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist (NAZI)-beholden ABC has now developed an entrenched culture of censorship, self-censorship, lying by omission, lying by commission, holocaust ignoring and genocide ignoring. ABC Censorship has reached a new low with the “disappearing” of the frank analysis “Crisis in our universities”.