Reclaiming Australian public universities

I entered the ‘neoliberalisation of higher education’  debate with some trepidation this year. After nearly 14 years in Australia, I realised that the gradual loss of the public university, and the many academic and professional freedoms associated with employment within one resulting from increased competitiveness and cost savings, is what I and my colleagues were witnessing. The last straw for me was an edict from my former Faculty at Melbourne in 2014  [and now being adopted by the most recent Faculty], to set ‘targets’ for individual academic performance geared to your status (in other words, if you don’t meet them you are up for a rough ride, and potentially the ejector seat). It was the insistence on getting a certain research grant income that got to me – actually we should be praised for saving the university and the country money, and doing our research cheaply and with dedication. We don’t all need large sums from research councils that pay large overheads to our universities.  Praise does come for doing our teaching really well, and for writing stuff  –  but my vision is that writing needs to be read by the intended audience, and thus there is usually no need to use the commercial academic publishers that cost our universities so much money.

I had never heard of such an edict requiring scholars  to get research funds since I started teaching in 1993, seven universities ago. When you look at the only major source of funding in Australia for people like me, the success rate hovers around 15.2% so it is not an easy proposition. It is even harder to fund research if you are one of the 50% or so of lecturers that has no stable long term contract.

Unfortunately, cheap research and social responsibility  aren’t quite what the university management wanted (preferring income  from grants, and recognition through top publications, patents, industry engagement etc).  I concluded we needed an international campaign to preserve what is left of academic freedom in Australia, as we buckle down to our 60 hour weeks with the normal passion most of us reserve for teaching and research.

I discovered Halfmann and Radder’s work on the situation in the neoliberalised Dutch universities, and ended up writing a reply paper about Australia  with Jason Byrne here in an international collection dealing with 14 countries.   or


People told me we have the analysis about right, but see what you think.

I am just one small player – here is another initiative led by Kristen Lyons et al.

And here is an evolving  collection on ‘abolishing the university’, edited by the director of the Open Library of the Humanities, Martin Eve , and Lou Dear

An Ephemera collection on The labour of academia’, 2017.

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