Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Economic policy > These are our leaders?

These are our leaders?

August 29th, 2014

The website of the Group of Eight long-established universities has a section devoted to “Leaders Statements” supporting the Abbott government’s university reform[1] program. It’s a pretty depressing read. Not only are our leaders going in a direction that almost no-one in the sector wants to follow, but the quality of their arguments is depressingly mediocre. It’s a sad reflection on the university sector if this group is the best we can come up with to lead us.

First, there’s executive director Michael Gallagher (a longtime education bureaucrat rather than a former academic). His boilerplate advocacy of microeconomic reform reads as if he hasn’t had a new idea in 20 years. Most notably, he’s still beating the drum for the discredited for-profit model of the University of Phoenix. After giving the most glancing acknowledgement of the scandals that have exposed Phoenix as a machine for ripping off federal grants, he says

The important policy point is not about individual providers but about the directions of change that pioneering providers indicate for the future through their successes and failures. The thing about the US enterprise culture, unlike Australia’s, is a willingness to accept learning from failure as a step to success.

I thought we’d got over this “succeeding by failing” stuff back at the time of the dotcom bubble.

Then we have Warren Bebbington of the University of Adelaide who asserts

in a competitive environment, some fees will go up and some down. Students will have a range of choice they have never had before

Seriously? If Bebbington really believes this, I have a perpetual motion machine to sell him. His Go8 colleague, Ian Young was much more honest when he said that the Go8 institutions will not only raise fees across the board but will use the resulting financial freedom to cut intakes and offer smaller classes. That is, students will face both higher prices and less choice.

But the prize for embarrassment must surely go to the University of Western Australia whose Vice-Chancellor, Paul Johnson, asserts

“Government does not decide what businesses can charge for a loaf of bread, a litre of milk or any other product or service. Why should universities be any different?”

Apparently Professor Johnson has never heard of the Economic Regulatory Authority of Western Australia which, like its counterparts at state and federal level regulates the prices of a wide range of products and services, for a wide range of very good reasons. This is a level of argument which would be lame even for a random rightwing blogger.

Unfortunately, there is nothing new in this. Back in the 1990s, Alan Gilbert of Melbourne was pushing the Phoenix model and asserting that traditional academics were “handloom weavers” doomed to extinction. Among his many achievements was the $50-100 million or so wasted on U21Global, Melbourne University Private and similar initiatives. Before his unfortunate brush with plagiarism, David Robinson touted Monash as “the world’s first global university”, launching a series of overseas campuses that rapidly turned into money pits. At CQU, Lauchlan Chipman pioneered the use of universities as devices to rort Australia’s immigration system, with expensive central city campuses devoted entirely to overseas students majoring in Permanent Residency, while the domestic students in Rockhampton got nothing. The same advisors who pushed these disasters, along with likeminded successors, are driving education policy today.

fn1. I’ve given up using scare quotes around “reform”. Reform is just change of form, and there’s no reason to expect it will be beneficial.

  1. David Allen
    August 29th, 2014 at 17:24 | #1

    It’s almost like these mental giants would be happy for students to pay through the nose but not actually darken their doorsteps. Education as a profit centre providing no actual service. The only glimpses of academe would be staged photos in glossy brochures next to the place where you put your credit card details.

  2. hc
    August 29th, 2014 at 17:31 | #2

    Many of these people are failed academics who pretend to be managerial/business types. The lack of substance in their claims would be the basis of criticism in a first year tutorial. Indeed the laws of logic and evidence are lost on these clowns. Paul Johnson simply talks so much that no one else can get a word in. He wins because his opponents always encounter the full-time bell.

    The government is cutting funding by 20% and allowing universities to increase charges to fill the gap. This has a definite implication. Admission to university will be based on ability to pay rather than academic merit. This disadvantages the Go8 and those students in Australia with ability but without wealthy parents.

    It is naive free market fundamentalism at its worst.

  3. Newtownian
    August 29th, 2014 at 17:34 | #3

    These management school rejects. Your comments remind me of our local incumbent’s offering in the way of vision of the future which were circulated in bulk and probably added to their CV. Frightening absent of anything including vision. Then there are the meetings which are described in a way that suggests democracy where no one if foolish enough to express an opinion that I’ve ever seen.

    We’ve come a long from Eliot Gould in Getting Straight. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Straight

  4. John
    August 29th, 2014 at 18:23 | #4

    Paul Johnson was La Trobe’s prior VC – not a good track record. La Trobe went from #3 to #6 in Victoria. High ATAR student numbers falling, research reputation plummeting. Probably thought he was running a corner store.

  5. Christine Phillips
    August 29th, 2014 at 19:04 | #5

    Ah Robinson, we remember him well. Just about recovered from his glorious mismanagement

  6. Ikonoclast
    August 29th, 2014 at 20:30 | #6

    All these guys are such mismanagers. These Uni “leaders” plus Alan Joyce (Qantas) and Tony Abbott. None of them could manage a corner store. Hopeless idiots all of them.

  7. ZM
    August 29th, 2014 at 21:04 | #7

    One thing is it is made very difficult for students to lodge a formal complaint about the administration of the university not following the act that incorporates the university which is a very grave offense. I have been trying for ages now – and partly it is slow because I have other things to attend to and it is a bit upsetting so I don’t concentrate on it that much – but partly it is because trying to do so is like being in a Kafka book.

    First I tried to complain to the Minister for Higher Education, since he is the Minister ; but he said go to the university and the ombudsman. I tried with the ombudsman ; but they said I had to go through the university’s formal process and only once that was exhausted and I didn’t get the matter fixed should I go to the ombudsman. So I went through the student complaint process ; but the advisor said there was no process for my complaint and I should go through the protected disclosures process. So I saw one of the administrators in charge of protected disclosures and he said the protected disclosures process had changed and I had to go to the Victorian anti-corruption police and complain of corruption or I had to go to the dean of my department about my complaint. I explained I was told there was no process for my complaint if I complained to the dean, but I was told it was either complaining to the dean or alleging corruption :( this put me in a bind indeed, for I can’t see myself being very liked by the dean if I make my complaint to him, but the Victorian anti-corruption police don’t have any expertise in investigating whether universities meet the requirements of the act of parliament that establishes them… I think this is just like a Kafka story, so I am going about it very slow.

  8. Collin Street
    August 29th, 2014 at 21:26 | #8

    Breech of act -> county court action. Or federal court if it’s a commonwealth act.

    Or drop it.

    [ombudsmen lack coercive power, and rely on people seeing the error of their ways once pointed out. For sporadic/isolated/anomalous problems this can work, you've got "normal situation" and "anomalous situation X" you can compare-and-contrast, but where it's all "anomalous situation X" there's no contrast, and you'll be engaging with the people who thought from the get-go that situation X was fine, dandy, and even obligatory.

    Not a huge fan of ombudsman-type agencies, no.]

  9. August 29th, 2014 at 21:29 | #9

    OK, so to be the devil’s advocate, is there anything wrong with universities as they are now?

    Are there any changes that should be made?

  10. ZM
    August 29th, 2014 at 21:39 | #10

    I haven’t heard of the county court. I have heard of the magistrates court and the Supreme Court – is the county court in the middle of this?

    I think it is expensive to go to court and I do not have much money. I think I better brave it out complaining to the dean first and see what is next. I am not sure of the etiquette though – I have a feeling it would be more polite to visit the chair before going to the dean. And maybe write to the Visitor since he is the greatest head of the university though he seems not to care very much about ensuring its meeting its requirements at the moment.

    I guess I could go through all the ways at university, then to the ombudsman, then to the court if I am still not satisfied. But the expense of court would still be difficult to meet – plus I am not sure about the courts – VCAT often ignores the sustainability parts of the planning laws in its rulings – what if the county court ignores sustainability too?

  11. iain
    August 29th, 2014 at 22:07 | #11

    Aussie sandstones are dead. Tertiary education is a work in progress.

    It will only take a few enlightened major employers to tip things in favour of real world education and world class pedagogy.

    A degree, from a brand name uni, just signifies that you were willing to sacrifice years of your life for a piece of paper to comply with outmoded HR policies. No more, no less.

  12. Fran Barlow
    August 29th, 2014 at 23:29 | #12


    Normally the District Court is between the two.

  13. Collin Street
    August 30th, 2014 at 03:40 | #13

    @Fran Barlow

    Depends on the state. In Vic it’s magistrate’s — county — supreme, in NSW it’s district instead of county. Other states I don’t know; I don’t think tasmania has an intermediate court.

    [the name itself comes from their descent from english quarter-sessions courts, which had a lot of administrative and even legislative functions at the county level in the days before "separation of powers" arose; shows the arbitrariness of our current conceptions.]

  14. John Quiggin
    August 30th, 2014 at 05:59 | #14

    @John Brookes

    I’ll try to write a proper post on this some time. But microeconomic reform is going in the wrong direction. The “Melbourne model” introduced by Glyn Davis at least addresses the right kinds of issues.

  15. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 06:52 | #15


    It is not correct to generalise that failure to follow the University’s Act is a very grave offence. In some cases that will be true, but in some other cases failure to follow the Act is not an offence at all. It depends on which part of the Act is not being followed, and how it’s not being followed.

    If the behaviour you’re concerned about falls within the definition of ‘improper conduct’ in the Protected Disclosure Act 2012, then it should be easy enough to complain to the IBAC. Obviously you’re not guaranteed to get the result you want from that — how could there be a complaint procedure that guaranteed people would get the results they want? there couldn’t — but I don’t see how there’d be anything difficult about making the complaint. Why don’t you try that?

  16. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 07:08 | #16

    Having some slight personal knowledge of Mike Gallagher, I was curious to see what he had to say. At first it seemed as if his only principle was ‘Whatever is, is right’, but looking closer I decided he’s not in Sir Humphrey Appleby’s mode. I started to get the impression of a dedicated trendoid (which is consistent with what I do remember of him). A fashion victim wants to ape the style that everybody else is following, but also hopes to be one of the first to climb on a new bandwagon, ahead of the crowd but only just. To me, Mike Gallagher writing about the policies of the past resembles somebody looking at old outfits from the back of the cupboard: some of them look a little embarrassing now, but you do have to remember they were what everybody was wearing at the time. Besides, there are some of them you could get out again now — not exactly as they were then, or course, but hasn’t the time come when you could use them in a fresh way, do something just that little bit different, don’t you think?

    I know almost nothing about the University of Phoenix, but if it has failed then we should learn from its failures: we should learn not to do what the University of Phoenix did. To learn the lesson properly, though, it is essential to analyse the failures and understand the reasons for them and this is something a trendoid fashion-victim can’t do. I suspect that what Mike Gallagher means by saying that we should learn from failure is that we should keep trying on new styles. Look at this, look at this! It’s the very latest thing!

  17. ZM
    August 30th, 2014 at 08:24 | #17


    The main part the university is not keeping is that all the teaching of its professors is required to be for the local, national, and international good. This is the Provost’s responsibility. I think it is a grave offence (although probably not done in a ‘hyuk hyuk hyuk’ way but because of trying to satisfy too many masters [not the student/graduatetype]). It’s quite likely we’ll get lots of resource wars, extinctions, and climate change thanks to all the world’s universities’ flawed teachings. I do not know if all the world’s universities are required to teach for the local, national, and international good though – but since mine is I will try to complain to get the Provost to sort out all the muddled teachings so as to contribute to avoiding the 3 not good things above.

    The problem with going through the Parliamentary protected disclosure act 2012 would be that I doubt any of the officers have experience in auditing university lectures and tutorials to see if the teaching is keeping to the act. It is hard to say one way or another if the officers would be good at it or not – but what if they liked other sorts of adrenaline pumping investigations and got bored and didn’t pay attention or slept while auditing the lectures and tutorials?

    Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis chaired the discussion on the Piketty phenomenon – so maybe hopefully he does care about remedying injustice. I think all the administrators are moving into the old building where the foundation stone and cloisters are – so hopefully this will give them more inspiration to heed the university’s motto.

  18. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 09:02 | #18


    The University of Melbourne Act 2009 does not say ‘all the teaching is required to be for the local, national, and international good’; it does not say that anything resembling that is the responsibility of the Provost, since it does not use the word ‘Provost’ at all; and bad teaching at the University does not fall within the definition of ‘improper conduct’ in the Protected Disclosures Act 2012, nor does it fall within the legal definition of any other offence.

    What I said before about IBAC is still correct, though: people are not guaranteed that complaining to IBAC will get them what they want (and they shouldn’t be), but complaining to IBAC is not difficult, it’s easy. In this particular case, since (as I just mentioned) what you are complaining about does not fall within the definition of ‘improper conduct’ in the Protected Disclosures Act 2012, complaining to IBAC almost certainly wouldn’t get you the result you want, but that’s as it should be.

  19. ZM
    August 30th, 2014 at 09:28 | #19


    It is perfectly clear the act does state in the objectives of the university that it requires all the teaching be for the local, national, and international good – it just substitutes “benefit of the wellbeing” for good which is about the same thing :)

    ” to undertake scholarship, pure and applied research, invention, innovation, education and consultancy of international standing and to apply those matters to the advancement of knowledge and to the benefit of the well- being of the Victorian, Australian and international communities;”

    I was told I could go either to The corruption act police or the Dean – but I think the corruption act police have no experience in evaluating these matters so I don’t think it is such a good avenue.

    The Provost is in the university’s internal statutes (you can read them online if you like to do so) and that office is responsible for all the curriculum, which is another way of saying teachings

  20. John Turner
    August 30th, 2014 at 09:31 | #20

    Bottom line is that the GO8 leaders are firmly in the camp that seeks “to promote the market as the sole organising principle of economy and society” (quote from Will Hutton, State We’re In). The Abbott government is engaged in a culture war and the students are just some of the victims. Their economic measures are indefensible but they are less concerned about that and more concerned about ensuring their ideology is firmly entrenched for the future. They have learned the Thatcherite lesson very well. What better way to do it than to bring in these ‘market reforms’ to the higher education sector. The GO8 ‘leaders’ are either willing to go along fro the ride or active exponents of the same ideology.

    No doubt it will get the big seal of approval from that well known forward thinker Andrew Bolt so that all right then.

  21. conrad
    August 30th, 2014 at 10:38 | #21

    Three points:
    1) Smaller classes don’t necessarily mean less choice. They mean less students per class.
    2) The current system is already reducing choice — Just look at how many universities have closed down all of their small courses and just kept the money making ones going (generally with no regards to what skills are needed or indeed even useful). So the real comparison is the extent to which the new measures will make things better or worse, not a comparison between the new measures and some ideal which isn’t the Australian university system as it currently stands.
    3) Related to (2) is whether universities are currently doing a better job than, for example, the University of Phoenix. At least for online courses, which as far as I can tell are used by most universities providing them in Aus simply to make money, there is no empirical data saying they are. Perhaps you should talk to some of the academics asked to provide them in the cheapest way possible, which is the way they are being provided. So again, the comparison is not between an ideal and the reforms, but the reforms and what’s happening and what’s likely with no major changes.

    As it happens, I think the reforms are negative, but I think people are blinkered in terms of the comparison group. Basically a different type of reform is needed if people want universities to be good and kids learn useful things.

  22. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 11:05 | #22


    I was already aware of the passage you quote from the University’s Act at the time I made my previous comment, but you have misinterpreted it: it does not say that all the University’s activities must produce international benefits, or even that all of them must produce benefits for Victoria — and quite right, too: that would be an impossible standard, one that no university could ever possibly meet. You seem to think that if you can prove that some of the university’s activities produce no benefit, then it’s not meeting the standard set by the Act. Actually it’s almost the other way around. You would have to prove that none of the University’s activities produce any benefit, or at least that its activities produce no significant benefit, and I don’t believe you could do that.

    Mind you, even if you could prove that the University’s teaching and research produce no significant benefits for Victoria, Australia, or the world, so that it was failing to meet the standard set by the law, that still would not fall within the legal definition of any offence.

    Regulation 2.5.R1 (‘The Provost’) says, among other things, that the provost must ‘coordinate and superintend the academic and related programs and student services across the University in accordance with the policies of the Board and of Council’. It does not say that the provost must ensure that there is no bad teaching at the University.

  23. ZM
    August 30th, 2014 at 11:33 | #23


    All applications of research are to be for the benefit of wellbeing – Victorian, Australian, and globally. This is written quite plainly.

    I am complaining about harms caused by the applications of the university’s teachings. The act says nowheresoever that the applications of research are to cause harms.

    You are not the arbiter, I do not think you are a stickler for the spirit if the law.

  24. John Quiggin
    August 30th, 2014 at 11:40 | #24


    “Smaller classes don’t necessarily mean less choice. They mean less students per class.”

    Let’s work through this. To get the smaller classes, the Go8 universities are going to cut the number of students they admit (this was clearly stated in the link). So, it’s obvious that students who previously had the choice of a Go8 or, say, a UniTech now won’t have the first of these choices available to them. And, by going to the UniTech, they will displace others who previously had that option available (I expect the second-tier institutions will cut places like the Go8, certainly they won’t expand). So, the available choices will contract all down the line.

    If you’re not aware of the empirical data on the University of Phoenix, that’s because you haven’t looked http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/education/24colleges.html

    Six-year graduation rate for online students is 5 per cent (not a typo!)

  25. conrad
    August 30th, 2014 at 11:51 | #25

    I was thinking of the empirical data for online courses Australian universities run (not U of P), which doesn’t appear available easily. The dropout rate where I work for first year alone is greater than 50%, and that’s what the university is willing to divulge vs. reality (and we’re the biggest provider in Victoria as far as I’m aware). So whilst the final stats might differ, I doubt they will differ that much. Of course, they’ll just say it is just the cohort.

  26. conrad
    August 30th, 2014 at 11:52 | #26

    To be more correct, it’s the private arm of the public university where I work.

  27. BilB
    August 30th, 2014 at 12:21 | #27

    It is important, JQ, for you, and anyone else interested, to do a screen capture of those statements and store those images in a history of stupidity folder.

    I have found that once the reality sets in those statements will disappear from web sites and be forgotten. The statements should be revived once these Universities publish their fee structures after the government funds have been withdrawn. It will be interesting to see just how many and which (if any) course fees reduce.

  28. conrad
    August 30th, 2014 at 12:23 | #28

    Actually, you can calculate the optimistic figures from this publically available info I found:


    Let’s simplify it so that Swinburne has 20000 on campus students and 5000 SOL students.
    If the dropout rate before SOL was 13.72%, that means 2744 of the dropouts were not online (20000 * .1372). That’s a pretty good rate. Now to get to 21.55%, we need to find 5387 students (25000 * .2155). So 5387 minus 2744 = 2643. So the known drop out rate for the online students is around 53%. This doesn’t include all the people that have not officially dropped out but are not likely to finish, which I presume quite a few. This might end up better the U of P, but I doubt it will that much better.

  29. John Quiggin
    August 30th, 2014 at 12:54 | #29


    There’s an order of magnitude difference between 50 and 5. It’s plausible that 50 per cent of online students drop out in first year. Do you really think 90 per cent of those who complete first year will fail to graduate?

  30. Megan
    August 30th, 2014 at 14:36 | #30

    Rebecca Barrett has a piece on this topic on the ABC – “Higher education changes create ‘huge amount of uncertainty’ for students, potential for fees to change mid-degree”

    It’s not much as a piece of “journalism” (possibly just press releases regurgitated), and the second last par is an example of “say whatever you like” journalism:

    Most in the higher education sector support fee deregulation to make up the shortfall in government funding and reduce the reliance on fees from foreign students.

  31. conrad
    August 30th, 2014 at 16:02 | #31

    @John Quiggin

    5% is for graduation for UoP. The 50% number at SOL are for those who haven’t definitely dropped out. If you read the article carefully, you’ll note that one way they intend to get this number down is simply to work out more ways so people don’t get classified as this. So who knows how many really will and how many are missing from these figures? Let’s say half of those left really do really graduate, then why not reframe this as

    “75% of students who started didn’t get their degree compared to UoP where 95% of students didn’t”. I don’t think anyone would be to pleased with that especially because presumably this is the way more and more universities will move (which seems inevitable given students don’t like attending classes anymore).

    Even if there was no data fiddling and every single one of those not classified as dropping out really did complete, then you still have a 50% drop out rate. That might not be getting into UoP realms, but it’s still a pretty low baseline for quality.

  32. zoot
    August 30th, 2014 at 16:20 | #32

    When I attended UWA in the golden years of the sixties, around 50% of first year students entered second year. I believe the attrition rate from then on was much smaller (BTW, I didn’t make it into third year).

  33. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 16:53 | #33


    You quoted the exact text. The word ‘all’ is plainly not included in it.

    The Act does not say ‘the University is required to ensure that its research is never used to cause harm’, and rightly so: there is no way any university could possibly ensure such a thing, and if that’s the standard you are expecting the university to meet, your expectations are ludicrous.

  34. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 16:57 | #34


    What is ‘most in the higher education sector’ supposed to mean? If it means ‘most Vice-Chancellors’, then it would be possible for a journalist to check on what Vice-Chancellors think, or most of them, and perhaps to find that most of them are in favour of fee deregulation. But if they mean ‘most Vice-Chancellors’, shouldn’t they say ‘most Vice-Chancellors’? Most people in the higher education sector are not Vice-Chancellors.

  35. ZM
    August 30th, 2014 at 18:31 | #35


    Just because you have very low expectations wherein you expect university’s to profess harmful teachings, does not mean this accords with the law, or that I need to agree with your swampy ideas. The foundation stone says everyone should be pious, and the motto quotes Horace on contributing to a better future, and the law says the university is meant to apply its knowledge to the benefit of the wellbeing. I do hope you do not work in a university with your poor standards. This is just like how you argue the government is not meant to make good laws for us, even though the constitution says it is supposed to make laws for the good.

    Maybe some lawyers try to get people off for their offenses where they don’t meet legal requirements, or work out how their clients can get around the law, – so this might lead to lawyers professing low expectations about laws.

  36. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 18:49 | #36


    The law says that one of the objects of the University of Melbourne is to undertake research and education and to apply them to the benefit of the well-being of the community. The University of Melbourne does undertake research and teaching and they are applied to a significant extent to the benefit of the community, so the University is pursuing that object.

    The law (rightly) does not say that the University is legally obligated to be perfect.

    If you complain to me about the shortcomings of the University, I may agree with you (that depends on what the substance of your complaints is). But if you complain to any law enforcement authority about the shortcomings of the University, you can and should be told that they can’t do anything about your complaints unless you produce evidence of a specific breach of the law. So far it seems to me that you don’t have any. If the university’s research and teaching sometimes have harmful effects, that by itself is not a breach of the law. I bet some of your actions sometimes have harmful effects; I know some of my actions sometimes have harmful effects. The law, rightly, does not turn into an offence every action that has a harmful effect.

  37. ZM
    August 30th, 2014 at 19:08 | #37

    You and I are not enacted by a law – we were just born. The university has to keep to its act.

  38. Ernestine Gross
    August 30th, 2014 at 19:49 | #38

    Recently I met a retired academic (math). In his opionion it was John Dawkins who introduced a wedge between university management and academics. I was too young an academic at the time to have formed an opinion. At that time I was working at UNSW, governed (‘managed’) by applied scientists. It was a good time, even though I worked very long hours in academia proper (teaching and research).

    The said senior academic (in age and experience) seems to have a point. See the wiki entry on the Dawkins revolution:


  39. Ikonoclast
    August 30th, 2014 at 19:59 | #39

    @Ernestine Gross

    “There has been extensive criticism of the Dawkins reforms, which have been described as the application of neo-liberal ideology to universities.[5] Critics regard the Dawkins reforms as an attempt to reduce public funding of universities, ‘commercialise’ university education, and expose research to ‘subjective’ market pressures.[6][7]

    The reforms have led to a culture of “corporate managerialism” in universities,[8] and have been related to a rise in bullying tactics among university management,[9] a decline in the freedom of academic speech and inquiry, and a loss of academic collegiality.[10]” – Wikipedia.

    Wiki has it about right. Labor turned out to be traitors to the working class, from and including Bob Hawke. Rats all of them.

  40. J-D
    August 30th, 2014 at 20:51 | #40


    I’ve already pointed out that so far you haven’t shown any breach of its Act by the University.

  41. ZM
    August 30th, 2014 at 21:05 | #41

    I have already pointed out the breach – you just insist it is not a breach because of your very broad interpretation of the act.

    The breach is that the university’s teachings cause harm when they are required to be for the benefit of the wellbeing of Victorians, Australians, and international peoples.

    You just insist that they may or may not be for the benefit of the wellbeing – but the act does not say that they may or may not be – it says they are to be.

    I honestly don’t know why you argue the university is enacted to cause harms to the community. That would be a very unpopular sort of act JD

  42. J-D
    August 31st, 2014 at 06:52 | #42


    You have produced no evidence that the University’s teachings cause harm. Assertion is not evidence.

  43. Collin Street
    August 31st, 2014 at 09:31 | #43

    The breach is that the university’s teachings cause harm when they are required to be for the benefit of the wellbeing of Victorians, Australians, and international peoples.

    Err, no: this is wrong on multiple levels.
    + “to the benefit of” modifies “apply”, not “undertake”; the university is empowered to “undertake research” and to “apply [...] to the benefit of”. There’s no requirement that the research itself be beneficial.
    + the purposes run in parallel: something that falls under any of the purposes is OK. I draw your particular attention to purpose e.iii, which would seem to justify practically any research.]
    + use of the word “includes” is non-limiting. The university has a set of purposes, and among these purposes are… As a rule, in legal interpretation “X is a Y” doesn’t say anything about not-X.
    if they’d meant it to be an exclusive list they’d have said “the purposes are”, which doesn’t offer any scope for additional purposes not herein listed.

    Your case has no chance because you’ve fundamentally misunderstood the way the law’s structured.

  44. ZM
    September 1st, 2014 at 07:44 | #44


    It is not too difficult JD, Some of the professors profess harms to environment and sustainability and poor people in the world related to businesses and economic laws and practices – but the Provost lets the commerce professors go on regardless teaching the same harmful teachings to new students year in year out. There is a saying – something like the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing but I have forgotten its exact wording.

    Collin Street,

    You must gave a very low opinion of Deans. I am daunted to be told I can only complain by having to speak to the Dean – but I am fairly sure he will not declare the university is permitted to do and teach anything whatsoever however harmful it be. That would be very irregular for a Dean to state. No one would make it on to the Professor’s Walk by proclaiming such a thing.

  45. Donald Oats
    September 1st, 2014 at 16:35 | #45

    @Ernestine Gross
    I was there when the green paper was about, and it was not well liked. However, some groups saw great advantage to themselves, should they follow the script…

    About the only real surprise was just how successful the (admittedly ingenious) HECS (i.e. Higher Education Contribution Scheme) would be at eliminating the (perceived) financial barrier that an up-front fee would have presented. Far more students took on the debt than were predicted to (by the detractors): the lesson there is one of behavioural economics.

    The big disappointment was seeing what were clearly vocational courses and vocational teaching institutions being absorbed into the unified system, gobbled up by the universities to increase their respective EFTSUs (i.e. Effective Full Time Student Unit, IIRC), and hence the revenue streams for their further expansion. Those vocational institutions served a valuable purpose, and yet they were subsumed by predominantly research institutions. A big kerfuffle arose over moving teaching staff into a research role, and how to progress it.

    What has happened is that universities have “rationalised” their course offerings, and that has had profound effects upon what research disciplines have prospered, or declined, culled out. Statistics has copped a real shellacking at some institutions, for example.

    Personally, I am quite ambivalent about the Dawkins’ reforms in the higher education sector. Seems like it was a get rich quick scheme for the fortunate few, at what cost and what benefit, I can’t say.

  46. Fran Barlow
    September 1st, 2014 at 16:53 | #46

    Hubby says that the word is that at UWS the only qualification on incoming students next semester will be that they are alive. UWS are terrified, apparently, that their numbers will collapse in 2016 under a deregulated regime.

  47. J-D
    September 1st, 2014 at 19:13 | #47


    I don’t know how difficult it is to produce evidence that some of the professors profess harms, but it’s obviously much too difficult for you.

  48. J-D
    September 1st, 2014 at 19:16 | #48

    @Donald Oats

    The idea that there was a time when universities were not ‘vocational’ is widely popular, but it won’t withstand scrutiny. The primary (although not the only) purpose of most (although not all) students in going to university is to improve their employment prospects, and that’s the way it’s always been, ever since the idea of the university was invented.

  49. zoot
    September 1st, 2014 at 20:48 | #49

    The primary (although not the only) purpose of most (although not all) students in going to university is to improve their employment prospects, and that’s the way it’s always been, ever since the idea of the university was invented.

    But the Universities’ purpose wasn’t to train their students for employment (that was largely left to technical colleges). The improvement in employment prospects was a fortunate by-product of a university education.
    In my time at uni, an arts degree was sniffed at because it didn’t “get you a job” even though the skills acquired in earning it made you a very valuable employee.

  50. J-D
    September 2nd, 2014 at 07:11 | #50


    Possibly the primary purpose of Arts faculties was not to train their students for employment, but it was the primary purpose of most other faculties. When was it that Arts faculties made up the majority of universities? Not for a long time, if ever.

    You know this. When you were at university, who was it that sniffed at arts degrees for not getting you a job? Wasn’t it the students doing all the other degrees that were to get them jobs?

  51. Ernestine Gross
    September 2nd, 2014 at 10:03 | #51


    “The idea that there was a time when universities were not ‘vocational’ is widely popular, but it won’t withstand scrutiny. The primary (although not the only) purpose of most (although not all) students in going to university is to improve their employment prospects, and that’s the way it’s always been, ever since the idea of the university was invented.

    It is not as easy as you suggest. By a suitable choice of interpretation of ‘vocational’ and ‘employment’ one may reach any conclusion one wants.

    Even in areas like law and accounting, which have long established career paths, university graduates have to do vocational studies after they graduate.

    In my opinion, there are two questions, which assist in distinguishing between vocational training and research based university education. Material which belongs to the former can be organised around the question: How? Material which belongs to the latter can be organised around the question: Why?

    Note, I write “assist” to signal that there are overlaps of ‘why’ and ‘how’ in many discipline areas and the question then becomes of relative weights.

    @50 you write:

    “… When you were at university, who was it that sniffed at arts degrees for not getting you a job? Wasn’t it the students doing all the other degrees that were to get them jobs?”

    Careful. Generalisations from a casual observation or two are not a solid basis for drawing conclusions. For many years Macquarie University offered only B.A. undergraduate degrees. (There are other examples). That is, their graduates in earth sciences (which were and probably still are) highly regarded, graduated with a B.A. So did people in Ecoomics and Finance, Linquistics, History, etc. The advantage of this structure was that students could take a small number of subjects in schools other than where they majored in. Intellectual and technical lightweight courses such as ‘business’ did not exist at the time.

    How does this bit of reality fit into your mental model?

  52. ZM
    September 2nd, 2014 at 10:38 | #52

    Um, also JD you seem to have forgotten the meaning of one having a vocation, as twas used to be said ;)

  53. Jim
    September 2nd, 2014 at 13:08 | #53

    John. I think there IS something wrong with universities now (too many administrators, marketing people, and new shiny (expensive) buildings). Not enough teachers and researchers. Where is the quality value for money education from the university sector that was available 10-20 years ago?

    But the proposed reforms won’t fix that. It will just make the situation worse. @John Brookes

  54. J-D
    September 2nd, 2014 at 22:42 | #54

    @Ernestine Gross

    Students have different motives for enrolling at university. Even the same student can have more than one motive. For some students improving employment prospects is not the only motive, for some it’s not the primary motive, and for some it’s not a motive at all. But taking things by and large it plays a bigger role than any other motive: probably a bigger role than all the other motives put together.

    This is not changed by the fact that many if not all professions do not admit university graduates to full rights of independent practice without meeting other requirements. Graduates in medicine have to go on to internships; that doesn’t change the fact that overwhelmingly the most important motive for people to undertake medical degrees is in pursuit of employment as doctors. Graduates in architecture have to meet additional professional requirements: that doesn’t change the fact that overwhelmingly the most important motive for people to undertake architecture degrees is in pursuit of employment as architects; and so on.

    It is probably true that there are other institutions that are more exclusively focussed on improving people’s employment prospects than are universities, but at least from the point of students (in general) the most important role of universities is in improving their employment prospects — not the only role, but the most important one.

    In answer to your final question: I have no trouble believing what you tell me about how Macquarie University once offered all its undergraduate degrees under the title of BA, but I don’t see how that puts my case in doubt. I also wonder about the significance of the change in that policy (you tell me it’s what they did for many years, which creates the impression that it’s no longer true). Was it, I wonder, a decision made in the planning stages, before Macquarie had any actual enrolments, and was it ultimately abandoned, at least in part, as a result of the experience of working to attract them? But that’s by the way. More important is this question: are you suggesting that when all Macquarie’s undergraduate degrees were called BA, the students, or the bulk of them, were uninterested in improving their employment prospects, or not primarily interested in doing so? That seems to me a big conclusion to hang on no more than a policy of degree titling.

  55. J-D
    September 2nd, 2014 at 22:46 | #55


    Not at all — although as a matter of fact I was only using the term in response to its use by Donald Oats. But I am well aware of the specific usage of ‘vocation’ to refer to a person’s ‘calling’ to the priesthood, and it ties in with my point, since in medieval times also the primary motive of university students was to improve their employment prospects, but in those times primarily in the Church.

  56. ZM
    September 2nd, 2014 at 22:50 | #56


    This is another example of your cynicism. What is your data on numbers of university students in medieval times studying for employment rather than a true vocation? Surely you wouldn’t make such a claim without hard data ;)

  57. Ernestine Gross
    September 3rd, 2014 at 08:18 | #57


    I refer back to my post @1, p2 and ZM @2 and @6.

  58. J-D
    September 3rd, 2014 at 08:47 | #58

    @Ernestine Gross

    And why do you so refer back? I’ve read those comments already. What difference do you think it makes to read them again?

  59. J-D
    September 3rd, 2014 at 08:49 | #59


    I am satisfied on the point in my own mind, but I fully acknowledge that there is no reason why that should carry any weight with anybody else. I have no primary data on the motives of medieval university students. Do you? In the absence of data to settle the point, is any conclusion justified? Is there any reason to favour the view that medieval university students were not primarily concerned with employment prospects over the converse view that they were, or should we rather treat this as an unknown?

  60. zoot
  61. zoot
    September 4th, 2014 at 20:06 | #61

    Sorry, missed your reply. You seem to have misunderstood my point that the difference between the olden days and the bright new now is that the core business of universities used to be providing an education whilst now it seems to be providing training for a job. The two are not the same.

    When you were at university, who was it that sniffed at arts degrees for not getting you a job? Wasn’t it the students doing all the other degrees that were to get them jobs?

    No. It was the general run of the mill member of the public who didn’t understand the difference between education and training.

  62. J-D
    September 4th, 2014 at 21:07 | #62


    I don’t understand what you mean by ‘the core business’ of universities, then or now. The expression conveys no meaning to me in this context. To me the expression ‘the core business of universities’ is only (metaphorically) noise. If somebody says to me that what universities do has changed, or that the way universities operate has changed, I can agree that they have changed, in many respects, and wonder which particular changes are of interest to my interlocutor. But if somebody says to me that the core business of universities has changed, I’m just baffled, at a loss to know that could possibly mean. I don’t mean that I disagree: I’d have to understand what the statement meant before I could either agree or disagree, and I don’t understand.

  63. zoot
    September 5th, 2014 at 00:15 | #63

    Determined to miss the point, aren’t you.

  64. J-D
    September 5th, 2014 at 06:51 | #64


    No, not at all. I would like to understand the point. But I don’t.

  65. zoot
    September 5th, 2014 at 13:28 | #65

    Well, I guess you’ll go to your grave wondering.

  66. J-D
    September 5th, 2014 at 21:28 | #66

    Don’t have tickets on yourself. I’m not wondering that much.

Comments are closed.