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Three misguided beliefs of the Group of Eight universities

September 12th, 2014

That’s the headline for a piece in the Conversation,looking at the arguments of the Group of Eight “sandstone” universities in favor of deregulation. Readers will be unsurprised to finde me in disagreement.

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  1. Newtownian
    September 12th, 2014 at 17:11 | #1

    I would agree with the sentiments none of this is terribly new or surprising watching the VC rename themselves as crypto CEOs and stating policy as though the university community had any say in it what ever. Such are the delusions of managers.

    But one difference not touched on is what is taught at the US Ivy league by comparison. My own institution seems to be forgoing the old idea of a University as exploring all things and focusing narrowly on Business, Law, Medicine and Engineering (probably destined for rationalization) more or less in that order. Forget science the humanities etc. Which makes me wonder about how the Ivy League compares with what are to be the local specializations.

    Research degrees in hotel management, baristarology and of course fast food (there has been much celebration over the introduction of Subway into our local food fair in keeping with the MacDonaldization of the sector)?

    Any thoughts on the content of courses arising from this logic being extended ad nauseum?

  2. Ben
    September 13th, 2014 at 15:45 | #2

    John, it seems that you might be in favour of reinstating the former Institutes of Technology and CAEs as, say, polytechnics? I see a lot of merit in tertiary institutions that can focus on undergraduate study without the expectation (and the expense) of research.

  3. Ben
    September 13th, 2014 at 15:51 | #3

    @Newtownian
    I’ve always been rather fond of the Diploma of Sport Management (Surfing Studies) at SCU.

  4. conrad
    September 14th, 2014 at 07:11 | #4

    I don’t buy your comments on ANU. There’s no competing with Harvard and there never will be because they have 30 billion dollars of free assets and much greater access to research funding (both private and state). The richest universities in Aus have about 1 billion, with one of the main public funding sources for research being (the ARC) being cut back, and they work within an environment where people don’t donate as much for cultural reasons.

    I also realize you can’t do 100 things in one article, but the other thing that might be nice is that people start offering better alternatives (or at least provide a sentence or two alluding to them), otherwise people think of the current system, which is clearly broken and which has many problems which include but are not limited to just lack of funding.

  5. Jim
    September 15th, 2014 at 09:32 | #5

    @conrad A lack of funding is a problem, but I don’t hear a lot about what is happening in the expenditure side of the equation. If you look at the annual reports of some universities (take UQ as an example), there are as many administrators as their are teachers and researchers. The proportion of expenditure on administration, management and marketing is going through the roof, while the proportion of budget going to teachers and research (the variables that actually make a university good) is declining.

    I am sure that universities could do a lot better with their existing budgets if they simply got rid of a big chunk of the administrators and managers.

  6. J-D
    September 15th, 2014 at 18:29 | #6

    @Jim

    You may have other sources of information, but I don’t see how you can get the things you’re saying just out of the University’s annual report. The most recent annual report of the University of Queensland does disclose that the University had, last year, academic staff totalling 2883 FTE (full-time equivalents) and non-academic staff totalling 4009 FTE, but not all of those 4009 are administrators — not even close. The report identifies 633 FTE of non-academic staff as ‘Research Only’, to begin with — I’m not sure exactly what those would be, but evidently not administrators. Then the other 3376 FTE would include library staff, laboratory and other technicians, IT support staff — none of those count as academic, but they’re not administrators either. What else? I don’t know. Maintenance workers? Cleaners? Security? Child-care workers? Perhaps they’re all outsourced and don’t count in the University’s staffing figures. Still, the fact remains that you can’t get a figure for administrative staff just from the annual report.

    You can’t get a figure for expenditure on ‘administration, management and marketing’ just from the annual report, either. The breakdown it does give shows that 30% of expenditure goes on ‘academic employee benefits’ and 26% on ‘non-academic employee benefits’ (evidently the university spends more money on academic employees than on non-academic employees, even if it gets a lower head count for the money), 7% on ‘depreciation and amortisation’ and 5% on ‘repairs and maintenance’, and the other 32% on ‘other expenses’. Well, that 32% obviously would include administration, management, and marketing, but it would also have to include library books and other resources and laboratory and other equipment and supplies. If things like cleaning, security, and child-care have been outsourced, then the cost of them would have to be included in the category of ‘other expenses’ as well. I don’t know how much all that adds up to. Do you? How? Not from the annual report.

    I’m not in favour of universities shifting their expenditure more and more from teaching and research to administration, management and marketing. I’m just saying that if you want to demonstrate that that’s what’s happening, you need some other source of information apart from the annual report, which simply doesn’t answer that kind of question.

  7. Jim
    September 15th, 2014 at 20:20 | #7

    @J-D JD. When you add the 600 odd research non-academic research staff (I would assume that includes the lab and other research technicians), you end up with roughly half the staff being involved in teaching and or research. Can anyone honestly say the university then needs another 3,400 people to do the gardening, cleaning, run an IT system, and undertake administrative and management functions?

    The problem is that the level of accounting and transparency from the university is so poor, all you can really make is generalisations. But even in the absence of detailed accounting data, I’m pretty sure big savings could be found in the admin and management ranks…

  8. J-D
    September 23rd, 2014 at 18:28 | #8

    @Jim

    So you’re guessing?

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