Home > Economic policy > Truth in Labelling: Universities Australia edition

Truth in Labelling: Universities Australia edition

December 3rd, 2014

A while ago, I suggested that bodies like Universities Australia should dissolve themselves and make way for a body that actually represents universities as communities of scholars (students and academics) and the workers (professional and administrative) who support them. I see I’ve been joined by Stephen Parker from the University of Canberra who describes UA support for deregulation as a “suicide ritual”. Meanwhile, Pyne is quoting the support of UA and its elite subset the Go8 as evidence of “consensus” in favor of his reform, treating the support of 30-odd individuals as more important than the overwhelming opposition of hundreds of thousands of students and staff.

Since these organizations appear determined to drag out their useless existence, can I at least ask for some honesty in labelling. How about

University Senior Management Australia and
Group of Eight University Senior Managers Who Are Better Than All The Others.

Seriously, it’s obvious that, while students, academics, other staff and senior managers have some common interests, they also have lots of conflicting interests. That’s true of universities, just as its true of the workers, bosses and customers of any industry in the private sector. The idea that a policy supported by top managers must be good for universities as a whole is on a par with the old claim that “what’s good for General Motors is good for American”

Categories: Economic policy Tags:
  1. Newtownian
    December 3rd, 2014 at 11:46 | #1

    What are you John? A democrat? Or (worse) an anarchosyndicalist?

    Education is a product of universities and students are consumers. Its not an exercise in better searching for truths about the universe and sharing the wisdom and knowledge with the community. That’s was the old myth for obfuscating how the world really works. But it proved too threatening to those in power as a lot of students back then actually believed it. So as Noam Chomsky has repeatedly explained, the policy making elite needed to change the education model so it got back to its original purpose…providing the next generation of elite managers and technicians.

    Anyway we dont need that anymore now that we have Wikipedia and clickbaits to provide all the information you will ever need.

    You need to realize we are now in the era of Scientific Management i.e. the justification by our betters (once known as bosses) of their social fetishes by claiming they are scientific and therefore the ultimate truth. This explains also the seeming oxymoron a “University of Technology” . A university is not for studying the universe, its just a glorified term for school.

    And if this seems to complex just “Remember The Golden Rule” as the King said in the Wizard of Id (i.e. them that has the gold makes the rules).

  2. Troy Prideaux
    December 3rd, 2014 at 12:18 | #2

    “University Senior Management Australia and Group of Eight University Senior Managers Who Are Better Than All The Others.”

    Of course they’re better than all the others – look at the shear magnitude of their investment portfolios and look at their salaries… what… ~$1M for the vice chancellor at Melb Uni? They must be better [sigh]

  3. Fran Barlow
    December 3rd, 2014 at 13:34 | #3

    good for America? Americans?

  4. Mike Waller
    December 3rd, 2014 at 16:46 | #4

    Worth looking at the recent UK NAO report on the impact of a very similar approach by the Cameron Government. It couldn’t happen here, of course….

  5. J-D
    December 3rd, 2014 at 20:03 | #5

    What was wrong with ‘Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee’? Too accurately descriptive?

  6. Jim
    December 3rd, 2014 at 21:31 | #6

    The first rule of executive salary determination in the public service is that you cannot get a massive salary increase unless you are in charge of more staff, bigger infrastructure, or a bigger budget. Salaries are primarily determined by inputs controlled and inefficiency is perversely rewarded. Hence ’empire building’ is the game of choice for the senior executives.

    Deregulation for the GO8 will result in bigger revenues. We are kidding ourselves thinking fees might only rise to cover cuts in Commonwealth funding. The GO8 will charge as much as they can get away with. That simply equals higher salaries for VCs and the conga-line of managers and the marketing types in the university system who are also rewarded for emptier building.

    I think the GO8 could be called the GO1M, where you are a nobody in the university world unless your salary exceeds $1M.

  7. bjb
    December 3rd, 2014 at 21:32 | #7

    The main justification, as far as I can tell, for the VC’s and Minister Pyne’s wanting to de-regulate the university sector is so we can have “world class universities”. One of the metrics used to determine that is the number of world class scholars employed by said universities. In the news today a scientist from the CSIRO has been made redundant – a guy who’s research had he and a colleague mentioned as Nobel contenders – so ipso facto, Australia must already have a world class research organisation, but the Coalition cares not to fund it. Makes me think the stated purpose of de-regulation is a furphy.

  8. Hal9000
    December 3rd, 2014 at 22:10 | #8

    Dawkins made the universities into businesses. Should we be surprised that Vice Chancellors behave just like their corporate counterparts? It’s more profitable for drug companies to invest in intellectual property lawyers than it is to research new drugs. It’s more profitable for the GO8 universities to cater for the wealthy than for the children of the lower orders. The GO8 call the shots in their peak body, just like the miners and retailers call the shots on the BCA. The mass of smaller and less profitable businesses don’t have the resources or indeed intelligence to see the policies their own organisations are advocating will in time ruin them, so they just go along.

  9. Donald Oats
    December 3rd, 2014 at 23:02 | #9

    The scientist in question—and the story—has made the news overseas now: the Bangkok Post has run the story. If so, then it will probably run further in the Asia-Pacific region, soon if not already.

  10. Socrates
    December 4th, 2014 at 07:16 | #10

    If we really want truth in labelling I’m just waiting for universities to change their web addresses and drop that silly “.EDU” suffix and add a more accurate “.COM” to their title.

    So, for example, the University of Adelaide would become http://www.visa_are_us.adelaide.com
    The really sad part is that there are some people in admin who might actually think that a good idea.

    You might also change “UniSuper” to “TenuredProfessorSuper” or “YoungStaffTax” or just good old “PyramidScheme”.

  11. Vic
    December 4th, 2014 at 07:44 | #11

    Dawkins didn’t help, but the path to the current reality, that JQ identifies perfectly, started earlier. It was the moment, in 1975 as I recall, when the AVCC succumbed to pressure and registered as an employers’ organisation for industrial relations purposes. Adherence by university management to the purpose of universities in Australia has been corroding ever since. One might have hoped that a VC or two could have foreseen this.

  12. John Quiggin
    December 4th, 2014 at 07:53 | #12


    QUT actually did change to qut.com during the dotcom boom, but they were laughed out of it.

  13. J-D
    December 4th, 2014 at 08:00 | #13


    One objection to your theory is that the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Secretary of the Department of the Treasury are paid more than the Secretaries of other Departments even though their Departments have fewer staff and smaller budgets. Departments with large networks of local offices for public contact have lots of staff and big budgets but that doesn’t win them higher status (or higher salaries for their chiefs).

  14. December 4th, 2014 at 08:25 | #14

    Strictly speaking….
    “Wilson’s nomination sparked a controversy that erupted during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, based on his large stockholdings in General Motors. Reluctant to sell the stock, valued at the time at more than $2.5 million, Wilson agreed to do so under committee pressure. During the hearings, when asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that would be adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively. But he added that he could not conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”. This statement has frequently been misquoted as “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”. Although Wilson tried for years to correct the misquote, he was reported at the time of his retirement in 1957 to have accepted the popular impression.”

  15. Jim
    December 4th, 2014 at 08:29 | #15


    The heads of the central agencies are paid relatively higher salaries (true), but they have a lot more say than the heads of line agencies themselves, albeit indirect control. I do a lot of work for resource, environmental and agriculture agencies as a consultant. So often, the shots (policy and budgets) are being called by the central agencies.

  16. J-D
    December 4th, 2014 at 14:50 | #16


    As far as I can see, you are confirming what I was suggesting: that the salaries of public sector executives are affected by factors other than the size of their organisations’ staff and budgets.

  17. jungney
    December 4th, 2014 at 18:04 | #17

    Dear Lord the whole shite load is in desperate need of satire. What about ‘The Grope of Eight’?

  18. jungney
    December 4th, 2014 at 18:05 | #18

    Moderted either by the North Koreans or the Mormons who wrote this softwars. Without the censored word:

    “Dear Lord the whole **** load is in desperate need of satire. What about ‘The Grope of Eight’?

  19. Matt
    December 5th, 2014 at 01:30 | #19

    JQ or other Aus academics,

    What would you guess is the percentage of academics opposed to Pyne 1.0? If there are so many, you guys aren’t very loud.

    I’ve seen numerous interviews with VCs supporting deregulation on decent programs where there was no mention of any great opposition (other than students/public). Think maybe one VC opposing it strongly was the only counterpoint to the last 730 interview with VC Young. Would have been much more convincing if TJones could have used a petition of academics. Does one exist?

  20. David Irving (no relation)
    December 5th, 2014 at 09:38 | #20

    The Gang of Eight, perhaps? (Although I can’t believe that hasn’t already been suggested.)

  21. J-D
    December 5th, 2014 at 19:12 | #21


    That journalists looking for the ‘university’ perspective choose Vice-Chancellors to interview is unimaginative but unsurprising. There is a staff campaign against fee deregulation:


  22. Robert (not from UK)
    December 5th, 2014 at 20:30 | #22

    Is there a typo at the end of Professor Quiggin’s original post? Should “what’s good for General Motors is good for American” be “what’s good for General Motors is good for America“?

    Actually there seem to be fairly good grounds for thinking that the relevant official in the States (Charles E. Wilson) was misquoted:


  23. Matt
    December 6th, 2014 at 02:23 | #23

    Thanks JD.

    One of the downsides I’ve never seen raised (not that it hasn’t) is that it will lock students into degrees that do not suit them (they struggle or do not enjoy). If you get 1-2years into a degree under the current system, for many changing courses is worth the fees incurred. Not sure it will be if some of the projections hold true.

    Having engineers that don’t like engineering but could have been happy being a great doctor, and economists who are not very good at economics but could have been a great biologists seems like a pretty big downside to me.

    My feeling* is the numbers could be quite large too.

    *Guess:dropout rates in my course = 25% / 10% in 1st / 2nd yr.

  24. Socrates
    December 6th, 2014 at 16:35 | #24


    My wife is an academic and my experience of her real world conditions of employment is that the effective ability of academic administrators to muzzle academics from public comment or complaint is now very great. There are many ways life can be made difficult, if not careers directly threatened. That being said, I agree academics as a group must be more vocal and united, or their working conditions will continue to decline.

    Academics of Austalia unite. You have nothing to lose but your unpaid overtime.

    JQ 12

    Thanks, I didn’t know that, but should not have been surprised. Maybe if we told them that “.EDU” was a valuable brandname they would more happily keep it?

  25. Donald Oats
    December 6th, 2014 at 22:27 | #25

    These days, if you work for a research institution, or one that supports research, chances are your employment conditions restrict what you can say and how you can say it; further, in some places these restrictions apply 24/7, even though you work a nominal 73.5hr fortnight, or whatever the magic number is nowadays. This is so people don’t speak (in public) out of turn, undercutting a public relations press release, for instance. Of course, it can also be applied to muzzle actual experts in times of stress, i.e. when the minister for Industry has your organisation’s metaphorical family jewels in a Jubilee twist, and isn’t letting go for love or money. It’s really bad when not only the Industry minister, but the Education one, both have a firm grip on the undercarriage. *Euww!!*

    As far as I can see, about the only way academic staff/researchers can make themselves heard is either by official protest march(es), or through the staff association—if they wish to avoid sanction by their employer. I’m not even sure if staff could, in their own time, write and send a personally signed letter direct to a minister, without potentially breaking their employer’s restrictions on them. Academic Freedom? Is that what William Wallace cried?

Comments are closed.