....It's hard to know in what ways we may be similar/different but let me say a few things about the experience since 1988....

I started working in the tertiary sector in the late 1980's. I was employed by a CAE (College of Advanced Education). Dawkin's green paper was being circulated and there was a lot of talk of making "university education" much more available. What simply happened was that all the CAE's became universities or became "amalgamated" (read "swallowed") by larger universities. We all got swallowed and for many years have felt like the very poor cousins. There were very clear imbalances in the distribution of resources. Only in recent years are we starting to feel some level of equality.

Now we're seeing an attempt to differentiate between the "Great 8" and the lesser universities, and there is talk of some universities or bits of universities being cast adrift because they're not economically viable (the bottom line.) The 8 include Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, and some other sandstone establishments.

So it's true that many more students have access to a "university education" because they changed the name of the CAE's to universities.

Did standards rise with these amalgamations? They should have but they didn't. This had more to do with the increasing expectation that universities would become more financially self reliant. This was the point at which students had to start making a contribution called HECS, (Higher Education Contribution Scheme). Tertiary education was no longer free but cost. At first it was about a fifth or a quarter of the real costs, but now that's increased each year. In quite subtle ways, by not necessarily raising the fee, but demanding that students pay it back at earlier times. Now, through the process of delayed payment, students are leaving university with debts of up to $100,000 in Medicine and Dentistry.

This has meant that far more students are working while studying, and not just little part-time jobs but very demanding ones where students often sacrifice classes to be at work. We are picking this up in lots of ways particularly in unsatisfactory progress committees. There are fewer participants in extra curricular activities, and students are trying to cut lots of corners.

As the Government demands that universities become more self reliant, the focus of attention is on economic survival and compromise is the order of the day. We have invited many students from overseas to study in Australia for the more prestigious degrees the "Great 8" can provide. These are full fee paying students, that we have become dependent upon. There have been all sorts of accusations about letting students pass subjects etc. because they've paid so much money. I value the multicultural aspects of inviting predominantly Asian students, but there is certainly the sense that this is driven purely by economics.

Overall, each university is now budgeting in competitive ways. For example, one has closed its Classics Department and is about to close Anthropology because enrolments are low. The business faculties are thriving because of high enrolments, high appeal for foreign students paying full fees etc. Medicine is also doing very well because half of all research is theirs, but Arts and Science and Education suffer badly and there is talk of closing bits or all of some faculties. In one university in the late 1990's the Arts Faculty went through such a crisis that it made many staff redundant, so that over a period of 2-3 years the staffing was halved. Offerings were also greatly reduced, classes are bigger, contact hours for some courses have been reduced from 4 hours per week to 2 hours. (This does not mean a reduction in the number of weekly contact hours taught by lecturers.) The rhetoric is that we are teaching 'smarter' but one Dean of Arts once made a public statement that the only change that has occurred is that 'standards have been lowered'. Nobody will make that public statement now without getting punished. So we all say standards have improved.

Believe it when our boss told us not to talk to students, keep our doors closed, ...

We prided ourselves on being able to relate well to students and give them that little bit of support that can mean so much. Now we've been told to scrap tutorials in 2nd and 3rd year, and run seminars of 70-80 students instead. We've been directed not to teach any night classes which are repeats of day classes, so you can imagine how difficult this makes it for working students.

Staff have had secretarial/administrative support reduced to ridiculous levels, with a staff of just 2 looking after the interests of our school of about 80 staff and I don't know how many students.

Everything has been compromised. Students are getting an increasingly bad deal but, because they are at university for only 3 maybe 4 years, they are not so aware of the trend of these changes. Staff are simply scared to lose their jobs. Nowadays we have what's called an Enterprise Bargaining system that exists across the board for all employees. The union argues for various benefits which are agreed on through a regularly reassessed contract. There are no fixed awards any more. This means there are fewer protections in the system. Tenure no longer exists and people can be removed from their positions more easily, hence greater intimidation, more fear, more looking after one's self and less concern for others, and lack of unity allows more intimidation. Our previous Vice Chancellor made a lot of use of staff fears and bullied everyone around. Right now things are better because the current VC is a much nicer guy. But the conditions are there so that, if needed, the university administration can do some very nasty stuff.

There has been a blowout in numbers of administrative staff earning $100,000+ and the universities are crying poor. The place is always viewed as an economic entity not an educational one. Lecturers earn $68,000.

Just recently all universities had to make decisions about whether to charge higher fees. All the big ones have raised fees, and some of the little ones haven't. But this will increase the burden. We spoke with our niece today who is still studying to be a teacher, and she told us that both she and her husband each owe $30,000 in HECS fees. When HECS was introduced it was suggested that students would only have to pay a small percentage of their study fees and they could pay this off over a long period of time. I think they were talking of sums like $5,000 for the duration of all courses. That was the thin end of the wedge and nobody at that stage ever suspected that students would be hit so hard today. There was also talk of lots of scholarships to look after poorer students. I'm not aware of any.

This development is clearly an incentive for people not to study. As the HECS fees were being introduced we were teaching a course that mainly enrolled mature age students. Whenever a new cost or stricter ruling was introduced, fewer mature age students would apply for enrolment, and those that spoke to us said that they just could not afford to study. Now very few mature age students seem to be enrolling in undergraduate courses.

The overall trend is for poorer students to be scared off study and, whereas free education meant much greater social equity, we are now seeing much greater imbalance. Now students need to get a certain matriculation score to get into their chosen course. If they just miss out by, say, 5%, there are places available for full fee payment. Thus, while students still need to get high enough entry scores, only well off kids will be able to take up the full fee paying places. Each year more full fee paying places are made available, thus limiting other places.

Strangely, considering that free education was a Labour initiative, the Dawkins report was taken up by a Labour Government, but the current Liberal Government is pushing all the boundaries.

I'm not sure what else to say, but if any of the points I've raised are of interest I can write more.