....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
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
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
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.