Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

What ails Australia's universities?

By Marko Beljac - posted Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The University of Melbourne, like most other universities, has been hit hard by the global financial crisis. The university has lost a fair amount of money on its investment portfolio. This has led management to announce the further culling of 220 jobs among both the professional and academic workforce. The move has sparked uproar and numerous press reports lamenting the near terminal state of Australia's universities, especially the arts and humanities component thereof.

The Vice Chancellor, Glyn Davis, has stated "I'm sure I wasn't the only member of my senior executive team awake at 3am last night, staring into the dark wondering how the world ended up like this".

The most thoughtful analysis has come from the philosopher Peter Singer. He points out that previous cuts have hit the arts and humanities particularly hard. The additional cuts threaten the very future of a liberal education. However, Singer misses the big picture as do most of the press reports. Most of the reports have singled out the "Melbourne Model" reforms that have become largely associated with Glyn Davis.


To be sure Singer himself does not do this. In his important analytic piece in The Age Singer makes the point that he largely supports the Melbourne Model reforms for they provide a broad education that expands the horizons of students not just personally but also intellectually and civically. Singer argues that for the model to work it must be adequately funded which, he further maintains, currently it is not.

Others argue that the move away from academic specialisation, especially in relatively non utilitarian subjects such as the arts and humanities, has in fact driven the job cuts. The university, for its part, considers that the financial crisis gives it no other choice.

The argument due to the Melbourne Model rests on the supposition that a restructured university curricula naturally leads to the desire to develop a restructured academic workforce more in tune with interdisciplinarity. Without redundancies, sackings and coerced "voluntary" retirements this could not be possible, hence the drama at the University of Melbourne.

I am not in a position to judge whether the employment restructuring at the University of Melbourne, which predates the latest job cuts, is Melbourne Model driven. There at least is a viable hypothesis here worthy of further inquiry.

However, one thing is clear.

The University of Melbourne is not the only university that has gone through these processes. Such events have occurred, and are occurring, across the university sector in Australia. For instance under the reign of David Robinson at Monash University, Melbourne's leading university, similar upheaval was unleashed by a managerial strategy largely designed to turn the university into a corporation. The restructure also hit the Faculty of Arts very hard.


If I might recall events proved to be quite dramatic. The bust of the almighty General Sir John Monash was made to go AWOL and matters became so charged that perhaps even the maoist-turned-neocon, Albert Langer, was dreaming of recreating the Monash Soviet. Similar upheavals are occurring elsewhere judging by reports in the Higher Education section of The Australian.

This means that whatever is occurring at the University of Melbourne, although doubtless having its campus specific aspects, is part of a much larger systemic process. It is not Melbourne specific. It is this systemic process that Singer neglects to dwell upon, as do critics of the Melbourne Model.

To remedy the tragedy that has befallen the university in Australia would require coming to grips with this systemic aspect to the crisis.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

18 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Marko Beljac

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Marko Beljac
Article Tools
Comment 18 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy