We’ve turned our unis into aimless money-grubbing exploiters of students

Perhaps not everyone will agree with everything Ross Gittins (Economics Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald 17 September 2017) has to say in this article about cuts to university funding in Australia. Nevertheless, he raises some very important points that should be noted by all of us.

Of the many stuff-ups during the now-finished era of economic reform, one of the worst is the unending backdoor privatisation of Australia’s universities, which began under the Hawke-Keating government and continues in the Senate as we speak.

This is not so much “neoliberalism” as a folly of the smaller-government brigade, since the ultimate goal for the past 30 years has been no more profound than to push university funding off the federal budget.

The first of the budget-relieving measures was the least objectionable: introducing the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, requiring students – who gain significant private benefits from their degrees – to bear just some of the cost of those degrees, under a deferred loan-repayment scheme carefully designed to ensure it did nothing to deter students from poor families.

Likewise, allowing unis to admit suitably qualified overseas students provided they paid full freight was unobjectionable in principle.

The Howard government’s scheme allowing less qualified local students to be admitted provided they paid a premium was “problematic”, as the academics say, and soon abandoned.

The problem is that continuing cuts in government grants to unis have kept a protracted squeeze on uni finances, prompting vice-chancellors to become obsessed with money-raising.

teaching staff to go easy on fee-paying overseas students who don’t reach accepted standards of learning, form unhealthy relationships with business interests, and accept “soft power” grants from foreign governments and their nationals without asking awkward questions.

They pressure academics not so much to do more research as to win more research funding from the government. Interesting to compare the hours spent preparing grant applications with the hours actually doing research.

John Howard continued the Hawke-Keating push on universities.

To motivate the researchers, those who bring in the big bucks are rewarded by being allowed to pay casuals to do their teaching for them. (This after the vice-chancellors have argued straight-faced what a crime it would be for students to be taught by someone who wasn’t at the forefront of their sub-sub research speciality.)

The unis’ second greatest crime is the appalling way they treat those of their brightest students foolish enough to aspire to an academic career. Those who aren’t part-timers are kept on serial short-term contracts, leaving them open to exploitation by ambitious professors.

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