Dr Peter White's Blog

Thoughts and comments from Dr Peter White -- political, philosophical, spiritual, musical and more

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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I am retired from the Uni. of Queensland, and have numerous interests inside and outside of the uni. I play classical, bluegrass, country and folk guitar (hows that for a mix?) I am a member of the Australian Labor Party and am currently branch secretary of the Mt Coot-tha branch. I'm also involved in developing virtual reality builds and websites. Never bored!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Federal control of Australian universities, or Do ya wanta buy some ethics?

The latest push by the current commonwealth government in Oz is its desire to take over the nation's universities. Even though they contribute about 40% of the money they want total control. This is very scary stuff indeed.

It was this government that began meddling in research, with the minister dictating what and what will not be funded, overriding the Australian Research Council's decisions on the matter. The board of the ARC made a fuss, so the government got rid of the board. I have personal knowledge of this meddling and it is a harbinger of things to come if this collection of petit-bourgeois reactionaries get their clutches on universities.

It was this government that has gradually withdrawn funding from universities and increasing fees such that the concept of a 'fair go' for any Australian kid who wanted a university education is fading away. The universities are now locked into begging, commercialisation and overseas students to keep afloat.

And of course, the dreaded Managerial disease has struck virulently in university culture, such that the students and the academic staff -- unless they make lots of money -- are a bloody pain in the gluteus maximus, and are tolerated but not admired.

But we have money for buildings. We have very little money for the more traditional aspects of university life, such as what is generally termed the humanities, and the arts, and the social sciences. The ethos seems to be "If you can't count it, it doesn't exist". So unquantifiable aspects of human culture and education are therefore shoved into the 'countable' corner, no doubt to keep the bureaucrats and accountants at government level happy; they in turn can report to their political masters 'hard data' upon which the 'hard' decisions are made.

A number of my colleagues and I have discussed the fact that universities are becoming trade schools. This is an insult to both the bona fide trade schools and to universities themselves. Essentially, universities are creating graduates who assimilate the corporate ethos along with some knowledge so they become good little corporate citizens. The concepts of the university as informed by the Enlightenment and humanism have become irrelevant and moribund -- as far as this government goes.

And this is the crew that wants to run our universities. They will dictate the curriculum. They will set up a cargo cult approach to funding as they have done with the nation overall, such that there can be no long-term planning or development.

It is time for serious change from this mode of thinking to one of a vision for our educational institutions that can be best summed up by a quote from Ben Chifley:

We have a great objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.

Pause and reflect. And to end, let us hear from Oscar Wilde who describes a cynic as a person who knows the cost of everything and value of nothing. Doesn't that just about sum it all up?

Enough for now.

PB White