At the recent NTEU National Council I had several conversations about the way in which neoliberalism and managerialism are impacting on our higher education sector.
This calls to mind a recent article written by Raewyn Connell. Raewyn’s recent article is about her ideas of what makes a good university.
As far as the public is concerned, a good university is most likely to be one that ranks highly on international comparison tables.
The top universities on these international comparison tables tend to consistently be universities such as Harvard, MIT, Chicago, Stanford, Caltech, Cambridge and Oxford.
What this means is that the rankings measure how closely other universities match these well-known, rich and elite organisations.
Raewyn says in her article that she has worked in two of them and experienced for herself “how destructive their privilege and arrogance are for the engagement and trust that create real quality in higher education”.
In contrast, good universities should reflect not privilege and inequity, but rather inclusivity with a focus on social justice and democracy.
A good university should be intellectually ambitious and should be a good place to work and to study.
What we see in Australia, and in other neoliberal countries, is a gradual decline in opportunities for both students and staff to engage in debate and to participate in democratic decision making.
In the same journal, Nick Riemer argues that we would be naïve to think that Vice Chancellors and university management are helpless victims of a regime imposed by government. Instead, he argues, university authorities have made conscious choices to align their operating models with those of commercial business and the business leaders on university councils.
“Compliance with the ideological norms of corporate university has certainly become second-nature to many.”
I have talked in several previous articles about the impact of this on staff: the growing casualisation of academic work, attacks on academic freedom and the increasing surveillance.
What we sometimes forget is the impact of this on students. We see significant increases in the cost of a university education for students, increasing standardisation of teaching and learning, and an emphasis on pre-set learning outcomes.
Education is no longer transformative, rather it has become a vehicle where students learn to submit to a greater authority which identifies what they can and should know: preparation one might argue, for a workforce where employees are valued based on their conformity to expectations.
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