Monday, June 29, 2020

Coronavirus and university reforms put at risk Australia’s research gains of the last 15 years

Image: The Conversation
Education minister Dan Tehan will be meeting with university vice-chancellors to devise a new way of funding university research. They will have plenty to talk about.
Australia’s universities have been remarkably successful in  building their research output. But there are cracks in the funding foundations of that success, which are being exposed by the revenue shock of COVID-19 and the minister’s reforms announced this month, which would pay for new student places with money currently spent on research.
I estimate the gap in funding that needs to be filled to maintain our current research output at around $4.7 billion.

The funding foundations crumble

The timing of Dan Tehan’s higher education reform package could not have been worse for the university research sector.
The vulnerability created by universities’ reliance on international students has been brutally revealed this year. Travel bans prevent international students arriving in Australia and the COVID-19 recession undermines their capacity to pay tuition fees.
Profits from domestic and international students are the only way universities can finance research on the current scale, with more than A$12 billion spent in 2018.
Based on a Deloitte Access Economics analysis of teaching costs, universities make a surplus of about A$1.3 billion on domestic students. Universities use much of this surplus to fund research.
Tehan’s reform package seeks to align the total teaching funding rates for each Commonwealth supported student – the combined tuition subsidy and student contribution – with the teaching and scholarship costs identified in the Deloitte analysis.
On 2018 enrolment numbers, revenue losses for universities for Commonwealth supported students would total around $750 million with this realignment. With only teaching costs funded, universities will have little or no surplus from their teaching to spend on research.
International student profits are larger than domestic – at around $4 billion. Much of this money is spent on research too, and much of this is at risk. The recession will also reduce how much industry partners and philanthropists can contribute to university research.
Australia’s Chief Scientist estimates 7,700 research jobs are at risk  from COVID-19 factors alone. Unless the Commonwealth intervenes with a new research funding policy, its recent announcements will trigger further significant research job losses.

Combined teaching and research academic jobs will decline

Although less research employment will be available, the additional domestic students financed by redirecting research funding will generate teaching work.
More students is a good thing in itself, as the COVID-19 recession will generate more demand for higher education.
But this reallocation between research and teaching will exacerbate a major structural problem in the academic labour market. Although most academics want teaching and research, or research-only roles, over the last 30 years Commonwealth teaching and research funding has separated.
After the latest Tehan reforms, funding for the two activities will be based on entirely different criteria and put on very different growth trajectories.
An academic employment model that assumes the same people teach and research was kept alive by funding surpluses on domestic, and especially international, students. With both these surpluses being hit hard, the funding logic is that a trend towards more specialised academic staff will have to accelerate.
We can expect academic morale to fall and industrial action to rise as university workforces resist this change.
The funding squeeze will also undermine the current system of Commonwealth research funding. This funding is allocated in two main ways. In part, it comes from competitive project grant funding, largely from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.
Academic prestige is attached to winning these grants, but the money allocated does not cover the project’s costs. Typically, universities pay the salaries of the lead researchers and general costs, such as laboratories and libraries.
Universities are partly compensated for those expenses through research block grants, which are awarded based on previous academic performance, including in winning competitive grants. But because block grants do not cover all competitive project grant costs, the system has relied on discretionary revenue, much of it from students, to work. It will need a major rethink if teaching becomes much less profitable.

The stakes are high

University spending on research (which was over $12 billion  in 2018), has nearly tripled since 2000 in real terms.
Direct government spending on research increased this century, but not by nearly enough to finance this huge expansion in outlays. In 2018, the Commonwealth government’s main research funding programs contributed A$3.7 billion.
An additional $600 million came from other Commonwealth sources such as government department contracts for specific pieces of research.
In addition to this Commonwealth money, universities received another $1.9 billion in earmarked research funding from state, territory and other (national) governments, donations, and industry.
These research-specific sources still leave billions of dollars in research spending without a clear source of finance. Universities have investment earnings, profits on commercial operations and other revenue sources they can invest in research.
But these cannot possibly cover the estimated $4.7 billion gap between research revenue and spending.
With lower profits on teaching, this gap cannot be filled. Research spending will have to be reduced by billions of dollars.
We are at a turning point in Australian higher education. The research gains of the last fifteen years are at risk of being reversed. The minister’s meeting with vice-chancellors has very high stakes.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The PhD: Why is Academia so damn SLOW?!

Compared to my friends who have gone out of academia, into business and the corporate world, I am moving at a very slow pace. They run several projects a year and publish reports, I still haven’t published results from research that was run in November 2017. Yes, that is effectively two and a half years ago. Most projects in the private sector don’t take that long to run fully, let alone if we are only talking analysis and writing up.

Academia, unfortunately, just seems much slower than the private sector. Not only does it seem slower, it just is. And there are a few reasons for that. The most prominent ones being the setting up of the study and the publishing process.
Setting up a study
If you have ever had an idea, and wanted it to exist in reality, you know there is a massive difference between theory and practice. In theory things work, in practice they are more likely to fail. Testing an idea is much the same. What you will have to come up with is a plan of testing something. This plan has to be well thought out and pre-registered, that is, specifying every detail of the study, including the recruitment process (tools, sample size), the methodology (what, where, which stimuli and actions), exclusion criteria and the analysis to be carried out.  
This may seem rather obvious/self-explanatory, but all these things will have to be mentioned and justified in the write-up as well, so there needs to be a lot of reasoning and intent behind each answer to these questions. This process takes a long time.
Conducting the study
Now your initial set of months is up. What will happen now is that the study will be published online, and data collection will happen, or the study will be done in the lab or the field. With online collection you just have to wait, with lab and field experiments you often have to be present when the experiment is running.

You will have signups for different timeslots, not all people will turn up, they just never do. So account for that too, and probably double your expected running time. Especially if the study has multiple sessions, meaning a participant would have to show up to three separate occasions, expect a massive drop-out rate. It will take much longer than anticipated.
Now, however long it has taken, it is complete! Now, the analysis. The speed of this process depends on a couple of things, starting with your own skill level. If you are good at coding, this will go a lot quicker than if you are not and need a lot of help.

The pre-registration can help a lot with this, as you have essentially specified what you were going to do before you even conducted the analysis. But this can backfire. Sometimes the data isn’t shaped the way you thought it would be, and the original analysis doesn’t work. You’ll have to come up with a new one: more delay.
Write up
The writing process, just like the analysis, depends mainly on skill level. Are you a good writer? And are you a fast writer? Make sure you have good examples you can copy from.

Some people write without a journal in mind, they have a general version of the entire paper. Then they select a journal, and a category of paper within that journal. They then adapt the paper to fit the criteria of that journal and its style. Others don’t have a general version, they select a journal, and then write around these criteria, they do not write beforehand.

Writing does not just happen when the study and analysis are done. Most of the literature tends to be reviewed before the study is even set up, where else do the idea and methodology come from? A lot of the paper can be written before the experiment stage.
One version of the paper is finished. Excellent! I would recommend you take a moment to appreciate how far you have come. Now the paper should be in the right shape to submit to a journal. Upload your documents, following the criteria, fill in all your details (and those of co-authors) and select your reviewers and editors, upload cover letter and submit. Now you wait.

Depending on your field of work there is going to be a waiting period to see whether editors and reviewers like your paper and deem it worthy of publishing. This process can take very long, and during it, there’s not much you can do about this specific project. If the paper gets accepted it will be (often) with edits, which will also require work and time. Most often, the paper will be rejected.

After rejection, what you do depends on the comments given to you by the reviewers. Some comments indicate that your research would benefit from having more experiments, increasing the robustness of the result. Others need a better analysis. Some are just not a good fit for that particular journal. In the latter case, you have to re-write parts of this paper to fit a different journal and go through the process again. You might even need to start again, conducting more experiments, or doing the analysis and write-up again.

This costs a lot of time. So far, the time passed between an idea, and actually getting it published has been a long time already. And this is normal in academia.
If you have experienced this long process and have tips for dealing with it,  tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.
by Merle
Merle van den Akker is a PhD student with the Behavioural Science Group at WBS, looking into the effect of contactless payments on how me manage our finances. She tweets at @MoneyMindMerle.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Beyond the black hole of global university rankings: rediscovering the true value of knowledge and ideas

Image: The
The recent release of global university rankings and the way these are reported raises important questions about the role and reputation of our tertiary institutions.
Are universities measured and ranked according to what we really value? Or are they ranked and valued only by what is measured? And are those measures authentic and trusted indicators of quality?
There was a time when no one feared that a university might slip a quality ranking or two in the eyes of the world, the taxpayer, benefactors or students considering domestic or international study. Nowadays, however, universities see no limit to the black hole of global rankings. Its gravitational pull consumes their attention.
While a modern phenomenon, rankings have historical origins. The birth of the modern research-intensive university  can be traced to Western Europe in 1665 when the first academic journals appeared. In Germany, more than 3,000 journals were published between 1665 and 1790, marking an institutional move from the teaching university to the research university.
Academics were able to share and legitimise their research by publishing in these journals. Students who were called on to write and defend their essays orally could draw on the journals to support their learning.

There is no one ranking standard

Today’s journals and the number of citations academics can claim in them are key indicators of a university’s rank and quality. However, when a university has to research and teach in a language other than English, the effect on its ranking can be drastic.
Databases used by the larger university ranking systems, such as Scopus and CSI/SSCI, don’t automatically pick up non-English journals. Opportunities for researchers to gain “ranking points” through peer citations are therefore reduced.
The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco, the oldest operating institution in the world. Shutterstock
In the global rankings of university quality, various factors are weighted slightly differently. The QS World University Rankings pay particular attention to reputation among colleagues in the discipline. The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) considers citations in journals as a proxy for research quality. And the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THE) allocate equally across peer reputation, citation and institutional self-report surveys.
The systems are far from simple and universities increasingly invest in experts to advise on how to improve and maintain ranking scores, especially as more universities crowd the global ranking field.
If we are to accept this imperative to measure and rank universities by academic reputation, publishing record, teaching and research intensity, then we need to ask another question: what other indicators of quality and value might be included?
While online programs have often been considered inferior to “live” learning, for instance, the impact of COVID-19 has forced us to reconsider. There is now broader awareness of the opportunities online teaching opens up – including its positive impact on universities’ carbon footprints.
In fact, the THE rankings tracked progress towards the UN’s  Sustainable Development Goals for the first time in 2019. One example of such sustainable activity is Goldsmiths College at the University of London, which banned the sale of beef on campus.
Oxford University: ‘The Lord is my light’ Shutterstock

How do you measure intangible value?

Taking an even broader view, might we consider the spiritual dimension of higher education? The university has long been valued for its divine contribution: Oxford University’s motto has been “Dominus illuminatio mea” (the Lord is my light) for at least 200 years. “O my Lord. Advance me in Knowledge” is the motto of the University of Karachi.
This marriage of the sacred and the scientific has been a theme since the founding of the University of al-Qarawiyyin in 859 AD in Morocco. It’s said to be the oldest continually operating higher educational institution in the world.
In the rush to measure quantifiable indicators of output have we obscured these less tangible forms of value?
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it was the value of communication and connection (sometimes called  connectivism). In fact, experts from universities came to the fore as rarely before. Rather than handing more influence to PR and social media experts, might this be an opportunity to re-create the university as the place for exchanging ideas, teaching and research?
Maybe we should look back to the House of Wisdom (بيت الحكمة‎), founded in Baghdad in 786 CE, where scholars met daily to translate, discuss and write in many languages: Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek and Latin. Aristotle’s work was famously translated from Greek. So too the work of the physician Hippocrates.
What hadn’t been accessible was made accessible and shared. The “West” benefited from this knowledge from the East, laying the foundations for the Renaissance.
This was a true academy of the arts and sciences, valued not for its citations, number of Nobel Prize winners or the ratio of doctorates to bachelor degrees, but for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. One wonders how this global multilingual forerunner of a quality modern university might fare under our ranking regime.
By reaching back in history we might recover those other measures of quality and value that formed the foundations upon which modern universities are built. The adage that “if everything is to be as before, then all must change” rings true. How we value and rank the exchange of knowledge and ideas will once again become something worth striving for.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The PhD: Online conferences - the new normal?

by Lúcia Collischonn, PhD Life:

It seems that even if we get out of lockdown, social distancing measures will be around for a while. It makes it hard to plan anything, especially events that involve socialising and networking. And, to be honest, what are conferences? They are social events with an aim to present our research and exchange ideas and experiences with other researchers. Only there’s more to it than just that. In a time in which everything has been moved online, how will we cope with the new normal? Our editor shares her experience and her thoughts on Online Conferences.

You never think it will happen to you, until it does: you’ve been invited to an Online Conference. The email starts the same way “I hope this finds you well”, only this time the words “unprecedented”, “COVID”, and “current situation” are thrown in for good measure, and as a warm-up to what’s about to come: an invitation to an Online Conference over Zoom, Skype, Teams, or any other new conferencing tool that rose from the ashes of internet obscurity to aid us all in feeling a bit more normal. But this isn’t normal. We want it to be, but let’s be honest: nothing in this situation can be anywhere close to normal. I admire those who want to keep on and who try their best to make the best out of a bad situation, but can we just talk a little bit about this weird collective experience we are going through? Can we talk about how odd, annoying and depressing it can be? Well, I know I need to, so I don’t feel like I am alone in that.
Ah, do you remember those PRECEDENTED times? Those were the times! Going to conferences for the coffee break, the wine reception, the excuse to travel a bit and, more importantly, to feel like you are not so crazy and you are not talking to a wall. If you’re stuck in a lab, in the library, in the archives, seeing people and talking to them is a breath of fresh air. Otherwise you might be talking to a wall, literally. In any case, in my experience, there are some lessons to be learnt.
Grieving normal life
Recently I read a piece which helped me understand the sadness that encompasses me everytime we start an online call. It is like grief, we are mourning the time before this pandemic, because even if things do go back to ‘normal’, we are all changed by this collective experience. Everytime you click on ‘Join a Meeting’ you are reminded of the fact that you would be actually joining that group of people, you would be able to see them properly, without any freezed frames, lags and the like. 
I’ve been to online quizzes, reading groups, lectures, conferences, translation clubs, workshops, etc. It makes me sad that I am not with those people. Don’t get me wrong, I join all of these events, they help me feel less alone, so there’s definitely great things to be said about them, but if I am being totally honest, I don’t feel excited about any of them. I also don’t like the assumption that, because we are all at home, we have all the time in the world. Joining an online conference takes up a substantial part of your mental energy, as well as your social one. Introverts need some time alone more than the usual, and the amount of socialising going on online at the moment can be overwhelming and can make us feel drained anyway. 
On the spot!
When you are in a conference or a talk or a group chat, if you have a comment to make you can usually say it to them, there are many parallel conversations, but what I noticed is that in online conferences, if you want to say something, everyone has to listen, and that puts you on the spot, which can be bad if you are shy and don’t feel comfortable asking questions. There is a feature, however, that in-person conferences don’t have: the chat. In the majority of events I joined so far, the chat was a welcome tool to organise questions, comments, share resources, or anything you feel like you don’t want to or need to say. This also opens up the possibility for people to think of questions and write them down beforehand, and for the person being asked to think more about their response and send them later on. I am wondering if there is a way to keep that feature somehow when we are back to ‘normal’…
There are good things we can learn about this to apply it to conferences IRL: if you have nothing useful to say and don’t want to bother the speaker, mute your microphones (be quiet), if you have a question but couldn’t think of it on the spot, message them later on and maybe you’ll create new connections. 
That being said, I like to know that we are able to adapt, I am also privileged in that I have time, resources, a proper internet connection, etc. I think we have learnt something from this, and I hope we take some of it into our post-pandemic life, but I sincerely hope we get to go back to seeing people in vivo again, not only through our screens. As an international student, I already have to see my family and close friends through a screen, if I have to do that in all areas of my life I might as well become a machine.
And what about you, did you join an online conference, reading group, or any other online social event during this quarantine? What did you think? Can you imagine what that would be like? Let us know! Comment below, tweet us at @warwicklibrary or email us at!
by Lúcia

Lúcia Collischonn is a second-year PhD student in Translation Studies at the Warwick Writing Programme. She is the editor of the library blogs, Study Blog and PhD Life. Lúcia is an award-losing literary translator, writer and language nerd. Her translation of Yoko Tawada’s Etüden im Schnee was published last year in Brazil. You can find her ramblings on twitter @lucycolli. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Universities and government need to rethink their relationship with each other before it’s too late

I’m reading Thomas Carlyle’s poetic classic, The French Revolution, published in 1837. It occurred to me that the historical narrative of Australian universities and their relationship to government is like that revolution, but in reverse.
Carlyle summarised the goal of the French Revolution with the refrain “victorious analysis”. This was the foundation of Australia’s modern, rational system of government, achieved with universities. It was a triumph that turned out to be deeply flawed, as we will see.
Reversing the revolutionary process, in recent years universities have descended into the kind of aristocratic excess Carlyle described in pre-revolutionary France. This leaves a large scholarly workforce facing (this is Carlyle again) “an indubitable scarcity of bread”.
It is an admittedly dubious historical parallel, but it helps us understand something of the relationship of higher education to Australian politics, and the mess we now face.

The foundation of the Australian university

W.C.Wentworth. State Library of NSW
In the mid-19th century, when Australians decided they wanted to govern themselves, political leaders knew they needed a university. Politician and university founder W.C. Wentworth went so far as to argue that self-government in New South Wales – the kind of modern, rational government increasingly in vogue since the French Revolution – would be “useless” without higher education.
In Carlyle’s more flowery language (citing Plato’s Republic):  Australia had no aristocracy to overthrow and the founders of our first governments sought a basis for rule that did not rest on inherited position. University graduates, Wentworth believed, were needed to “enlighten the mind, to refine the understanding, to elevate the soul of our fellow men”. They were also needed to train men – and, shortly, women – to fill “the high offices of state”.
Kings can become philosophers; or else philosophers Kings. Let but Society be once rightly constituted, by victorious Analysis.
This merit-based elite – which some of Wentworth’s contemporaries ridiculed as a “bunyip aristocracy” – constituted the emerging professional class. Their work as medical practitioners, lawyers, clergy, teachers, charity workers, engineers and politicians was to guide this “rightly constituted” society.
Such modern, rational governments relied on the kinds of knowledge that a university pursued. “Victorious analysis” guided Australian governments through rabbit plagues and conquered parasites and diseases that threatened food supply and human health.
But it also steered the conquest of Aboriginal lands with knowledge of geology, geography, anthropology and agriculture. And it equipped generations of teachers and clergy with the wealth that was Western history, literature and philosophy – embedded in a racialised, moral superiority.
It was not perfect. Indeed, in many ways this “victorious analysis” was downright harmful.
The kind of knowledge the university produced helped build the nation, but it did so by also developing and reinforcing ideas that expropriated Indigenous land and oppressed people of colour. It built and encouraged ideas that determined a human’s worth on the basis of race, gender and sexuality. Universities and the governments they supported structured a so-called “rational” world that extracted value from some people and concentrated it among themselves.

Exposing the flaw in ‘victorious analysis’

By the second world war, some of these problems were becoming evident worldwide. In that war, the same “victorious analysis” combined with political regimes that sought to use “rational” knowledge to commit atrocities, even genocide, and demolish cities full of civilians.
It was at work when Nazi doctor Josef Mengele compared the effects of cruel experiments on twins at Auschwitz. Through those unspeakable experiments on 1,500 sets of twins, only 200 survived.
The dangers of aligning scholarly knowledge with political regimes was further exposed when, in the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin dismissed, imprisoned or executed thousands of biologists. The reality that their knowledge may have helped prevent a tragic famine was not more important to Stalin than that their understanding of genetics contradicted government doctrine.
Democratic regimes were not immune. “Victorious analysis” led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When news of those horrors filtered through, Western democracies saw the problem engendered by the relationship between modern, rational government and scholarly research.

Protecting the independence of scholarship

This did not mean governments sought to dismantle or undermine universities. On the contrary, Australian governments, like most others, invested in them further. However, care was taken, in Australia as elsewhere, to increasingly protect universities from political interference.
At this moment, Nobel-prize-winning author Herman Hesse had his character Joseph Knecht express the significance of scholarly independence in his novel The Glass Bead Game, published in 1943. Describing an age where rulers “determined the sum of two and two” and scholars capitulated (and lost their self-respect), protested (and died) or learned the art of silence (merely going hungry), Hesse’s character concluded that scholarship and politics must not mix:
The scholar who knowingly speaks, writes or teaches falsehood, who knowingly supports lies and deceptions, not only violates organic principles. He also, no matter how things may seem at the given moment, does his people a grave disservice. He corrupts its air and soil, its food and drink; he poisons its thinking and its laws, and he gives comfort and aid to all the hostile, evil forces that threaten the nation with annihilation. The Castalian [scholar], therefore, should not become a politician.
These sentiments were not confined to fiction. As the Commonwealth government sought to support the expansion of higher education – a tricky task, since education was and is the responsibility of Australia’s states – they were conscious of the contradictions required of them.
Robert Menzies, here receiving an honorary degree from Winston Churchill in 1941, invested heavily in universities. National Museum of Australia
The 1957 Murray Report, arguably the founding document for the modern university in Australia, pointed to exactly this.
Here is one of the most valuable services which a university, as an independent community of scholars and inquirers, can perform for its country and for the world. The public, and even statesmen, are human enough to be restive or angry from time to time, when perhaps at inconvenient moments the scientist or scholar uses the licence which the academic freedom of universities allows him, and brings us all back to a consideration of the true evidence and what it may be taken to prove …
… No nation in its senses wishes to make itself prone to self-delusion, or to deceit by other nations; and a good university is the best guarantee that mankind can have that somebody, whatever the circumstances, will continue to seek the truth and to make it known. Any free country welcomes this and expects this service of its universities.
On the basis of this report, Prime Minister Robert Menzies instigated what is likely the most generous funding Australian universities have ever seen.
He was building on work that Labor did during the war, establishing the Universities Commission and implementing a funding scheme that helped universities build new infrastructure.
The clashes produced by the dual need for scholarly independence and democratic accountability emerged early. “What I am asking,” argued the vice-chancellor at Sydney University in 1943, “is that you give us the money and be done with it.”
The government bureaucrat replied:
It is a large sum of money and when the Government says ‘We gave this subsidy, did the universities find it all right?’, we must be able to say something more than just ‘Trust the Universities’.
Paul Miller/AAP
Solutions and compromises were negotiated, though the original problems of “victorious analysis” remained.

Contesting the moral foundation of the university

By the 1970s, students and academics began to point out that this rational, supposedly objective system of knowledge veiled ideologies. This was not avoidable, they argued, and so the solution was to seek knowledge systems that were inclusive and decolonising, rather than those that supported established systems of inequality.
Under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s policy of free public education, the university sector expanded, seeking innovative and inclusive methods of learning and teaching.
In retrospect, this disruption in the universities marked a shift in the moral focus of the professional class. Where university graduates were originally central to the colonial project and capitalist expansion, they now turned their moral efforts towards moderating both.
This put them at odds with the political and managerial classes with whom the professional class, in the mid-20th century, had managed the entire world, through institutions like the World Health Organisation.

Rise of the managerial elite

But now the professional class split from the managerial class. Using radical student critiques of old moral codes as a springboard, in the 1980s the managerial class sought freedom from traditional moral constraints, which they believed also constrained capitalist growth.
This was more than a culture war: it was conflict over the moral foundation – and thus the control – of the economy. It was a kind of class struggle between a changing professional class and a newly separate, managerial class.
National Library of Australia
New values infused government and university leadership alike, forging what became known as neoliberalism. By the mid-1980s, “victorious analysis” was no longer the basis of government. Yet, ironically, government and economy alike relied on universities more than ever. Innovation was often key to profitability, and the changing global economy required ever more white-collar workers: university graduates.
In 1987, Labor Education and Training Minister John Dawkins led a review of higher education that sought to shift the entire university and college sector from “victorious analysis” to economic asset. Rather than considering the university as a moral institution, it would now be an economic one. An international student “export” market was a key component of 1980s reforms. So too, was massive expansion in the enrolment of Australian students.
But that professional class – which included academics, journalists and teachers, in influential roles – could clearly not be trusted to prioritise capitalist expansion over moral reform.
Transformations in higher education, then, wrested institutions from academic control. Over the following two decades, management of universities became a professional pathway almost entirely distinct from the pursuit of scholarship.
We must not romanticise universities run by academics under the old conditions of “victorious analysis”. As we have seen, this did a great deal of harm. But the fact that the system needed to change need not imply a managerialist solution.
Steered by government policy, an expensive managerialist epidemic infected the universities. Every year, millions of dollars in salaries alone propped up a this new “aristocracy”, a managerial elite.
Leaders assured us this was the best way to manage these growing and complex institutions. But, instead, managers encouraged one another to game the government’s funding system to achieve their KPIs (and earn spectacular bonuses). The cost has been a failure to invest in good universities that are sustainable in the long term.

Failure to build a good university sector

Looking at the state of the university sector now, we surely cannot consider the managerial salary bill to be money well spent. The present crisis was exacerbated by COVID-19 but was not unexpected.
University leaders were repeatedly warned of financial risks, of threats to the university’s legitimacy (and thus community and political support). They have also been reminded continually of their moral responsibility as public institutions. And yet, like Carlyle’s King Louis XV, they have pilfered resources that were “sufficient not to conquer Flanders, but the patience of the world”.
Like that French aristocracy, the university sector in Australia has been teetering on the edge of ruin for decades. In some ways it is astonishing it has taken so long to tip over. Carlyle, on pre-revolutionary France, noted that:
[…] it is singular how long the rotten will hold together, provided you do not handle it roughly.
Australian universities have long teetered – or, worse, arrogantly swaggered – on a precarious foundation. Their precarity goes beyond their over-reliance on international student fees and management’s tiresome reprises of what Geoff Sharrock calls “yesterday’s logic”.
Julian Smith/AAP
All of this – the education of young people, the medical research we’ve all been sitting at home waiting to be done, our entire stock of knowledge of history, mathematics, robotics, climate science – sits atop a 93,000-strong  workforce of casual academics on starvation wages. It is these academics who will probably be out of work within the month.
They will likely be followed by thousands of their better-paid, but still overworked, teaching and researching colleagues, then thousands of the indispensable workers who throughout the pandemic have kept the technology running, the exams timetabled, library resources accessible, the payroll delivered, and who have cared for troubled or confused students.
A good university sector would look at 100,000 very clever, highly qualified and extremely hard-working scholars and see a valuable resource.
A good government would work with them.
The job of building a good university out of the system we have inherited from history is a more revolutionary task. It is one we all need to share.