“I believe the Australian university system is dead. I cannot visualize how it can be compared in the future to medium-sized HE-countries like Canada and the Netherlands. Australia has either killed or transformed its tertiary system. There is no going back. There won’t be a Descartes Institute.
It doesn’t matter whether you publish or cited, but whether you are successful in getting government grants. I can be widely respected and known. The only thing my manager will look at, is: when did you last time get an ARC grant and how much money was attached to it? Institutional politics is brutal and direct.
Of course, I have tried to get grants for my Descartes research. But as it turns out, the people on the ARC are just not interested in that kind of thing. They are focused on Australian history and the like. So I don’t bother to apply anymore. And I am also half retired, which gives me the freedom to go to conferences like that of the Descartes Centre without having to explain that to my dean.
If you have had a generation of cutting funding, the system is sustained by fee paying foreign nationals, mostly Asian. At some universities, this could be 20% of the university population. Australian students used to go for free, now they pay out of their taxes. The difference between life and death is these foreign full fee paying nationals. There have been great scandals about this in Australia.
When you start to starve the academic system, you get tremendously heated competition and fighting, in which of course it is survival of the fittest, because some people are adept at running this kind of scarce competition. This produces the most narrow managerial, vicious, academically blinkered university managers. The system is now almost a generation old.
At Australian universities, most academics are left leaning. I am from New York, in American terms, I would be a Democrat, but on this issues, politicians left of the centre are hopeless. But the Labour Party has been just as bad as Liberal Government in squeezing funding, yet increasing auditing and micromanaging the universities. Labour got in last year. All my colleagues believed that there would be going to be more funding for the universities. But of course, Labour is now New Labour, managerial, practical, focusing on the sharp edge of the economy.
I understand that in most of Europe, government funding per student has gone up in the last 20 years. In Australia it has gone down dramatically, cut during the boom related to Asia. If you cut funding during a boom, imagine what will happen during a depression!”