The open letter, signed by over 1200 academics, has been submitted on the 1st of August 2020 to the Hon Dan Tehan, Federal Minister for Education, and to all State Ministers for Education.


However, the open letter remains open to all Australian academics who may wish to add their names.


We will report, and (if appropriate) upload any reply we’ll receive on the website. Please keep monitoring the site for any news.

Please continue to share the open letter as broadly as possible

 

Dr Alessandro Pelizzon and Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau were featured in a news segment released by Channel 7 on Prime Seven News aired at 6pm on Wednesday the 29th of July. The segment included a section that was not part of the original interview. The section focused explicitly on the Vice-Chancellor of Southern Cross University, Professor Adam Shoemaker. We would like to note that we believe the added segment to contain information that is factually incorrect. More importantly, we would like to make it known that Professor Shoemaker has our absolute respect and support. 

As a result of this event, we would like to take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that the problems we suggest besiege Australian universities are systemic and structural, not individual and agentic. Individuals fulfil their roles with varying degrees of effectiveness and efficacy, and it is not our intention to suggest any fault on the part of any particular individual. In fact, many of the problems Australian universities currently face exist notwithstanding excellent individual performances. As a result, we would like to emphasise that it is the very structure of Australian universities that must be reimagined.

Dr Alessandro Pelizzon and Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau

 

AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE AUSTRALIAN ACADEMIC COMMUNITY

Due to the current COVID19 predicament, Australian Universities are predicted to lose over 19 billion Australian dollars over the course of the next three years, leading to significant job losses and a consequential significant decrease in the overall quality of both pedagogy and research.  

The Australian government has, thus far, decided to provide very limited support to Australian Universities to deal with the ‘coronavirus crisis’, forcing institution managements to adopt a range of drastic measures including major job cuts and significantly reduced conditions. However, over the past few weeks, we have led an initiative involving a great number of Australian academics to investigate alternative solutions to the current measures, and, as a result, we have identified much deeper, long-standing, and structural issues that have caused Australian Universities to become particularly vulnerable to relatively unexpected events.

A generation ago, the management of Australian Universities was conducted by a collegium of those who were recognised as the most distinguished academics in a given institution. Two decades later, most University Councils have ceased to be transparently accountable to either the Universities on whose behalf they are legally intended to act or to the larger political community. Furthermore, the current executive cadre appointed by these increasingly autocratic Councils, far from displaying the degree of excellence of the past, is instead often comprised of astonishingly well-paid, often institution-hopping, administrators without any long-term institutional knowledge and memory. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Australian Universities as centres of excellence and free inquiry are now on the brink of ‘extinction’. 


To counter this trajectory, we propose a return to the time-honoured and proven horizontal University model most of the world’s Universities still operate under. We propose that University Council are, once again, made accountable to both the University on whose behalf they operate and the larger body politics. Furthermore, we propose that all senior and middle-executive roles are selected through internal processes rather than through a commercial corporate recruitment strategy. While enacting significant financial savings, this ensures that existing members of the academic community are able to intervene in the overall governance of the Universitas, as intended by and expected from each of the Australian Universities’ enabling legislation.

Please, read the Open Letter below

 

THE FINANCIAL FAILURE OF THE AUSTRALIAN CORPORATE UNIVERSITY: AN ALTERNATIVE WAY FORWARD

Open Letter to the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Federal Minister for Education, and to the State Ministers for Education 

The ‘crisis’

As a direct result of the current COVID 19 predicament, Australian Universities are predicted to lose over 19 billion Australian dollars over the next three years, leading to significant job losses and a consequential decrease in the quality of both pedagogy and research. Financial modelling, recently published by the University of Melbourne, reveals that the longer-term prospects of richer institutions are ‘grim’, even though they may have enough assets to withstand the current crisis, while poorer universities face a veritable existential threat. Since the Australian government has, thus far, decided to provide limited support to Universities to deal with the crisis, University managements have adopted a range of at times drastic measures, with, in some cases, large numbers of staff being forced to accept job cuts and reduced conditions to avoid institutional insolvency. The very survival of Australia’s tradition of academic rigour, inquiry, and freedom is presently under threat.

The emergence of the corporate university

Rather than being the cause of the current crisis, however, the COVID 19 predicament has only revealed pre-existing and longstanding vulnerabilities. Over the past several decades, Australian Universities have morphed into quasi-commercial corporations, notwithstanding enabling legislation that explicitly establishes academic institutions as body corporates with non-commercial goals and functions. The result has been a significant increase in economic competition between institutions, aggressive student (especially international) recruitment, vast marketing budgets, ever increasing demands on staff productivity, extensive casualisation, increasingly autocratic University Councils with diminished accountability, and the entrenchment of a swollen, astonishingly well paid, cadre of senior and executive managers.


The growth of this executive and managerial cadre has led to an increasing number of career-focused, institution-hopping academics, separate and distinct from the rest of the academic collegium, whose salaries far exceed those of the vast majority of their international counterparts. While their existence has been justified with refrains to the logic of market-based economics, the resulting increased centralization of power in the hands of an autocratic elite has not led to increased performance and economic efficiency, as the current COVID 19 crisis has starkly revealed. In fact, the emergence of the commercial corporate University in Australia has led to systemic organisational waste, overall uncertainty, and extreme financial vulnerability.


The problem

At present, most University Councils have ceased to be transparently accountable to either the Universities on whose behalf they are legally intended to act or to the broader public who funds the University sector. As a result, University Councils now operate as autocratic entities who internally elect the vast majority of their own members. Moreover, University Councils create, enable, and perpetuate a hierarchical executive structure intended to mimic the commercial corporate sector, and who, ultimately, preside over a University model that has both strayed from its legislative intention and has proven to be financially fragile.


Furthermore, while complex organisational structures are certainly necessary due to the large size of academic institutions, the number of stakeholders, and numerous standards and accreditation requirements, there exists no inherent mandate to allocate or delegate decision making authority to a cadre of separate, often institution-hopping, astonishingly well-paid individuals. Their lack of institutional knowledge and memory, the consistent carousel of change engendered by rapidly rotating roles, and overall excessive salary expenditures for an oversized executive and managerial cohort that ‘produces’ little of what a University core ‘product’ is: that is, tertiary teaching and research. These are all factors contributing to the current vulnerable position Universities find themselves in.


Our proposal

We argue that a structural reform is required to address the problems the current crisis has revealed. We propose a return to the time-honoured and proven horizontal University model most of the world’s Universities still operate under. We propose that University Councils are, once again, made accountable to both the University on whose behalf they operate and the larger body politic. Furthermore, we propose that all senior and middle-executive roles, including but not limited to Vice-Chancellors, Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Heads of Schools, Faculties and Colleges, as well as all other Directorial and equivalent roles, are selected through internal processes rather than through a commercial corporate recruitment strategy.


Universities are one of the oldest continuous institutions known to humankind. Their commitment to advanced inquiry, rigorous education and freedom of thought constitute the intellectual soul of all modern nations. A good University sector is an essential pillar of the nation, indispensable for its future prosperity, intellectual robustness and financial wellbeing. Rather than being overwhelmed by the current crisis, and allow it to be dominated by business-as-usual orthodoxy likely to further re-enact the existing financial and structural vulnerability of Australian Universities, we ought to use this crisis as an opportunity to reclaim the University and reimagine our public institutions as the necessary tools to help us navigate our increasingly uncertain and daunting common future.

 

SIGN THE OPEN LETTER

I agree to be a signatory of the Open Letter
 
 

INTERVIEW ABC NORTH COAST (16/07/2020)
- PART 1

Open Letter from the Australian Academic community

The financial failure of the Corporate University

 

INTERVIEW ABC NORTH COAST (16/07/2020)
- PART 2

Open Letter from the Australian Academic community

The financial failure of the Corporate University

 

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