I was really frustrated tonight. It's a little while since I have written on Australian higher education. Tonight I had intended to do so, and then I left a folder of clippings at work. How old fashioned you might say, clippings! Well yes, but it remains a way of saving information that is either not available on line (think fire walls) or very hard to find.
I cannot replicate exactly what I was going to say in the absence of my folder, but I do want to indulge in a short diatribe relevant to many of the points I make on the this blog.
Here in Australia, the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA) is one of the latest of that growing myriad of national agencies established to enforce "standards" and "quality" in specific sectors of Australian life. Like all the rest, once created it starts dreaming up standards along with ways of enforcing and measuring compliance with its standards.
Let me now introduce the gang, sorry I mean group of eight. This group represents a certain number of Australian universities who describe themselves as "a coalition of leading Australian universities, intensive in research and comprehensive in general and professional education." In other words, they have pretensions.
Now the gang of eight has just complained, rightly to my mind, about the costs and distortions created by TESQA regulation. Part of their complaints bears upon the costs and misuse of standards. Here there is a rather delicious irony.
The Vice Chancellor of one of the gang, Sydney University, has been involved in recent months in an attempt to retrench some 100 tenured academics. The funds so saved are to be used in part to meet a maintenance backlog and to fund a new research centre. Sound reasonable? Well there is a little problem over and beyond the question as to why Sydney along with so many other institutions have been neglecting maintenance.
Given the decision to sack, the VC needed some form of objective criteria to select the necessary staff members. As I understand it, the decision was made to select based on the publication record over the preceding two years. This is where the irony comes in.
Among the general opposition, there was a global petition signed by experts in the field attacking one particular sacking of an internationally recognised academic well in progress on a new book who, sadly, had not published in the required way in the previous two years. So the application of blunt standards that the gang of eight complains about when applied to them are in fact applied by one of its leading members in its own activities. You see the irony?
Mind you, this type of problem is not limited to the higher education sector.
One of the relatively new private sector jargon phases is the "strategic review". This is in fact code for we want to get rid of something, but need a justification!!
One of the points I was making in my last post, Sunday Essay - communications, risk and reform weariness, lay in the conflict between "reform" and "stability". Real reform is actually very difficult in an unstable world. A second point was the way in which the emphasis on communication wraps all change within the reform mantra.
TESQA is written up in a "reform" context, as were the Sydney University changes.
Well, it's time to end this fairly scrappy post.