Australian Universities Are Unaccountable Monsters

Australian Universities Are Unaccountable Monsters. By Barry Spurr. Refers (without attribution) to comments by Salvatore Barbones, a professor at the University of Sydney.

One hears from senior lawyers, for example, of newly-minted, highly-credentialled graduates who cannot compose a letter to a client, or recognise simple grammatical errors in such as the draft of a contract, where mistakes of this kind could have serious consequences in law. …

[Barbones] asserts that “intellectually challenging people are not being hired … events are not being cancelled, they are simply not being held. Books are not being written. Papers are not being published … Western civilisation isn’t falling in battle with the forces of evil. It is dying in the darkness of neglect.”


Nice facade, rotten inside


One might take issue with at least one of these declarations: his contention that “forces of evil” are not active in universities. Reference to recent Australian campus history, where opponents of colleagues with counter-cultural conservative views have no compunction in resorting to criminal activity, threats of physical violence and outrageous defamation in order to rid their campuses of such colleagues, would seem to contradict the idea that Western civilisation is simply dying by passive neglect. …

Six of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities, Babones notes, have Confucius Institutes funded by the Chinese government. But only one of them was prepared to welcome the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

What is happening in our universities is “a moral crisis”, he writes—and an intellectual one, we might add. “It is a breach of faith, a betrayal of the public trust.”

Who benefits? Follow the money:

[Barbones] wryly [notes] that it is “hard to square the rapidly rising university executive remuneration of the last two decades with a narrative of chronic austerity”

Forty years ago, when Australian universities did their job, academics outnumbered administrators and were paid more than administrators. Now administrators vastly outnumbers academics and some of them get paid vastly more. Bureaucrats!

Empire building at the expense of quality:

Australia has “stratospherically high international student enrolments”, three times that of the UK; six times that of the US. So far from this being financially advantageous, his detailed analysis of the figures shows that “domestic students have been subsidising international students, not the other way round”. The “massive expansion in international student numbers”, to the point where they are almost one third of the Australian student population, has “made matters worse, not better”. …

The overseas universities which our largest Go8 places like to fancy are their equivalents — Oxbridge, for example, or the Ivy League such as Dartmouth, with 6000 students — have a small fraction of the enrolments at our largest campuses. The non-Ivy League, but elite University of Chicago, has just 7000 students. Our four biggest have 70,000.

It also has negative impact on the quality of teaching and learning in our universities. A friend’s daughter told me of her experience in senior Economics, at one of the Go8 places, where she was often the only non-Asian member of the class, and where others spent much of the time looking up the meaning of words such as therefore and however on their laptops. What level of oral participation could there be, of lucid discussion and informed debate (which, once, were at the heart of university teaching and intellectual training of any quality) when students are struggling at an elementary level with the language of instruction? …

Any academic who is so unwise about his or her future prospects as to raise objections to what is going on at the coalface, in the classroom, can be effectively silenced by being denounced as a “racist”, today’s all-purpose career-cancellation and character-assassination term. …

There are far too many students who should never have gone to university in the first place and, accordingly, failing, or gaining a useless and worthless degree, who could be thriving in the VET [vocational education and training] sector.

In 1960, something like 5 per cent of eighteen-year-olds attended university; now it is approaching 50 per cent. Such figures are loudly trumpeted by politicians and vice-chancellors as a Great Leap Forward, but no one pauses to reflect on what such an influx is doing to the quality of university teaching and learning …

Providing the Chinese with research at the expense of Australian taxpayers:

Their dependence on “Chinese top-up funding for their most productive researchers”, which, in turn has its impact on the all-important rankings results, leads to “the real risk” that “Australia’s universities will compromise their values” — some of us would argue that that happened long ago — “in order to retain access” to “the massive Chinese subsidies embodied in Thousand Talents research … This is a boat that any Australian vice chancellor would be very reluctant to rock.”

Babones cites examples of this tendency, such as the fearfulness of UNSW of “offending China” when it deleted social media posts on its website that questioned China’s human rights records, while the University of Queensland, in a notorious case, expelled for “misconduct” a student, Drew Pavlou, who protested against Chinese government repression in Hong Kong.

In fact, no one should be surprised by any campus cancellation of “unacceptable” opinion (of, for example, support for Israel), as it is now par for the course in Western universities generally, and certainly not confined to Australia. Say or think the “wrong” thing, even in private, and you’ll be booted out. …

Students unhappy about being ripped off:

Student satisfaction with campus experience is abysmal: Melbourne, supposedly Australia’s top-ranking university, “barely cleared the 50 per cent student satisfaction threshold in 2020” …

Online so-called learning is a development disastrous in every way for quality teaching and learning at university level, and it has been in place for more than a decade. Many universities tout degree courses that can be done entirely online as a great boon for their students, who need never set foot on campus, or engage in person, with anybody, fellow student or academic.

It is the university administrator’s utopian dream, like “The Empty Hospital” episode in the satirical Yes, Minister series, where the institution is replete with staff, but no patients.

This ghastly innovation inevitably aggravates what Babones describes as the already “abysmal” student attendance rates, which “a broad-based study” reported as being as low as 38 per cent in Australia. The situation has reached such absurd levels of degradation of what a university education should be that “most Australian university students are able to pass their degrees without actually attending classes”.

Ah yes, but consider how many good bureaucratic jobs have been created. Is this not the true purpose of institutions?