Sunday, 15 February 2009

Faith, Don Watts and privatised education

The biggest true believer in the free market I have come across (as the means of ensuring the best higher education system, that is) in Australia is Don Watts. He promoted private higher ed in Western Australia very vocally until someone offered the job as VC at the brand new Bond University. After that he did some weird thing with the public service in the NT before helping out with Notre Dame in Perth. He seems to have retired to write endlessly on the value of private education, submitting to the recent Bradley review.

I have been thinking about Professor Watts and how sorely his faith in privatisation as the cure to higher education's ills must have been tried, right from the start really, with the struggles at Bond University. There is no doubt his faith in private university education remained strong, despite relentless evidence of being wrong.

When he made these two remarks, he was yet to go through those struggles. His faith was as yet unchallenged by either the fact that the private university would not be Australia's Harvard or the the imprisonment of his university's benefactor. Or near bankruptcy. Or the lack of library.


"Education in Australia, in the absence of even a modest fee, provides no real contractor-customer relationship. The institutions simply are not accountable to a market. Students, the real market, have no incentive to question institutional performance."

He must've been somewhere else in the late 1960s.

"In commercially-minded societies almost everything has a price and thus a value. There is clear evidence that the Australian society does not understand the value of education. This is not surprising. Goods obtained by gift are difficult to place in an ordered system of values. "


Both of these are from Don Watts, "The Private Potential of Australian Higher Education," in Privatizing Higher Education: A New Australian Issue, ed. David R Jones and John Anwyl (Melbourne: Centre for the Study of HIgher Education, 1987), 35.

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