Wednesday, 4 November 2009

"The most determined move for change ever in the history of higher education in Australia". Karmel on Dawkins

By 1987 when John Dawkins was made Minister for Education and Other Things, Peter Karmel, (who died in December last year) was like the godfather of higher education - in a good way.


Having been involved in higher education and educational policy since before the Murray Report, Karmel had longstanding expertise and experience as head of the government bodies responsible for higher education, as former chair of OECD committees on higher education and, in the 1980s, Vice-Chancellor at ANU.


Marginson and Considine describe the scandal of Dawkins' failure to include Karmel in his Purple Circle of advisors as evidence of Dawkins' autocratic approach to higher education policy.


In 1989, after Karmel had retired, he wrote a paper for the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee entitled "Reflections on a Revolution". Considering how he could have felt about the Dawkins 'reforms', the paper is strikingly balanced, giving statistics and evidence for his statements, drawing on a rich understanding of the system's complex history:
"Notwithstanding perceptions to the contrary held by Ministers, government officials, businessmen and the press, the record of higher education over the past 50 years has been one of growth and diversification in response to external forces.

No institution, business or government department is perfect in its internal management and higher education has its share of imperfections, but the popular view that higher education has let Australia down is simply wrong." (p.7)

I will return with more on Peter Karmel and his response to Dawkins before too long.

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