Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Piracy article

To my nerdy friends interested in copyright (you know who you are) I very much enjoyed reading this chapter by Ramon Lobato today:

The six faces of media piracy: global film distribution from below

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Knowledge foundation for democracy not egalitarianism

In 1958, British sociologist Michael Young published a very odd book, The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033. It was wildly popular, largely on the strength of the word he invented – the word ‘meritocracy’, a combination of Latin and Greek that his friends said would never work. It did. The book sold millions of copies and was translated into several languages, including Japanese, even though the story really only makes sense in Britain and its Empire. The book imagined itself to have been written in 2033, as an essay describing the declining influence in the 19th century of the power of the aristocracy, substituted by the rise of a system that privileged individuals with intelligence.

The story resonates with the ideals expressed about the early universities in Australia. While they were expressions of high culture and the ideal education of the upper class gentleman, the founders of Australian universities – in particular William Charles Wentworth – expressed the ardent desire that those universities would ensure that students of talent, regardless of birth, race or religion (sometimes even gender) were given the opportunity the hone their intellectual skills in the universities. That this group of citizens might, in Wentworth’s view, form a new, Antipodean aristocracy reveals the tension embodied in the concept. This is what Michael Young’s book highlighted. Meritocracy was not only egalitarian, it defined a new source of legitimacy for ruling and, in the intelligensia, a new ruling class. Their education supplied the substance with which people would rule themselves, since birth no longer granted that right. Knowledge was the foundation for democracy, though not (in Young’s imagined future) for egalitarianism.

Monday, 13 December 2010


"Everybody in Australia is entitled, without cost to the individual, to the same educational facilities, whether it be in respect of education at the kindergarten or tertiary stage or the post-graduate stage"

Gough Whitlam, 1953.

What the banks are to money, the universities have become to knowledge

What the banks are to money, the universities have become to knowledge. Over eight hundred years or so, the power of universities has increased so that – perhaps with some parallels to the medieval church – its authority over knowledge is very nearly absolute. The university built an economy based on knowledge: as it was produced, knowledge was reinvested into the community of scholars, its surplus value ever-enhancing the university’s monopoly over knowledge. As centuries passed, other communities and institutions lost their purchase on knowledge as the university’s control of knowledge grew. The church, the state, trade guilds, patenting offices, commercial laboratories even academies of science all lack the legitimacy possessed by the university. The university decides what knowledge is, who may have it and benefit from its fruits. Modern nation states have been built on the power knowledge has provided. Democracy itself depends on flourishing and widespread knowledge. In the second half of that most violent of periods, the twentieth century, knowledge was the object of great bloodless battles as the state, industry and commerce tussled for its control. That battle is the subject of this thesis.

Draft opening paragraph, 14/12/2010

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It was impossible to think about knowledge in the same way again

Prior to the student revolutionary period, knowledge was linear (but not uniform). Universities’ stance towards the nation and society was an almost contractual servitude: a column of obligation that directed knowledge from government to university. Knowledge supported the nation and its goals. Even when it was not explicitly deployed to support the establishment, knowledge was perceived in linear ways. The process of development from novice to professor; the singularity of the knowledge that research and discovery enriched; the certainty of the division between known and unknown – university knowledge was a straight line. After the revolution, knowledge was multiple, fragmented in a different way to what Clunies Ross described – or would have even been able to imagine. It was impossible to think about knowledge in the same way again.

While knowledge had been linear, it had also been hierarchical: complex knowledge was built on fundamental, on a foundation of truths and of ideas expounded by canonical authors. The structure of the university had reflected this hierarchical epistemology: experts ruled, novices were ruled. Students and sub-professorial radicals collapsed this structure. Towering truth was toppled and knowledge was rebuilt in a thousand smaller, contested structures.
Knowledge had also been external: it was something to aspire to, a substance to acquire and gain mastery over. Those masters, the professoriate, were then required to protect it from decay and defend it from pollution. Students changed knowledge to become internal, specific to the individual. Knowledge would now be individually constructed and articulated, its uniqueness its value. This transformed the structure of university authority. When each individual constructed different knowledge, its measurability was undermined. It destabilized legitimacy. The university’s power over knowledge had rested in its arbitration, expressed through examinations. Examination declared what university knowledge was, who had acquired it and (very importantly) who had not. But in the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, new types of knowledge emerged from among those deemed to be novices, weakening the hierarchical structure on which professorial power had rested. Students went further, exposing the system’s weakness: that professorial rule was based on an authority they had granted themselves.

However, the constructed character of knowledge also encouraged collaboration: it is ironic, but no coincidence, that in the moment knowledge was individualised, the idea of the community of scholars was also strengthened. And yet, student calls for an egalitarian structure to scholarly society did not result in them adding themselves to the professoriate, bolstering the authority of the university: rather, that authority was delegitimised. The academic would become a facilitator, rather than a master, of knowledge. The value of knowledge itself (not its truth, but the substance for which it was appreciated) was individualised, measured now by its subjective relevance. This separated knowledge from the quality of the university’s resources and teaching. That is, expensive libraries, sophisticated equipment and high qualifications could not as easily be correlated to better knowledge: particularly since those who had always declared which knowledge was better were now themselves discredited, exposed as self-interested.  Stressing constructed knowledge was not in itself incorrect, but it propagated a terrible lie: that there was no relationship between financial input and academic quality.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The control of university knowledge became a question of who would control the world.

In 1961 Robert Menzies wrote to Max Hartwell:
While not wishing to comment in detail on what you have said, I permit myself two observations: that the extent of government interference in university matters in Australia has been grossly exaggerated … much time is being wasted in defending something which is not in danger in Australia – academic freedom.
Between the end of the Second World War and the 1960s, the structure that produced university knowledge had been transformed. The long debate of the 1940s and 1950s – should universities be ‘service stations’ or ‘ivory towers’? – was largely settled shortly after acceptance and implementation of the Murray review. Remaining questions tended to focus on what type of benefit the universities should provide. The services to the nation that Menzies and Murray hoped from the universities required academic freedom. But democracy required transparency and accountability: Federal funding in exchange for national knowledge. Torn, Murray and Menzies designed a university system that would always be in tension. But while they hoped to protect university autonomy, their responsibility was to government. They structured a system that would enable the nation, gradually, to take control.

However, the shift that occurred was not only about the tightening shackles as universities’ obligation to the Commonwealth government grew. The political consequences of knowledge intensified after the Second World War and this itself contributed to structural change. Politicised knowledge is contestable: and in the mistrustful environment the Cold War promoted it became hotly contested.

In a world where knowledge won wars and controlled economies, ASIO considered university roles to have national security implications. As the potential for university administrators to assist ASIO control of university appointments increased, academics reacted to protect their intellectual and political freedoms. Their defensive measures – in particular the growing unionisation of the community of scholars – contributed to increasingly antagonistic relationships in the universities. Knowledge during the Cold War became, as Nicholas Brown put it, ‘irrevocably politicised’.

The stakes were high. Who would control knowledge? Nuclear research was an obvious site of the scuffle for power, but it permeated all research and teaching. Who would decide what was to be taught and how many would learn it, or the values and benefits imbued in university teaching? On what basis would discoveries be made and to what uses might they be put? What were the soviets doing and would democratic nations know more and know it better? The control of university knowledge became a question of who would control the world.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Knowledge beyond the cloister: universities after WWII

When the war started, universities were small, elite and introspective. After it, they became large, meritocratic and more focused on their obligations to society. As the university’s gaze diverted outwards however, so did knowledge. It escaped the cloister, becoming variable, unpredictable. It also became owned.

The war had changed the possible frames in which university knowledge could be imagined. Cloistered knowledge, unified knowledge had been encapsulated in the idea of the universityeven its name bespoke its unityWhen the war presented new moral challenges, the university’s role in promoting civility took new form. Trust in universal, unified knowledge could no longer be sustained. Which knowledge would support society? Ian Clunies Ross and Kim Edward Beazley both believed pure, rather than applied knowledge, would perform that task, Clunies Ross especially considering the humanities foundational to humane thinking. But while they could hope, plead and embarrass universities and governments to try to persuade them of the importance of pure and cloistered knowledge, the movement towards applied, industrial and technological knowledge in the universities could not be stopped.

Knowledge had benefited from its expedition beyond the university walls. Real-world applications highlighted new scientific problems, which in turn revealed possibilities for new discoveries and new technologies. The war had been fought and won on the basis of scientific and technological development. A new economy was built, industries grew and new levels of education were needed on the basis of the knowledge that thrived under extra-cloister conditions. But this also fragmented knowledge. Ever-increasing specialisation supported expanding innovation and a growing complexity of university purpose. Universities supported civil democracy, industrial and agricultural economic development, human health and welfare, shadowing the singularity of purpose encapsulated in the nation’s “intellectual health” as Ashby had perceived it. Moreover, fragmented knowledge could be owned: each fragment collected for personal or commercial use.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Does Australia even need universities?

The current role of the university in Australia is barely distinguishable from commercial research and development and its teaching role is also under threat. Open and accessible eLearning combined with workplace-based cognitive apprenticeship could substitute current higher educational functions in ways that would avoid doctrinal knowledge, be more democratic, accessible and individually tailored. With the online portfolio poised to replace the academic transcript, all the tools are now in place to make the university obsolete. If Australia does need universities, it does not need the ones we are getting. Would it make any difference to the nation at all if universities, like medieval monasteries, were mere relics of a past authority?

I wrote this essay this year: Does Australia need universities?

It was shortlisted, but sadly did not win the prize I submitted it to. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless!

Former head of Commonwealth Bank says economic system is misleading

Imagine a world where the former head of the Commonwealth Bank said this:

"We have, I believe, been misled by our experience with the economic system in industrialised countries over the last 150 years. Its success in producing a flood of commodities and possessions, in which even the poorest seem to have shared, has been due largely to circumstances clearly temporary: to the running down of our capital in exhaustible resources; to the fact that we ignore the accumulating costs of pollution and other environmental damage; to our exploitation of the populations of non-industrialised societies; and to the continued existence within our own communities of women and other minorities whose unpaid work has made the division of labour in market-oriented exterprises possible."
HC (Nugget) Coombs, Science and Technology - for what purpose?, 1979

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Privilege itself must be weeded out

Higher Education is not the privilege but the proper function of the university: privilege itself must be weeded out.
- National Union of Australian University Students War Policy, 1942

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Gift culture and the competitive ethic: knowledge and the community of scholars after 1987

This is the abstract for a paper I intend to present in Byron Bay in December

I've been a little quiet here lately I know...marking, mostly! I have also started a document called "thesis full draft": it is a little scary.

Here's the paper abstract: Gift culture and the competitive ethic: knowledge and the community of scholars after 1987

The Australian Research Council, formed with the 1987 Dawkins reforms, transferred $65 Million of recurrent funding from the universities and reallocated it in competitive research grants. It was just one event, one policy decision. But it represents a shift in the structure that regulated academic quality.

Several other 1980s changes combined with competitive funding: the decline in academic reputations, the growth of economic imperatives, and a trust in market values to determine quality.

Competitive funding pushed the problem of financial scarcity from government into the universities. Lack of money would be internalised as academic inadequacy: attracting funding became the evidence and source of academic standing.

This competitive ethic disrupted the community of scholars. An economy structured similarly to Marcel Mauss’ gift ethic had long defined membership in the university. The system of gift obligation extended across international networks of scholars, binding disciplines and individuals in productive ways. It relied on the (knowledge) richness of the community and obliged each member to contribute to it.

Individualised competition destabilised this system. Comparing the gift economy to the competitive ethic emerging in the 1980s and 1990s, this paper examines their implications for the community of scholars and the quality of university knowledge.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Collectivity and currency: draft conclusion

[this is following from the last post, The Death of the Author]

Of course the institution did not assume all the functions of the author in the production of individual texts, such a claim would be silly. The analogy is imperfect, to be sure: its value is that it reflects the marginalisation of the community of scholars. The wrongness of institutional claims over intellectual property was not in its contrast to the rights of the individual author or originator, but in its failure to acknowledge collectivity. In fact, the appropriation of rights by the university paralleled, even enhanced, the individuality and authority of authorship. In claiming the singularity of the institution as the rightful owner of knowledge and intellectual property, it confined the plurality, the organic richness of the community of scholars to its narrow and increasingly impoverished being.

The university did own knowledge. The community of scholars were the university and their knowledge, collectively, enriched the places where they gathered. The community of scholars was like a living, breathing library, wealthy (as the cliché describes it) with knowledge. This explains why the universities had thought it would be so easy to claim intellectual property from staff and students: the knowledge they had was the university’s all along. But in the community-based gift economy that knowledge, while tradeable as a gift, could not be converted to currency.

Currency was the wealth universities were definite that they needed. Collectively they had constructed what Elizabeth Garnsey called a “consensual vision”, a fantasy in which teaching and research, reconstructed as a trade in intellectual property, would solve their pressing financial problems.  Government policy not only supported their belief it also structured a system that required their compliance in it. Government had been advised that there was a global $600 Billion market for knowledge. Knowledge was what universities did, the substance that they ‘traded’ in. While acknowledging that universities, by their nature, did a lot of ‘pure’ research, approximately half of it was useful – strategic and applied – and therefore, they thought, could surely be added to this vast global knowledge market for a profit. If universities could be encouraged to be more entrepreneurial and to consider their knowledge to be a type of intellectual property, logic deemed that universities could be potentially funded from the knowledge they produced. This would help the government by relieving the public of some of its responsibility for funding higher education.

It would also help the universities, so their leaders were persuaded, since they were grossly underfunded. Moreover, since the early 1980s they had been looking for more diverse sources of income in an attempt to regain autonomy from the ever-encroaching Commonwealth. Indeed, the Commonwealth had been moving, inch by barely observable inch, to undermine academic freedom in the universities. But the transfer of knowledge towards short-term, achievable national and market priorities was still not as severe an attack on academic freedom as that which the universities unwittingly launched themselves. In the obligation to report and protect commercial potential, universities posed a direct threat to the right to publish and the priorities of research. The new structure of ownership – appropriation of intellectual property rather than ownership of knowledge by virtue of membership – structured the possibility for institutions to suppress research.

As it turned out, the potential for wealth had been overstated. A $600 Billion intellectual property market was not suddenly likely to be dominated by the types of (even strategic and applied) research outcomes that universities were good at. The idea that anything close to 50% of university research outcomes had commercial potential shows a clear misunderstanding of the market for knowledge – commercialisation specialists now suggest that only a tiny percentage (0.03%) of the new ideas generated within a university will ever successfully find their way to market. 

In this chapter I have not made any moral claim for where income derived from university intellectual property should go. I not only consider that to not be my job, but I am also genuinely agnostic about the problem. That it is a problem – as result, actually, of the changes in policy between 1986 and 1996 – I have no doubt. But there is nothing satisfactory in saying that, in the interests of academic freedom all intellectual property rights should be given to individual academics. On the other hand, that ownership by institutions did nothing good for university knowledge is clear. It is the emptiness, the poverty of the singularity of the ownership of knowledge that is the problem, whether institution or individual author. The collective knowledge of scholars could not be converted to currency, but it was what had made them rich. Rather than provide the universities with a new and reliable income stream, intellectual property robbed the universities of their wealth. 

[as always, blurb about footnotes here, email me if you want them blah blah blah. Also a note: I still have a couple of days before this chapter will be properly finished and this conclusion is likely to change. Any suggestions, now is the time!]

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Death of the Author

Intellectual property could not accommodate the structure of the community of scholars: and yet it also relied on the collectivity of university knowledge to justify institutional claims. In 1993 the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee released advice to universities, a how-to guide for claiming staff and student intellectual property. Research was almost never a purely individual act, they suggested. Even when research had been individually constituted, academic association with the university demonstrated their reliance on the institution to be able to conduct research. The infrastructure: “rooms, electricity, gas, water, telephones”, were just the beginning. Science relied on expensive laboratories, the humanities on expensive libraries.  The scholarly environment, claimed Macquarie University, though intangible and unquantifiable, acted as the inspiration and enabler of quality research, validating their claim to income derived from it.  Furthermore, in much contemporary research, it was simply “not possible to identify one person as the author, inventor, creator, maker or originator”, asserted th Australian Vice Chancellors’ Committee.  As George Eliot had said in Middlemarch:
There was no need to praise anybody for writing a book, since it was always done by somebody else.
Unlike Eliot, the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee did not think it was funny. They were concerned that its complexities carried the potential for exploitation. Students and research assistants, they said, might “have difficulty in claiming any rights if a person of comparative power is permitted to claim sole ownership or to assume control”.

They had a point. Critical legal studies have long noted connections between power, constructions of the individuality of authorship and legal claims to financial proceeds. Many of the legal approaches are influenced by Foucault, who identified authorship as an eighteenth century instrument of surveillance: the ability to locate an individual to blame for a transgressive text.  Mark Rose traces the construction of the individual author as a part of a long political struggle to establish the autonomous political subject in a parliamentary system.  It was also a claim to power: the result of a long financial struggle between authors and booksellers. The “valorization of original genius”, he demonstrates, coincided with both a mass market for books and the possessive individualism articulated by John Locke.  However, Pamela Long argues for a longer history, not only suggesting antecedents to intellectual property in antiquity but also claiming that individual authorship and its connection to intellectual property is evident in the fifteenth century.   She specifies that the concept of authorship extends to making, designing and inventing material things: but by modernity, each is considered the work of an individual, rather than the product of collaboration. 

All this was collapsing by the end of the twentieth century.  The heroic ideal of the hermit-like humanities scholar scribbling in her sandstone garret had been largely superseded by collaborative teams of scientists agonising over findings in laboratories.  In 1967 Roland Barthes had disputed the Romantic pre-eminence of authorship in the construction of knowledge:
The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after. The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father is to his child.
The ascendancy of science, especially since the Second World War, changed the dominant research culture in universities so that discovery towards the end of the century was rarely a truly individual endeavour. Changes in pedagogies and epistemologies that had their roots in 1960s and 1970s student protest movements also transformed dominant scholarly practices. Knowledge acquisition became knowledge construction.  Individual achievement became collaborative problem solving.  The individual mind was transformed into a participant in a network.  Indeed, knowledge was inseparable, some educational theorists claimed, from its environment.  If originators were to own intellectual property themselves, exactly who that meant was becoming very difficult to identify.

This is how the transformation of the research environment internationally impacted university intellectual property policies. In a Mode 2 environment it was not (at least not initially) complications out of questions of ownership, but rather questions about the individuality of knowledge production. Knowledge was collaborative: indeed the existence of the community of scholars affirmed it. Just as the community – and thus the university – could not exist without academic members, nor could the scholar be truly scholarly without the community.

The new policy framework, however, indicates a subtle, unspoken restructure. The community of scholars, as the last chapter showed, was on the verge of collapse as the gift economy was supplanted by an exchange-based system. But Romantic constructions of individual genius were also disintegrating: the author, inventor and scholar were increasingly difficult to locate. The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee claimed that this complexity bolstered the universities’ claims over the ownership of intellectual property. Institutional ownership placed the control of property in the hands of a single entity, cleaning up the mess of trying to locate originality. The Vice-Chancellors suggested that institutional ownership of intellectual property meant it would be managed in “the best interests of all concerned”. The university’s role was now paternal: it was the antecedent, the father. Rather than embodying the community of scholars, the institution assumed the role of the author.

[footnotes have been removed for the purposes of this posting.  they are available on request]

Monday, 20 September 2010

Membership and the ownership of knowledge

It was as members of the university that staff and student knowledge had belonged to the university. Their membership of the community had created the university itself. 

When universities refigured themselves as employers like any other and as providers of an educational service rather than community of scholars, they lost all claim to the ownership of knowledge. 

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Time, labour and academic freedom

Suppression of research findings was an early fear as the values attached to research commercialisation and intellectual property entered the universities. The Higher Education Supplement reported that sometimes commercialising research prevented it from getting to the parts of society who most needed it.  The fear that those with the money would control the way knowledge was used had for centuries fed academic freedom. University knowledge was protected from systematic skewing to the sole benefit of patrons and their financial interests by closely guarding the right to publish and present research findings. Some intellectual property policies changed this whole apparatus. Five out of the eight policies required staff to both inform the university of a potentially commercialisable discovery and protect its commercialisability. For example:
The staff member shall notify his/her Head of Department and the General Manager of ITC (Uniadvice) Ltd that intellectual property has been created. Where intellectual property has been created all reasonable care must be exercised by staff and students not to disclose, publish or use the property in any way which would prejudice its protection.
This says a researcher is not allowed to discuss their research without approval by the university. The decision, moreover, regarding commercialisation and publication would belong to the institution. In fairness, most universities have changed this now and academics own the decision (if not the property).  Commercialisable intellectual property in its narrow sense turned out to be a very small proportion of any university’s research output, so no real financial hardship was attached to maintaining academic freedom, in the end. But in the 1980s and 1990s, universities had reason (some of these reasons will be discussed a little later in this chapter) to expect that research might be converted into a vast and lucrative body of products. And when they held that belief, the desire to own knowledge was ardent. 

While it permeated negotiations on all sides, more than greed underpinned these policies. Collectively they demonstrate just how deeply the universities assumed that, in a sense similar to the books in its library, any knowledge existing within their metaphoric cloisters belonged to the university. Half of the sample policies claimed all intellectual property produced by students, the remainder offering students the option to assign their intellectual property if needed (for example, if the student wished the university to assist in commercialisation). Macquarie University, despite documented advice that it may infringe students’ legal rights, claimed student intellectual property as a condition of enrolment.  Believing that all intellectual endeavour that went on in the university somehow “belonged” to it, this claim was derived from nothing more than their position of power (remembering institutions can not just claim property as their own, irrespective of their right to enrol or not enrol a student). Students were certainly not employed to produce intellectual property for the university. I understand that universities have also stopped doing this.  It is nevertheless significant that they tried. The Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee thought it was a very good idea: in 1993 they suggested all universities use their power over enrolment to acquire students’ intellectual property. 

The Australian National University 1986 intellectual property policy contained a very odd clause:
The whole of the professional time of an academic staff member is required to be devoted to the performance of the duties of office of that staff member. Thus, any intellectual property developed by staff members in the performance of the duties of their office belongs to the university.
Academic staff were thus expected to have no intellectual or inventive life beyond their academic duties. This clause would suggest the university could claim ownership over patent rights to an invention made in the course of an academic’s hobby, even if unrelated to their academic field, since all professional time (which income, the policy implies, indicates) belonged to the university. General staff were different:
In contrast to academic staff members, general staff members have fixed times of working: however, any intellectual property developed by them in the course of their employment, or using resources and facilities provided by the University, also belongs to the University.

Academic work tended to resemble the task-oriented peasant work that EP Thompson described back in 1967: the task, rather than the length of the workday, was important. For better and for worse, in academia less distinction existed between “work” and “life” than the Australian National University’s legal team would have liked.  Academic work as they well knew, was not only difficult to define it by its tasks, it would also be insufficient for their purposes to define it by the length of the workday. Academic time, especially research time, was spent doing their “own” work, pursuing knowledge in the way they saw fit, finding truths along untrodden and therefore unpredictable pathways. How could an employer define it in order to claim it? The Australian Vice-Chancellors saw the problem immediately:
It is not always clear whether the activity which produces the property is one which comes within the terms of the contract of employment. It is difficult to determine whether the property is produced in the institutional employer’s time or in the staff member’s time.
This explains why the Australian National University was so careful to claim everything an academic staff member ever did. “Time was now currency”, to use EP Thompson’s phrase, and whatever its exchange rate the universities, as if they were the same as any other employer, wanted it.

But the universities were not just any other employer. Industrial capitalism had claimed time as money as Max Weber, EP Thompson and so many others have shown. But not in the universities. This had to do with both work and knowledge. Firstly, academics were not employees in the same sense as others because their role required them to be free from many of the constraints of employment. For an academic to do their job they could not be told exactly what knowledge to pursue or exactly how to teach it. And yet this exactitude was what claiming intellectual property as an employer required. Secondly, knowledge-based (rather than market-based) research  led to knowledge that had distinct qualities. University knowledge was inseparable from the knower (inalienable in a way that goes beyond epistemic belonging): what the person knew and discovered and their membership in the community of scholars was inseparable from the university itself. Institutions could not easily make the claims other employers could then, for protecting intellectual property contradicted their mission to protect academic freedom. So what universities tended to do was to claim that they were the same: that the pursuit of knowledge and the protection of intellectual property held only a semantic distinction.

[footnotes removed for this posting. email me if you want them]

Claiming Property

[The following section, in my thesis as it is currently drafted, follows some detailed and not really bloggable analysis of university IP policies]

The primary concern for universities, contrary to Monotti’s and Ricketson’s claims, was not to clarify the question of who owns intellectual property in a collaborative research environment. Of the eight policies sampled, only three mentioned external partners: both Monash and Macquarie Universities specified that they would claim 100% of intellectual property from externally funded research and Adelaide said they would negotiate each case. Even in those three documents, concern over the ownership of intellectual property by collaborators or funding bodies were never central to the policy’s goals. This suggests that, despite growing interactions with industry and the commercial world, universities were not initially concerned about them. The key concern for universities in the 1980s and 1990s was to ensure the institution, rather than its staff, were the rightful owners of intellectual property.

What is this about? What were universities trying to establish with their staff? A close examination of the wording and the reasoning reveals ambivalence and uncertainty in the ways universities attempted to protect the knowledge that they were just starting to suspect contained a valuable commodity. The wording of universities’ claim was quite variable, highlighting some uncertainties about the nature of academic work. Some universities claimed ownership of intellectual property that “arose” (as if by accident) from an academic’s work.  Some claimed work that was “produced” by “originators”, using language of agency and intent.  In every case, universities used their status of employers to claim the products of the labour of their employees. While this sounds straightforward enough, even a cursory investigation of the character of academic work reveals it was not.

Ann Monotti points out that organisations cannot easily go around claiming other people’s property. The law of intellectual property generally considers it to belong most naturally with its originator. If universities wished to claim that they own intellectual property produced by their academic staff, that intellectual property must be created as a direct requirement of their employment.  For universities, unique in the knowledge-producing world, this caused a problem. The policies implying that intellectual property might be developed by accident were right: research can be unpredictable. Protectable intellectual property may well come about as a result of serendipity rather than intent. Moreover, any policy attempting to make the production of intellectual property a requirement of academic employment encountered a tangle of problems.  Research did not look the same for every person, project approach or discipline, so the policy descriptions were difficult to frame. The sample policies resorted to awkwardness to close as many loops as they could. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology policy highlights this possibility when, on the first page it claimed all intellectual property produced by staff in the course of their duties (Section 2a) and then went on to say:
Notwithstanding subsection (a) the University may require that member of staff or student formally assign to the University his or her interest to any intellectual property.
Unsure that ownership via employment would be sufficient, the university may require staff assign rights individually, to be safe. Universities’ claims were quite weak. Their real strength was not a legal claim, rather relying on the likelihood (especially for patented inventions) that staff would accept a generous profit share in exchange for the university to carry the risk.  Profit sharing was a tacit admission that they were trying to claim property belonging to someone else. That staff and the National Tertiary Education Union accepted it shows that it was framed as a trade union determination to maintain financial rights. Both sides had it wrong.

The ownership of intellectual property created in the course of employment by the University, and hence the sole right to use such intellectual property, belongs to the university.
Most (six of eight) intellectual property policies claimed 100% of intellectual property. In order for staff to receive royalty income on publications those universities specified that the university waived their rights to publication. This is very different to what Monash and the University of New England policies did, which was simply not claim ownership of that kind of copyright: academics would own it themselves. It sounds like a subtle distinction, but it is not. When universities in the United States had tried this approach, the American Association of University Professors took serious exception. Their objections were based firstly on the relationship of the academic to the institution and secondly on the character of academic work.

Academic work was not work for hire, they said. It was not work done explicitly for and under the guidance of an employer:
The faculty member rather than the institution determines the subject matter, the intellectual approach and direction, and the conclusions. This is the very essence of academic freedom.
For inquiry to be free in this sense, academics must own the copyright, they claimed, not only enjoy its financial benefits. Theoretically, where universities own copyright instead, they could decide where it would be published, edit it at will or use it to create something else. Most importantly, the American Association pointed out, where the university owns copyright they could censor or suppress research. 

[footnotes removed for the purposes of this posting. contact me if you want them]

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The logic of research commercialisation

The world intellectual property market represents $600 billion of industrial products and processes annually.
This tantalising figure was dangled before the government and universities in 1993, when the Prime Minister’s Science and Engineering Council conducted a study on intellectual property. Almost a decade before, even without that annual global dollar value at their fingertips, university leaders already had a sense that knowledge might be worth money. In the mid-1980s – before the Dawkins reforms – the Higher Education Supplement reported that almost all universities were establishing structures to support research commercialisation. Research and technology parks were planned, leasing property to businesses on or near campus in the expectation that proximity would facilitate links between industry, commerce and university research.  For-profit companies were created, wholly or partly owned by the universities.  On-campus business liaison offices were established, designed to both support relationships and place a barrier between businesses and reputedly less-savvy researchers.

None of this would have been new to Philip Baxter. Chapter x described Unisearch, the company set up by the University of New South Wales in the late 1950s that would facilitate interactions between industrial problems and academic research. In this respect and others, Baxter looks like the entrepreneurial academic 30 years too early. Having come from industrial science, Baxter took as his model the “world’s big science-based industries, the chemical and petroleum industries, electronics, aviation, pharmaceuticals, communications and automobiles”.  He considered “discoveries of great importance” to be practical discoveries, inventions and applied sciences.  He believed tangible economic development to be the university’s responsibility to society and thought that some sacrifice of institutional autonomy was a fair exchange for substantial government funding.  However, there are some important differences. Baxter considered “discovery” and “application” to be “not really two separate processes”.  This would have been his experience in industry, where an industrial problem would feed a scientific one, which would in turn highlight new ideas for industrial development. So when Baxter sought alliances with industry through Unisearch, his focus was not profit, it was knowledge. His patenting strategy, as the earlier chapter showed, affirmed this.

Profit, not knowledge, was the motive of universities in the 1980s. Added to last chapter’s ethic of entrepreneurialism were two opposing ideas that paradoxically converged to point universities towards the same commercial outcome. The first idea suggested that universities would become relevant and their reputations would improve if only they would engage more with the “real” (moneymaking) world – this logic, as the last chapter showed, had also informed the development of an international export market.  The second idea was that the moneymaking world was taking the universities for a ride: “Companies exploiting universities’ ideas for next to nothing”, read the headline.  Universities failed to serve the business community on one hand but on the other, the business community was getting the valuable resources they needed from universities for free. That these contradicted each other did not matter. Their convergence was convenient since it gave universities both goal and moral justification in one. Knowledge was valuable to the community. They should therefore be able to buy it. Here we see the self-fulfilling logic that research commercialisation provided. Once knowledge was for profit it seemed obvious that those who profited from it should fund it. If free inquiry made knowledge available to a profit-focused public for free then inquiry should rather be for sale. No guilt would thus be attached to the pursuit of profit in the universities, for it would correct a financial injustice and provide a service for the community.

In this spirit, university leaders instigated ambitious commercialisation strategies. It quickly became obvious that the workload of leading and managing the process of research commercialisation was high. That, along with the growing complexity of relations with Canberra, led to the establishment across the universities of Deputy or Pro Vice-Chancellors for research.  Offices crammed with specialised professionals were also needed for this to work. They negotiated deals, prepared contracts and agreements, advised on prototyping and development processes, and decided whether the university itself or a spin-off company would be best.  Many universities established companies like Baxter’s Unisearch, tasked with responsibility for all the university’s commercial activities.  The University of Queensland’s UniQuest was the most successful of these. Formed in 1984, UniQuest supported the university to quickly outrank all others in Australia for securing research funding through industry.  But all this energy did not go unquestioned. A review of university research commercialisation in the late 1990s said, “the biggest blockage [to commercialisation] has been traditional academic attitudes”. 

Gibbons and colleagues pointed out that the Mode 2 research that resulted from commercialised research practices carried with it some risks. Profit was not value-free. As McSherry has also argued, the university’s authority had long rested on its distinction from the pursuit of knowledge for profit.  As members of the university were at that time becoming acutely aware, university knowledge had never been as objective as the university had often tried to claim: indeed, it was widely acknowledged that value-free knowledge was impossible. As post-structuralist theories made their partial and uneven mark on thinking in and about the university, university members increasingly claimed that the modern university’s authority over knowledge had been based on a positivist lie. This led David Biggins in his Australian Society article (influential at the free-market Withering Heights symposium ) to say:
Science today is no more value-free than when Galileo sold the telescope to the wealthy merchants of Venice, pointing out its military uses in order to gain a higher salary and more research funds.
The word “value” in the 1980s and 1990s was a fraught and confused term. Operating within this confusion, Biggins suggested that value-free universities have no value. The positivist lie, he said, was “summed up in slogans”:
‘Academic freedom’, ‘objective scholarship’, and – most bizarre of all – ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’.
For universities to have any value he said, they need to admit that knowledge is “value-laden” – value now accumulating meanings associated with profit, suggesting universities forge links with society by supporting its economic development.  The logic of commercialisation was informed by a belief that the disconnect between university knowledge and the pursuit of profit was a symptom of the positivist lie. The university must now admit it has values, the new logic proclaimed. Profit (literal value), the likes of Biggins believed, was as good a value to accumulate as any.

Henry Etzkowitz, Loet Leydesdorff and colleagues, in their famous response to the Mode 2 thesis, later made a similar (though more sophisticated) argument. If universities could stop their ivory tower thinking, Etzkowitz et al claimed, they would make contributions of value. If that value was sufficient (and obviously connected to economic development), they said governments could financially justify increasing their funding.  Commercial research, they claimed, was in fact the original mission of the university, disrupted by the institutionalisation of empirical research practices in the 19th century. Economic development, they said, was an important legitimising mechanism for university knowledge as contribution to culture.  Biggins had put it more simply: “If universities can claim to produce anything of value for society it is knowledge.”  Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff attached a productive metaphor of a triple helix that they hoped would replace the phrase Mode 2. This triple helix relationship between government, industry and universities metaphorically claimed vital productivity by its analogy to DNA: their relationship was supposed to be the living, growing building blocks of knowledge. Universities did not need to worry about conflicts derived from commercial priorities of profit versus a scholarly prioritisation of knowledge, in their model. The helix was unstable, dynamic and enabled relentless renegotiations of knowledge and intellectual property between parties all now motivated by profit, but to whom profit somehow “means different things”.  Values, they seemed to believe, were stable and incorruptible despite their proximity to profit-motives. In the end they were also unimportant, constructed and relative. The only shared value was profit.

Bruno Latour says that when it came to social constructivism the most common mistake academics made was to think that construction itself was the interesting thing. It was not, he says.  What was interesting about the fact that ideas were socially constructed was not that they had no value or were of equal value, but was rather that they enabled new questions about value to be raised: was that idea constructed well or poorly? Why was that mode of construction selected in these instances over another?  For Biggins (who is of course just an example of some of the logic that fed research commercialisation), that universities were not value-free suggested that any values would do. Latour’s work would require us to ask: what would be the impact of shifting to profit-focused values, rather than “admitting” (to use Biggins’ own language) to other values? Perhaps Biggins himself provided the answer:
 Universities are barely distinguishable from any other government or privately funded think-tank. They espouse the same values, do the same job, serve the same political masters.
With research commercialisation, there eventually would be no distinction between university knowledge and commercial research and development.

However, despite the claims, pressures, incentives and insults, many academics (indeed, commercialisation advocates estimated that as many as two-thirds of them) were not persuaded. A 1999 review of technology transfer and intellectual property across 37 universities reported myriad “attitude problems” were holding up change.  Many persisted in an irritating preference for “conventional” means of communicating research – publication and conference presentation, they explained.  At one university, they puzzled over staff who considered a commercial reputation damaging to academics’ standing – a standing that had long been based, as shown repeatedly in this thesis, on its distinction from commercial enterprise.

Introducing intellectual property

For Australian universities, intellectual property was the get rich quick scheme of the 1980s and 1990s. Like many schemes of its type, its financial successes did not tend to match its promise. But as all who work in universities will attest, there are far more ways of measuring success than financial return. The impact of intellectual property, for all its financial failures, was spectacular.

Between around 1986 and 1996 universities all chose to invest (sometimes heavily, depending on their legal fees) in intellectual property policies. Most of them already had a patent policy of some sort. However, something was changing. The change was represented, though not entirely captured, by the move to property-based terminology. The University of Wollongong’s 1979 patent policy, for example, had read:
Although university research is not directed specifically towards patentable inventions, there can arise in the course of research, inventions which in the interests of the public, the University and the inventor/s, should be patented.
Sometimes a patent was the best way of making research available. A decade later Wollongong University’s intellectual property policy expressed a different set of values:
Council has an obligation, under government policy, to seek reimbursement for costs which have been incurred in research and development leading to a discovery from which profit may be derived, and also to direct some of the profit (if any) to purposes for which the University has been established.
The focus had shifted from knowledge to profit. This is not in itself surprising, considering the other 1980s changes. But this particular change is important. It transformed the substance at the core of the university. It was intellectual property that made knowledge seem ownable in a new sense.

While important, the changes intellectual property policies made were subtle, often seeming uncontroversial – or perhaps just incomprehensible. Intellectual property is a slippery concept, even among lawyers.  The language surrounding intellectual property, especially in universities where discussions about knowledge happens on many levels and for a thousand purposes, ensure meanings could and did slip from one person’s noble intention to another’s self-interest (and vice-versa). Legally, intellectual property refers to a set of rights temporarily granted to enable commercial exploitation of particular kinds of products of intellectual labour. Some of its slipperiness derives from its diversity. Vastly different legal histories are attached to (for instance) the development of copyright, protection of artistic works and music, patented invention, the keeping of trade secrets and protecting computer software.  The kind of language this diversity spawned led to a crucial mistake that McKeogh and Stewart point out:
The principal danger…lies in forgetting that the term ‘property’ is merely a conclusory statement and in falling into the trap of assuming that any identifiable ‘thing’ must belong to someone. In the present context this translates into the erroneous belief that all fruits of intellectual activity have some intrinsic claim to be treated as property.
Knowledge is not intellectual property. However, policy changes of the 1980s and 1990s may represent an attempt to make more things tradeable – in this case knowledge – than the law of intellectual property really permitted.

Monotti and Ricketson, authors of Universities and Intellectual Property: Ownership and Exploitation, say that recently (they published in 2003) Australian universities had all discovered that intellectual property was important to them. It was like finding one has “been speaking prose for over forty years without realising it”, they said.  They see it as not an actual change, more a kind of legal awakening. The change that did underpin it, they claim, was the development of what has become widely known as Mode 2 research.

Research had changed worldwide, so that by the 1990s new patterns were observable. In their 1994 book The New Production of Knowledge, Michael Gibbons and colleagues described a shift from Mode 1 patterns of research, where knowledge found its way from discovery to industrial application in a linear path, to Mode 2 research where industrial and academic problems were encountered and tackled in more integrated and collaborative ways. This initiated two key changes, according to Gibbons et al. Firstly, the previously distinct spheres of university and commercial knowledge were conflated, complicating the purpose of the production of knowledge. Secondly, the new relationships that Mode 2 forged led to complications in the ownership of intellectual property.  Faced with uncertainties around who owned rights to what, Monotti and Ricketson claim, universities were compelled to develop policies regulating their intellectual property.  It sounds plausible. However, taking a historical rather than legal perspective on this change raises questions that their explanation does not address.

I have selected a sample of eight intellectual property policies from Australian universities, largely based on which universities readily made them available.  In each case the sample is the first policy of that institution to include the phrase “intellectual property”. The earliest of these was from the Australian National University in 1986, the latest from the University of Western Australia in 1996. These policies frame my date range, seeming to represent the period for new policy development. It is quite a specific set of dates, suggesting that, as well as a larger evolution towards Mode 2 research (which might be expected to result in sporadic changes over a longer time) new policies were perhaps triggered by more specific events. That being said, universities had all moved quite rapidly into research commercialisation in the 1980s, changes that might have facilitated a kind of Mode 2 (and thus intellectual property) growth spurt.

How did the changes in the focus of research as commercialisation commenced transform university knowledge? Contemporary concerns demonstrate the reach of the question: should biotechnologists patent the genes they identify?  What responsibility do developers of pharmaceuticals have to the public on the one hand and to investors on the other?  What of claims, like Yochai Benkler’s and Lawrence Lessig’s, that the world is richer when knowledge is shared?  And finally, the finding by the Australian Federal Court in 2008 that university claims over intellectual property might violate academic freedom?  These substantial tensions have their origins in this moment in university history. They give urgency to my overall question: in what conceptual ways was intellectual property deployed and how did it impact the ownership of university knowledge?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Conclusion to Knowledge Economy

[Full chapter available here]

This chapter has sought to interrogate some of the great mysteries of the 1980s for higher education. Things like: why did change happen so quickly? How could a Labor government succeed in achieving, in the late 1980s, what university opposition had made impossible for a Liberal government less than a decade earlier? What exactly were the causes and patterns of ideas that most people can only describe as ‘floating around’ in that decade? The answers lie in the confluence of discursive and policy elements and their intended and unintended consequences. If at any point they had been floating, eventually they coalesced to focus on two things: a transformation of the structure in which knowledge was produced and a change in the values attached to its production.

Entrepreneurialism and professionalism became values appreciated in academic staff over (what Murray had called) “knowledge intoxication” – indeed, to be knowledge intoxicated in the 1980s was more likely to be seen as self-indulgent, wastefully pursuing ‘hobby’ research. This shift was reinforced and extended by policies that shaped a competitive academic environment. It was the entrance of competition that gave government control over knowledge. When academics internalised financial scarcity as their own inadequacy, they handed authority over the value of knowledge to the government. Institutions, unions and government then together transformed the structure of the community of scholars to facilitate an environment that privileged the moment of exchange in the production of knowledge over the value of knowledge itself.

As Minister for Education from 1987, John Dawkins functioned as higher education’s bogeyman. It was widely stated that each change might threaten the integrity of university knowledge, but lofty ideals seemed impossible. The Dawkins excuse could always be invoked and in so doing, historical mythmaking ensued. The anti-Dawkins discourse that roamed university corridors perpetuated a myth that universities did not jump, but were pushed into an entrepreneurial, managerial and increasingly profit-focused world. It is more truthful to say that (partly from fear of Dawkins) they pushed themselves – and went far beyond what Dawkins could ever have achieved.

That government took control of knowledge in the late 1980s was in part a consequence of the loss of legitimacy universities experienced in the 1970s. That the university had no obvious capacity to claim its traditional role in legitimising knowledge left a power vacuum that government was only too happy to fill. This is not to suggest that the delegitimisation that resulted from 1960s and 1970s protest movements was wrong. Rather, the movements had not (and could not have) predicted that government would use it to reaffirm the economic functions that had been increasingly connected to university knowledge since the Second World War.  More, that government could thus claim a right to control it.

Government had no claim to authority over knowledge either, ordinarily. But it was in the connection between university knowledge and economic development that the Commonwealth government located its initial claim to legitimacy. The role of knowledge in the economy – a role that had been increasing as the nature of the economy changed – gave government in the 1980s some rhetorical justification for directing knowledge. However, it was insufficient. The control of knowledge depended not only on the right to deploy it, but also on the right to select it: to decide what (quality) knowledge was. With no expertise to use as its foundation, government turned to the logic of the market. Market forces would determine and demonstrate quality knowledge. Significantly, government policy did not use undergraduate student fees to this purpose (though HECS certainly made it easier to do so later). Rather (and this is the topic of the next chapter), both university and government policies would draw on a different commodifying concept to evaluate quality knowledge: intellectual property.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The end of the community of scholars

In my interview with Robert HT Smith, he said:
John Scott, who was a lovely man, Chair of the AVCC at the time, used to proudly say he was a member of FAUSA. I remember one of my earlier meetings of AVCC, they had a show of hands for who is a member of the union. Everyone put their hands up.
The membership-based collectivity of the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations functioned as a signifier for the community of scholars. Membership enabled the Vice-Chancellors to identify themselves as primus inter pares – first among equals, but inseparable from their staff. Robert HT Smith thought they were mad: “now I know I am in cloud cuckoo-land,” was his response to that meeting, “I mean, you’re either management or you’re union”. He represented the new way.

Tension had long been growing in the staff associations, focused on the alignment or opposition of the staff with university leadership. Some members of the Federal Association had been keen since 1973 (when a salaries tribunal had been established) to convert that organisation into a formal union.  They were not a majority – it had been voted down in 1981.  Apprehension incubated in the individual staff associations as well. Sybil Jack describes the reluctance to unionise felt by members of the Sydney Association of University Teachers as a result of “gentlemanly” sentiments towards university government, invoking a political and class distinction between the approaches.  This is probably fair. But it was not the only thing going on.

Reluctance to unionise was related to the subtle and vulnerable structure that regulated the community of scholars: the gift economy.  The ethic of the gift  configured the complex system of obligation within the universities. Teaching, supervision and peer review are tasks that were structured by the gift ethic.  In a pre-managerialised university, the same gift economy governed the monitoring of office keys, laboratory equipment and university finances.  The economy of gift giving and the obligations each gift engendered created the ties that gave academics enduring membership in a community of university-based intellectuals.  The system of obligation stretched across international networks of scholars, binding disciplines and individuals in productive ways. Equipment, specimens, artefacts, gossip, employment opportunities and graduate students, Tamson Pietsch shows, traversed networks of individual scholars, irrespective of national and institutional alliances.  Archived papers of former academics are swollen with letters – requests for advice, debates of ideas, comments on publications and drafts, invitations and references – all traces of gifts and the debts each gift incurs.  The gift was the intangible substance that defined, beyond individual institutions, the idea of the university.

This is not to advocate nostalgia for academia’s gift-giving: after all, a gift economy is an economy nonetheless.  In fact, it has distinct disadvantages in some instances. The gift economy, for instance, has often led to the exploitation of (especially, but not exclusively) laboratory-based graduate students: power structures where authorial credit is the obligation of the student to their supervisor as a kind of gift-exchange, regardless of actual intellectual input.  Gifts in a gift economy are not given freely. Nevertheless, the system of gift-based obligation worked well (by and large) for the academic community for three key reasons. Firstly, exchanges did not have to be equal in the instant they were made: a gift was deposited into the network, but would rarely be returned via the same source.  It relied on the richness of the community (richness in this case meaning knowledge, equipment, scholarship) and obliged each member to contribute to it. This created its second benefit: it placed the idea of the university at the centre of its economy, so that returns were gains in knowledge. And thirdly (and this is the point most relevant to what Vice-Chancellors and unions were doing at this moment in Australian university history) it bound the leadership of the university to its scholars in their shared responsibility for the protection and promotion of knowledge as the substance at the university’s core.

So of the changes forged in the 1980s, the repositioning of academic staff is possibly the most important. A gift economy is regulated by the risk attached to being excluded from the community.  But something was changing. The probability that someone would fail to honour her or his obligation was increasing. Trust crumbled. Vice-chancellors, wishing to appear to be efficient and productive in response to public pressure, squeezed harder. Staff associations braced themselves. They had been preparing for this: some of them, anyway. The Orr case, the Ward case and even Knopfelmacher had shown that they “had teeth”, as Ken Buckley put it.  Formal unionisation seemed inevitable. A union could still be consultative, one proponent of unionisation had said in 1979:
A move into the industrial arena does not imply any radical change in universities. Despite what the scare-mongers say, staff and university representatives can still sit down together and work things out. The existence of such an option may of itself encourage greater consultation in the future – indeed we believe the art of industrial relations is to avoid rather than encourage confrontation-arbitration.
They had misunderstood. By labelling the collegial drive “gentlemanly”, pro-union members mistook the complexity of the gift economy for civility and good manners.

Adding to the turmoil, The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was restructuring. A decline in union membership across all Australian industries prompted them to reorganise, starting with amalgamations of small unions into larger bodies that would represent whole sectors. Under this crusade then, they intended to establish a large union for the whole of education, but higher education asserted its own distinctive issues. The various staff associations (also reflecting the end of the binary system of colleges and universities) merged to form the National Tertiary Education Union.  As a formal union (and in such tumultuous times) they were then positioned in a structurally adversarial relationship to university leadership. Ironically, this was the reverse of the position that had originally given the staff association strength. They had resisted the master-servant relationship established during the Orr case because it destabilised academic freedom (as seen in an earlier chapter). But formal unionisation decisively located academics as employees, invoking the employer/employee divide.  The shared vocation of protecting, upholding and promoting knowledge was reduced to its paid obligation. Without the community of scholars the university would dissolve into nothing. However, for two reasons, the collapse of the community of scholars would never be absolute. One is that the idea of the university was fundamentally related to academic motivation: many aspects of the gift economy would be perpetuated through that alone, though always in tension with the new structures.  The other reason is located in the legal character of the universities. Their Acts that instated the existence of the public institutions said that the university was its members, a membership dominated by academic staff. 

Robert HT Smith told me that by the end of the 1980s no vice-chancellor identified as union.  From all to none in less than a decade: it represents a major shift. But it was not formal unionisation that changed the vice-chancellors. Public and government scrutiny of the internal efficiency of universities prompted the vice-chancellors to change their approach, which Marginson and Considine describe so clearly.  As well as promoting greater entrepreneurialism, the universities ran themselves in more managerial and less collegial ways: collegiality as an old-fashioned idea, was assumed to be inefficient. Managerialism necessarily contributed to the employer/employee divide. The gift ethic that bound the vice-chancellor to their academic staff crumbled. Academic work was now firmly labour in exchange for money.

This exacerbated the problem of scarcity, which as I have already suggested, had been pushed out from the sources of funding to institutions and individuals as a quantitative indication of their worth. Universities, departments and individuals were compelled to demonstrate their value through competition. It was an approach that contradicted the gift ethic: it was difficult to maintain gift-based obligations with those with whom one must also compete. It thus disrupted a larger idea of collegiality as well as the one that used to govern the university: consideration of issues at (say) department level could no longer be based on its impact on the university as a broad idea, on the integrity of the system that maintained the nation’s “intellectual health” (as Ashby had put it).  Rather, self-interest would be expected to frame decisions that would enable it to compete, leaving the integrity of knowledge a secondary consideration. They made a fundamental change to the university environment. In this structure knowledge would no longer flow like gifts, it would flow like money.

[As usual, references have been removed for this posting. Please contact me if you would like them.]

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Tuition fees that failed to commodify

Dawkins reintroduced tuition fees. At the time, this was a major issue, provoking student protests and heated debates. Simon Marginson, who at that time was working for the Federation of Australian Staff Associations, describes it as a key commodifying event: it seems obvious then that it should be central to this thesis. It is not, for reasons I will explain shortly. However, discussion and debate that surrounded tuition fees had significant impact. It centred on the public benefit of knowledge and education, which participants in the debate considered to be central to the question of fees.

Simon Marginson understands the public good of knowledge in terms of public ownership – the danger of this perspective is that it makes it sound as if all knowledge needs to be owned, when perhaps it is better not owned at all. But for him, the public ownership of knowledge is congruous with the 1980s staff association position that regarded free education as a right of citizenship. If knowledge is publicly owned, it should not be privately sold. Not only is it obvious that successive governments have happily sold public assets, but Marginson’s logic would emphasise education’s exchange value, having a commodifying effect. He attempts to address this by describing knowledge as a non-market good, stressing that possessing knowledge does not prevent someone else of having it. The same applies (for example) to music download, which has a massive market: it does not prevent commodification in the way Marginson would like.

Public good understood in a different way – not as public ownership, but as public benefit – was losing its persuasive power. What Ian Clunies Ross would have called “civilisation”, economists of the 1980s started to call “positive externalities”.  For free market economists, the existence of positive externalities was insufficient to justify public funding. Many commodities produce positive externalities without requiring state interference, they claimed.   Higher education might be good for the public, but public subsidisation interfered with the value system that a market economy would supply, a system they felt would better regulate quality.  Similarly structured arguments were used in reverse. Opponents to the market system, especially the Federation of Australian Staff Associations, claimed that the values of the market disrupted the value system that promoted the intrinsic value of knowledge. 

Neither side was happy then, with Dawkins’ scheme for student tuition fees: a system designed by Bruce Chapman for the Wran committee on higher education funding.  The Higher Education Contribution Scheme, known as HECS, failed to commodify education in the sense free-market economists had wished, since the fee was still subsidised and state regulated and would only be repaid at a rate deemed reasonable to graduate’s earnings – and never at all if they did not reach the income threshold or if they moved permanently overseas.  Don Watts tried to make the best of it:
Thinking parents will surely make sacrifices now rather than allow their children to inherit a tax liability.
While for the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations the new fee violated their long-held insistence on free education, the claim of higher education as a right of citizenship had lost its traction in government. Indeed, post-Whitlam Labor had for some time been concerned that public funding of university degrees drew on the taxes of all to systematise financial and social privilege. 

Analyses of the impact of HECS have failed to show the calamities that its opponents predicted. A small reduction of participation by mature age women is a loss indeed, but does not show a widespread shift in higher education towards the privileged.  Except that HECS perhaps made it possible for the Howard government to introduce full domestic fees (a phase of university history just beyond the scope of this thesis), Dawkins’ tuition fees had little impact at all.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Scarcity as inadequacy

The Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, David Penington, knew that government had seized control of knowledge because he had closely read Dawkins’ research policies. These had originated in Don Aitkin’s “road to Damascus conversion”:
I was beginning to react as a political scientist to the notion that I found everywhere in the universities that this was their money. It’s not. It actually comes from taxpayers. There has been an agreement that some of the taxpayer’s money will go to research because - we’re excellent? No! Because it is in their interest…it will lead to, in some tangible, definable way, a better Australia, a better society for them.
The way Dawkins imagined academics meant they could not be trusted to identify tangible or definable outcomes. $65 million of recurrent funding was removed from the universities to the Council for competitive redistribution on the basis of national priorities. This civic role for university research shaped Aitkin’s contributions to the Dawkins reforms. National priorities to inform research decisions were related to his idea that that academic work should become more professionalised and less dependent on the independent scholar. 

Some years working with the Australian Research Grants Scheme had led Aitkin to believe that research funding was “spread too far, too thinly” and that competitive allocation would enable the “best people” to be funded “properly”.  It was an idea that resonated with other 1980s discourses around the equation of financial with academic value. How could you tell which research was “best” if everyone was funded equally? Funding was starting to function as a signifier of value. Excellent research must have a higher exchange value, according to the rising logic. More, the exchange value implied that funding fewer projects at a higher value exhibited a system dedicated to quality. It also meant that funding more projects at a lower value denoted a system dedicated to mediocrity: 
“When I tell them [US-based academics] we fund 65 per cent of all applications they say we didn’t realise Australian scientists were so good”, Professor Oliver says. “But they have a grin on their faces when they say it, because in America you have to be in the top 25 per cent to get your money.”
Academics who opposed the idea of increased competition for scarce resources (since their arguments were assumed to be self-interested) risked exposing themselves as unable to compete, as not the ‘best people’ to do research.  Competition pushed the problem of scarcity back to individual academics. Competition pushed the problem of scarcity back to individual academics. If there were good enough, they would receive funding. In this way, government policies leading to financial scarcity were internalised and institutionalised as inadequacy.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A kind of perverted Bastille Day

By the Federal election of 1987 each of these discursive elements were converging on higher education. Entrepreneurialism, increasingly utilised by academic staff as a self-regulatory ethic, was offset by a more controversial, but highly vocal call for widespread implementation of privatisation initiatives and (more importantly) its associated values. These issues were given focus, in the minds of many nervous members of the higher education sector, by Ryan’s request for a report on efficiency and effectiveness, which the sector thought would act as a judgement and a mandate for what would happen next.

The review of efficiency and effectiveness in higher education, which reported at the end of 1986, was a firmly Canberra-based affair. Hugh Hudson chaired the review – he was then Chair of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission (CTEC). Peter Karmel was a prominent member too: he had then moved from CTEC to Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University. There were a few other members too, but in Canberra this was understood to be Hugh Hudson’s report, conducted though it was under Karmel’s shadow.

Canberra is in every possible sense a city apart. The character of this separateness is central to the 1988 reforms of higher education. When I went to interview the first chair of the Australian Research Council, Don Aitkin, he gave me a tour (he is now chair of the National Capital Authority and felt it his duty to give me a sense of “my” capital, he said). Aitkin told me that every piece of Canberra is designed, every flowerbed considered, each roadside monument a part of a city that is one great work of art. Driving to the edge of Canberra (which does not take long, it remains an oversized small town) the artwork simply stops, becoming bushland. Robert HT Smith – Bob in person, but not on paper – was invited in 1987 to move there. He told me it was a strange world, where the correctness of the process was appreciated more than the value of the outcome: where decisions were considered in light of other Canberra colleagues rather than their impact on the world beyond its surrounding protective hills. His wife didn’t like it, so they chose not to stay more than a couple of years.

In some of Canberra’s back rooms, around a year before Aitkin and Smith were encouraged into their new prominent roles, advocates for change in higher education were despairing over both Hugh Hudson’s “E & E Report” and Susan Ryan’s sympathetic approach to the universities. The efficiency and effectiveness review had failed to describe lazy, layabout dons in antiquated oversized bureaucracies. It did not tell the truth reformers wanted to hear. Instead of affirming their conviction that full Commonwealth funding over the decade since Whitlam’s reforms had made the universities fat and indolent, the report said:
There have been substantial improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of higher education over the last decade. On the other hand, the scale and rate of change, coupled with the pressure on resources have also had its effect. To some extent, morale has been affected and standards reduced.
The report was a symptom of the system’s disease, not a diagnosis, thought the reformers – though it did outline several ways institutions should continue to improve their efficiency. Robert HT Smith told me that the whole system was infected by what John Dawkins referred to as a type of “terrified conservatism” – though Smith thought the E & E report had more value than Dawkins believed.

After the 1987 election it was what Dawkins thought that would matter. Susan Ryan was moved sideways for Dawkins to take over a super-portfolio consisting of industrial relations, workplace training and education. “Ossified bodies incapable of adaptation” was how Dawkins saw the older universities, and no report would persuade him otherwise.  In fact, a report that described these antiquated institutions even slightly favourably incriminated its authors. CTEC, it was felt in Canberra, was all together too cosy with the universities.  The world was changing and knowledge had a central role in it. Surely the spoilt, ineffective public bureaucracies that Dawkins saw could not be trusted with the ownership and control of knowledge?

After 2000, when Dawkins reviewed Simon Marginson and Mark Considine’s book The Enterprise University, he expressed surprise at how influential they considered his reforms to have been. Changes to the internal management of universities, for example, were things he could not have influenced, he claimed, since they fall under the power of the States.  In this episode of Australian university history, causes and effects, triggers, scapegoats and convenient excuses are all difficult to untangle. Dawkins himself engineered some of this murk, starting with the deliberately mysterious establishment of an almost-secret group of advisors.

Seven people received phone calls or visits from Dawkins or one of his senior staffers shortly after he was made minister. “I knew every one of them”, Don Aitkin said: they had a lot in common. “If he’d asked for advice on research” in the normal way, Aitkin told me, “he’d get it from eight different areas and they’d all disagree. What’s the use of that?” These were leaders in the university system that Dawkins knew he would agree with. Hugh Hudson, suddenly finding that he and his efficiency and effectiveness report had been marginalised in Canberra, “outed them”, calling the group the “purple circle”.  Helen Hughes, Don Watts, Don Aitkin and Robert HT Smith joined Mal Logan from Monash, Jack Barker from Ballarat College of Advanced Education and Brian Smith from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology over dinner to plan the reform of Australia’s higher education sector.  Red wine flowed, fuelling conversation. Don Watts – still yet to suffer the launch of Bond University – was as irrepressible in person as he had long been on paper: discussion was lively in any room he inhabited. Dawkins’ staffer Paul Hickey abstained, taking the notes that would become the Green Paper. Drafts of it were circulated on more sober days, when there was time to reflect. When everyone agreed, it was released.

The publication of the Dawkins Green and White papers and their reception by the universities, Colleges of Advanced Education, Institutes of Technology and the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations is well known.  The moment of the Dawkins reforms and their consequences are recounted and memorialised by the higher education sector like a kind of perverted Bastille Day. Certainly the dissolution of the binary system so that all institutions became universities (many needing to amalgamate to qualify), the instatement of a new system of tuition fees, deregulation of postgraduate coursework (added to the earlier deregulation of international education) and centralisation of research funding amounted to a revolution, which is what Peter Karmel called it. 

The sector long knew something was up. The not-so-secret Purple Circle had signalled change was on its way. “I deliberately made it a bit mysterious”, Dawkins later said.  Releasing revolutionary plans after a nervous wait set Dawkins up as higher education’s bogeyman, triggering widespread, and perhaps panicky, changes. They were changes that, as Dawkins himself observed, went a long way beyond what he was constitutionally permitted to instate. He became the Vice-Chancellors’ scapegoat and their convenient excuse. Dawkins became the effect and the cause of all of higher education’s problems and solutions. Apart from the Purple Circle Dawkins felt no compulsion to persuade, for reforms were unstoppable once revolution had started. Government had stormed the universities and taken control of knowledge.