Sunday, 22 May 2011

Argument: chapter structure

1. Technological development, based on university research, helped win a war, transforming the university’s relationship to society. Universities now saw a benefit in supporting research that might be useful for economic and social development and thus sought ways to fund research and utilise universities for the broader public good. Some academics, however, feared that increased government investment would also bring increased government regulation and control, undermining academic freedom and university autonomy.

2. Despite Menzies’ attempts to find ways to assure university autonomy, the obligations of universities to government that Menzies helped structure through the Murray review in 1957, hardened. Further through the 1965 Martin report, there was a much stronger emphasis in federal government funding and policy on economic instrumentalism.

3. Underpinning this economic instrumentalism was a public faith in the capacity of university research to support economic and social progress. It was useful knowledge that had clear public benefits. This faith was shattered by the student protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Staff and student radicals argued that universities were not havens of independent thought and useful knowledge instruments of state repression, social hierarchy and intellectual conformity. They challenged university governance, curricula and assessment and in doing so undermined public faith in the benefits of university and the objectivity of the knowledge universities produced.

4. After the oil crisis and with declining student numbers, it was clear that higher education needed reform. Equally important there were now a influential opinion makers both inside and outside the universities, appalled by the staff and student unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, determined to encourage governments to subject universities to the rigours of the market (both in terms of research funding and student funding). These neo-liberal thinkers claimed that market forces would improve the efficiency and quality of the system. These discourses gradually gained ground. Labor abandoned Whitlam’s free education policies and, in the Dawkins reforms, used government funding power to convert universities into public utilities controlled by the state.

5. Universities sought to use the new research and education markets as a way to regain their autonomy. Between a new competitive research funding environment and growing market-based values, politicians, reformers and university administrators increasingly considered the value of research in financial terms. All universities invested in frameworks and policies that reconfigured knowledge as intellectual property. Trading knowledge, they believed, would provide substantial income. Financial independence, they hoped, would loosen the government’s grip. Governments hoped that research commercialisation would provide additional funding for universities. University policies increasingly shifted from overseeing patent protection to claiming broader intellectual property rights over the work of academics and research students. Inevitably research and intellectual property became an area of contest between governments, universities and individual academics where complex questions about institutional autonomy, academic freedom, public benefit and social utility were all in play.


Towards the end of the twentieth century, Australian universities felt that they had to choose between government control and market forces. They chose the market. When they did, university knowledge was reconfigured as property. Its possession became a contest about ownership. University and academics became interested parties rather than disinterested scholars.