Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Histories of Higher Education: Higher Education Studies


In 1954, Harry Eddy of the Worker’s Education Association convened a symposium on New South Wales universities. Since that first meeting and from 1958 when the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations established the journal Vestes, Australian tertiary educators have analysed their own field. Many of the discussions they had have been used as primary sources in this thesis, reflecting as they do the key concerns of each period.

Journal articles and symposia contained opinion, analyses and observations of higher education from particular disciplinary perspectives – philosophy, political science, teacher-education, medicine – or detailed new approaches to teaching and administration in the universities. News from new universities and from higher education internationally was supplemented by statistical compilations, an outcome of the emerging discipline of demography.[1] Academics worked quickly. By the time of the publication of Ted Wheelwright’s 1965 collection on higher education in Australia, it was possible to compile a substantial ‘Bibliography for Australian Universities’. This provided an index to all the articles that had been written in various journals on the nature of Australian universities, on inquiries and commissions (mostly responses to the 1957 Murray and 1964 Martin reviews), material by and about the Australian Universities Commmission, articles about each of the universities, about the universities and government and a small cluster of articles about teaching and research.[2] Early scholarly attempts to synthesise this work and to systematically study Australian universities were led by W.F. Connell and other members of the University of Sydney Education Department in the early 1960s.[3]

Teaching came into focus in the 1960s. The Universities Commission had consulted the National Union of Australian University Students during the war and, as a result of ongoing student advice, the quality of teaching was a key concern among members of the Murray Committee, especially Ian Clunies Ross.[4] This led to a recommendation that universities do something to reduce their attrition rates.[5] In response, the University of Melbourne commenced a University teaching project in the early 1960s.[6] It was students, however, who pushed it further. Once student radicalism started to emerge, the National Union of Australian University Students considered it their task to produce educational research that supported student demands for changes to teaching and assessment. From these demands – and indeed, these student-researchers – the genre expanded and professionalised. In addition to the many academic development units hosted by universities, two centres focused specifically on research in Higher Education Studies: one at the University of Melbourne, and another at the University of New England in Armidale.

Collections of analyses of higher education policy continued to multiply from regular symposia. The same names recurred. Harry Eddy, Perce Partridge and Sol Encel regularly gave their considered opinions alongside the university administrators, Peter Karmel, Philip Baxter, Bruce Williams, Rupert Myers and, a special guest in 1969, the University of California’s Clark Kerr.[7] Drawing on the data gathered by the government reviews, experts specific to the field of higher education were just emerging, finding their own voice in the 1980s. Then, at the ‘end of the golden age’, higher education research began in earnest.[8] Some scholarly heroes emerged, including Ingrid Moses, John Biggs, Paul Ramsden, David Boud, Grant Harman, Lynn V. Meek, Richard James and Simon Marginson.


[1] Peter Karmel, "Comment on 'Supply and Demand'," in Higher Education in Australia, ed. E.L. Wheelwright (Melbourne: F.W. Cheshire, 1965).
[2] Naomi Caiden, "A Bibliography for Australian Universities," in Higher Education in Australia, ed. E.L. Wheelwright (Melbourne: F.W. Cheshire, 1965).
[3] Hugh Philp et al., The University and Its Community (Sydney: Ian Novak, 1964).
[4] Committee on Australian Universities, "Records of the Murray Review Committee Part Xi," in Committee on Australian Universities NAA/CAU (Canberra: National Archives of Australia 1957).
[5] Keith A.H. Murray et al., "Report of the Committee on Australian Universities," (Melbourne: Committee on Australian Universities, Commonwealth Offices, Treasury Place, 1957).
[6] C.E. Moorehouse and B Falk, "The University Teaching Project at the University of Melbourne," The Australian University 1, no. 294-307 (1963).
[7] Robert McCaig, ed. Policy and Planning in Higher Education (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press,1972). G.S. Harman and C Selby Smith, eds., Australian Higher Education: Problems of a Developing System (Sydney: Angus & Robertson,1972).
[8] Edward Gross and John S. Western, The End of a Golden Age: Higher Education in a Steady State (St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1981).

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