Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Admitting women

I think I'll save the material about the impact of the Great War for the book itself, but thought today I'd post a little bit about women in universities. There is more to say about this in later chapters, but for now:

Women were excluded from the oldest universities, though not for as long as might be expected. Melbourne and Sydney changed their rules to admit women from 1881. Adelaide sought to do so in 1874, but did not receive formal permission for some years, so it could not enrol women until 1881 either. The first university ever to admit women was the University of London, whose rules had changed just three years earlier, in 1878: Australia’s universities were not resistant to this change, which was based on the inability of many members of the local ‘aristocracy’ to support their daughters financially.

Indeed, the University of Tasmania, the next to be established, never excluded women. This university evolved out of a very small system of qualification run by the Tasmanian Council of Education, which sometimes struggled to make its quorum of five people. The ‘Associate of Arts’ (AA) was awarded as something in between high school matriculation and a tertiary qualification. From its instatement in 1859 it was intended to convert to a university system when possible. In the meantime, the colony established two scholarships for two outstanding graduates of the AA to study at a university in Britain. While nearly one quarter of the AAs ever awarded went to women, who were included from 1872, they were not eligible for the scholarship. Men who did not achieve the grades of some women in the AA went on, not only to receive degrees from Oxford, but also to hold esteemed positions in the history of Tasmania. For young women, outstanding AA grades marked the pinnacle of their academic careers. This pattern continues. Women were admitted to Australian universities more than 130 years ago and yet they still cluster at the bottom of the system’s pay, rank and esteem scales. While there have been some women at the top levels of universities, the further up one looks, the more men there are. This distribution is discussed further…[later in the book].

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Monday, 28 October 2013

New universities for a modern nation

Many local politicians considered the University of Tasmania an unaffordable luxury when it was established in 1890. It was a tough time to start a university, with an economic depression hitting Australia so hard that, even when universities were increasingly practical, so few studied there that their effect on economic development and the public good was not as noticeable as the cost of the place. Tasmania’s university in fact struggled financially for several decades, so that even in 1957 official visitors reviewing Australian higher education declared their situation extremely urgent.

Queensland debated and dithered over their university for twenty years before the University of Queensland opened in 1909. The new institution reflected the more practical aims of the university in Australia, commencing with courses in mining, engineering and education.

It is not just that the new universities were only aimed at instrumental ends; the new focus was reflective of a wider shift in ideas. No longer were universities to be such elitist institutions, educating a handful of wealthy youth in manners and ‘useless’ knowledge – knowledge that was only valuable because its holders could lord it over others while gaining privileged access to positions of social, economic and political leadership. The new modern nation needed something quite different. Both Queensland and the latest of the oldest six universities, the University of Western Australia, saw themselves as ‘modern’ institutions, though still with the links to older traditions that would boost their authority. Being modern meant expanding the benefits of higher education to the wider public, enabling ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, which British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham praised as ‘the foundation of morals and legislation’.

Implementing such modern ideas meant that universities needed to focus on practical aims. Obviously, these included mining and agriculture as well as the professions. Within this new set of ideas it was also possible, however, for practical goals to include moral aims, such as civilisation, giving universities a reason to keep some focus on the liberal arts and humanities as well as the newer and trendier ‘applied’ fields of knowledge.

Expanding the benefits of higher education beyond the elite also required an adjustment in the idea of who should attend university. High course fees ordinarily meant only fairly wealthy people could afford to go. There was also the lost income of the extra years of study both at high school and at tertiary level: for many, it did not even occur to them that this loss was worthwhile, even if it was possible. Despite this clear barrier to social inclusion, the colonies promoted a higher degree of social mobility than is often imagined. In a close study of the first 123 students at the University of Sydney, Julia Horne and Geoffrey Sherington found that, while the largest body of students were from upper middle-class families, around 39 per cent had fathers who worked in a combination of lower middle class jobs and unskilled trades.

An ideal that Australia’s universities would prioritise merit over family status existed from the beginning, but really came to fruition in the University of Western Australia (UWA). UWA sought to find a way to reduce the financial barrier to higher education. The new university was not to charge fees to its students, funded instead by the state. This was new and contentious and in fact, was barely passed by UWA’s Senate in 1912.  The idea that the university was for the public good became embedded in the idea of the university, even legally. The Act of the University of Western Australia specifies, in fact, that the purpose of university knowledge is for the public good, a clause that disturbed some of the university’s commercial aims in recent years (an issue considered in Chapter 8).

But while these new philosophies built higher education institutions to serve the new nation, they were not really national institutions. State-funded and with allegiance to their home state, Australia's first six universities  (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia) seemed a remnant of the colonial past, operating independently from one another. Ironically, at this time, their ties to Britain tightened. New technologies brought scholars within the universities closer to the networks of the British Empire. The effect was to lead university leaders to look even more to British institutions for inspiration, legitimacy and academic staff, so that for many academics, the ways that particular British universities approached curriculum, examination and scholarship set the benchmark for what Australian universities should do – even towards the end of the twentieth century, this attitude could still be detected, particularly in the humanities.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Authority for Australian professionals

From the time that the first Australian universities were established, the structure of the economy and the nature of work were changing. The industrial revolution was in full swing when British colonists invaded Eora country. As the colony grew, ideas themselves industrialised, so that the new economic structures made some people rich and many people workers. The effect of this division between capital and labour shaped Australian history and is well known. But as the nineteenth century marched onwards, something else was happening too. A new role was developing for a group of people who did not produce anything but who nevertheless persuaded the public that their labour was of sufficient value to be given significant money to perform it. These people were the professionals.

Medical doctors and lawyers were the first to successfully make their case – and the new universities helped them to do so. Early on, medical practice in Australia was haphazard and unregulated so that consulting someone claiming to have medical expertise could be as risky as not doing so at all. Claims to knowledge in the field of human health were not always trusted (or trustworthy), so the establishment of formal courses at university offered a way of creating medical practitioners that the public could trust, thus also elevating the place of doctors from the ‘quacks’ they had been to a more privileged and dependable position in society. Similarly, lawyers found that a university degree not only gave a competitive advantage but also a respectability to their work, which in turn meant people would be prepared (if not exactly happy) to pay lawyers considerable sums for their services.
The value to the university of this ‘professionalisation’ of medicine and law was obvious and immediate. As Stuart Macintyre and Dick Selleck argue:
University education gave medical practitioners and lawyers…a magisterial and conveniently expensive preparation to mark their superiority over their jostling competitors. 
But as well as fee income, universities also gained a special foothold in the shifting labour market. Over the next century, nearly every occupation would require increased levels of education. Universities, often in an alliance with the professional associations (which were also created as occupations professionalised) appropriated the knowledge of many professions. Since the addition of medicine and law, engineering, veterinary science, architecture and accounting were added; later pharmacy, psychology and dentistry; more recently, teaching, nursing and journalism, with more occupations entering universities all the time. Such professionalisation is key theme throughout this book and in chapter two I discuss it at length. The place of the university in professionalisation is important, because it is what gave universities much of their power, authority and perceived value over the twentieth century.

It was not always easy for universities to gain authority in particular fields. Engineering, for example, was an extremely important profession to colonial Australia since roads, trains, bridges, buildings and machines that were the precondition to established settlement and ran the industrial economy.

Universities established engineering Faculties very early on. This profession, however, did not embrace the type of education or prestige that universities, until the 1950s. Most engineers preferred the workshop culture of the old pupillage system, which was translated better in technical colleges than in universities. From the mid-twentieth century, universities gained dominance over the technical colleges and university-educated engineers then literally built the technological society of the second half of the twentieth century. Even in the 1950s, however, the university’s ascendance was only achieved by a fairly sneaky move on the part of the Institute of Engineers, who changed their examination to prompt a new form of accreditation, formalising the alliance between the professional association and the universities in a way that is now common across many professions.

The development of professional education within the mission of higher education is a marker of the modern university. The process began in the 1870s and continued to the present. In the nineteenth century, professional education also demonstrated to all the colonies that a university was needed for more than self-government. As Federation loomed, those colonies that had not yet seen a university as a priority found that modern society needed higher education for practical reasons, not just to promote a luxury like ‘civilisation’.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Knowledge for Australian primary industries

The key sources of Australia’s wealth were agriculture and mining. Wool was Australia’s primary export for around one hundred years. When the price of wool fell temporarily in some decades, sheep also provided meat or tallow from which to derive income.  Other forms of agriculture also developed rapidly. While Australia’s land and weather could be harsh, there was plenty of space, rapidly appropriated from Aboriginal nations, whose dispossession enabled wheat and other agricultural commodities to become an important source of wealth for the colonists. Moreover, agriculture literally fed the changing Australian economy as settlers populated the cities and built the towns, and local animal and agrarian industries developed rapidly.

Of all the animals relied upon for Australia’s economy, none mattered more than horses. Horses were the source of transport, labour and power for all industries and yet it was not until 1908 that the first courses in veterinary science were introduced to universities. When they were introduced, horses were naturally their primary focus, with far less attention paid to dogs and cats than is the case in the present. As the motor car replaced horses, the need for knowledge shifted again and so did the university. This is a pattern throughout the history of universities: any claim that universities are or have ever been ‘ossified’ institutions that prefer to avoid change is a gross misreading of their history. Those old-looking buildings and medieval outfits are just a disguise. Universities use the trappings of an unchanging tradition to maintain their gravitas, but in fact Australian universities adapted and changed remarkably quickly, throughout their history.

The discovery of gold by the 1850s and 1860s marked the beginning of what Geoffrey Blainey described as ‘the rush that never ended’. Nevertheless, although the University of Melbourne attempted to instate mining-related courses from the 1850s, it was not until 1891 that University of Sydney scientist Edgeworth David argued:
In a country like this where mining is of such importance it would appear almost obligatory on the part of the University to have students in the highest branches of Mining, as is the practice at the leading German and American Universities. 
David needed to point to the German and American universities in order to derive some sort of tradition for university knowledge in the field of mining. Universities struggled, in fact, to gain much a foothold in these industries responsible for Australian prosperity. Mining needed knowledge and in fact needed quite a lot of it. Gold was pretty readily identifiable, but metallurgical experts were needed to verify other kinds of minerals, such as the copper, silver and tin that were also significant exports. More complex applied science was often needed to extract minerals from other kinds of minerals and to refine them to the point of being useful. Mining techniques that improved the efficiency or safety of mining were also sought-after and yet universities, for their first hundred years, could barely compete with the Schools of Mines established in every major centre for mining. Institutions for tertiary education still stand where they were built, in mining towns like Ballarat and Broken Hill.

But by what authority did universities exist in colonial Australia? Old ideas about civilisation and self-government only carried them so far; universities needed to hook into the values and structures of the colonies. They needed to do this, not only to prove their usefulness, but also to retain and improve their links into colonial power. Mining and agriculture were important industries to become connected to. What value was the university’s authority over knowledge if it was not also the knowledge that was of value to society?

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Friday, 25 October 2013

Colonial Ambition: the first universities

No two cities in the world bicker so competitively as the residents of Melbourne and Sydney, so it is no surprise that Sydney proudly boasts that it hosts Australia’s first university, founded in 1852. It was barely ahead of Melbourne, however, which opened its doors only three years after Sydney’s first enrolment of 24 students. There was, apparently, no opposition at all to the idea of a university in Melbourne. The same could not be said in Sydney, but that was not because anyone disputed the suggestion that a university was an essential step toward self-government of the colony, rather they were just not sure that it was the colony’s most pressing priority.

The University of Sydney was the pet project of NSW politician, William Charles Wentworth. Wentworth explicitly linked the idea of the university to self-government, which he said ‘would be a useless boon’ without the university, for ‘ the native youth of the country could not now obtain the education which would fit them for high offices in the state.’  Wentworth pointed to a future colony that would be ‘enlightened and refined’, a state only achievable, he argued, with a university.  It was controversial, for there were many who feared that such an elitist institution would give some of their fellow colonists aristocratic pretensions. Moreover, schooling in NSW was in such a sad state that investing in the education of so few with such little immediate benefit to the colony seemed inappropriate at the time.

Fear of snobbishness was something that those who knew Wentworth would have once expected him to share, but Wentworth’s views were shifting. For him the university was a way of facilitating the development of a local aristocratic class. The university would shape the men who would lead NSW when self-government was achieved. The university’s links to Sydney’s high culture, from its opening recital in the Great Hall, affirm that from its beginning it was looked upon as the educational birth right of Sydney’s best breeched. It still is.

Around twenty years later, a group of clerics decided to form a secular university in Adelaide. In the 1870s, that town held only around 30,000 people. The insistence on secularity, in all three universities, reflects in part how avante garde they were: establishing secular universities was still novel and somewhat contentious in Britain. Secularity was seen as progressive and modern, for better and worse. ‘Modern’ in universities, is often not a compliment, since they rely heavily on their connection to tradition for their authority: it is no accident that the oldest universities are also the most elite. Secularity was also an attempt to get around the sectarian divisions that would threaten universities’ existence and equilibrium, for divisions between Catholic and protestant plagued Australia for more than a century, as did theological disputes between protestant denominations. Theological education, each university’s founders agreed, should stay in colleges linked to the university, so the religious denominations need not battle over theological slants or exclude one another’s members, as universities sometimes did in Britain and elsewhere.

Historian Tamson Pietsch argues that, at this point, when steamships were yet to begin a 200-year sprint towards an increasingly connected world, each university was largely in its own hands. They carried with them ideas about links between knowledge and civilisation, but they were locally run for local purposes, informed by local controversies and built with local wealth.

These early Australian universities in fact had access to more substantial local resources than institutions being established in other parts of the world, for the colonies were extraordinarily prosperous. Australian wages in the mid-1850s were the highest in the world (138% higher than in Britain and more than 50% higher than in the United States) and by 1860, no nation exceeded the colonies’ collective Gross Domestic Product measured on a per capita basis.  Tapping into the sources of this wealth, however, required institutions to adapt their idea of the university still further.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Whose idea of the university?

Many people think that the first Australian universities were just replicas of old British institutions: ‘Sydney University’, argued public intellectual Clive James, ‘is really Oxford or Cambridge laterally displaced approximately 12,000 miles’.  Certainly the architecture at Australia’s three oldest universities – the Universities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – supports this assumption. Sydney University’s old Latin motto does too: translated it reads ‘though the constellations change, the mind is the same’ – or, ‘new latitude, same attitude’ as one student reportedly quipped.

But not everything in higher education in Australia is in direct imitation of Tudor Britain, despite their building design. Australian university planners were in fact happy to shop around for ideas about universities that best suited their needs, though it is true they also liked to connect to British traditions in order to boost their standing in the sometimes-sceptical minds of their fellow colonists.

Worldwide there were lots of ideas that university founders could choose from. European universities carried around eight centuries of tradition – and not all traditions were the same. In the ‘new world’ American universities had been around for 200 years, as had the first Canadian institution (though in English only since 1785), whereas when discussions about the university commenced in Sydney, the first university in South Africa was only twenty years old and India’s only university was just over thirty. Spanish settlers had moved faster: Latin American universities date from the mid-16th and 17th centuries. Other British colonies were slower: universities were yet to established in New Zealand, Hong Kong or other parts of Africa. Nevertheless, a university was a sign of civilisation, albeit a fairly luxurious one that could wait for a more prosperous season if need be.

At the time the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney were established, some of the ideas about both civilisation and the university were being re-thought. New ideas about personal economic power and responsibility, the structure of political organisation, separations of church and state and about humane society led to changes in thinking about universities as they also led to shifts in the styles of prisons, hospitals and parliaments.

While shopping around as needed, Australians did tend to look to Britain, as much for legitimacy as for inspiration. Melbourne’s vice-chancellor sought recognition from the British universities for their graduates well before they had any.  That being said, sorting through ideas about the university in Britain was a surprisingly fraught process: there were schisms between English and Scottish modes of education, religious and secular structures, and between Protestant and Catholic intellectual traditions.
Not all of Australia’s colonial founders had equal input, however. Although from the 1850s many Chinese colonists were joining migrants from England, Ireland, Europe and America in the search for Australian gold, early university founders did not look to long and esteemed Chinese scholarly traditions in building Australian universities. In fact, scholarly links to Asia, now a marked characteristic of Australian universities, did not develop until around 100 years later with the Federal government’s Colombo Plan, established in 1949.

Each of the early universities was founded on its own mix of foreign ideas with local innovation thrown in. In gold-rush Victoria, so many basic questions about minerals could only be answered by long-awaited letters from London that at the University of Melbourne traditional subjects in Latin, classics and mathematics were supplemented by mineralogy, chemistry and geology.  What they all had in common was an ambition for what such a seat of learning would offer their colony.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Knowledge in Early Australia

Aboriginal Australian communities, all the evidence shows, placed a high value on knowledge – in fact, they still do. Complex systems to regulate knowledge and assure it is passed on appropriately not only infuse traditional Aboriginal educational systems, but also structure kinship and relational obligations throughout the Indigenous Australian nations.

The same knowledge of land, medicine, fauna and economy was also highly valued by the Europeans who, in the late seventeenth century, began to explore, invade, colonise and settle the Australian continent. Europeans brought with them ideas gleaned from the era known as the ‘enlightenment’. These encouraged them to ‘discover’ and catalogue knowledge – knowledge that was often acquired from Aborigines.

Other ideas that Europeans carried prevented them from seeing that stealing knowledge and claiming it as their own was an act of intellectual violence. Ideas moulded British behaviour, often in destructive ways. Pre-conceptions about what farming looked like prevented settlers from seeing the ways that Aboriginal fire-stick farming shaped the landscape and, by mixing Aboriginal labour with the land, asserted their rights of ownership in just the way British philosopher John Locke had defined. For colonists, this misunderstanding led to the terrible doctrine later known as terra nullius, the belief that Australian land had no owner, an idea that inflicted considerable harm on the Aboriginal nations in subsequent centuries. In the same way as they dismissed their farming practices, Europeans also dismissed Indigenous knowledge: when they learned something from Aborigines, they treated it as if they had ‘discovered’ it through mere observation, a kind of intellectual terra nullius, as if the Aboriginal knower was not really there.

Ideas had power, for both Europeans and Aborigines. Aboriginal knowledge was among the substance that would dwell in the first Australian universities, protected and nurtured by European scholars, as if it was their own. This knowledge helped ‘enlightened’ nations, as the Australian colonies aspired to be, reach the levels of civilisation that made them proud. In pursuit of this civilised ideal, less than seventy years after the first British fleet landed in Aboriginal Eora country and began to settle it as Sydney, the colonists began to plan their first universities.

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

Monday, 7 October 2013

Cost of university executive in NSW

Today I have been doing some more sums. In NSW in 2012, vice-chancellors cost $7.6M. But the vice-chancellors, when we look closely, are not the biggest cost - it is what I have a little cheekily been calling the 'DVC Epidemic'. DVCs (and PVCs) in NSW cost more than $21M.

In 2012, the total cost of the executive level of the university system for NSW alone was $35,307,536.

UniversityDVC (or PVC) Salaries (inc bonuses)VC Salaries(inc bonuses)VC/DVC TotalNon-DVC ExecutivesExecutive Total
Charles Sturt University$917878$492397$1410275$496403$1906678
Macquarie University$1888975$1449101$3338076$1544706$4882782
Southern Cross University$1250576$601414$1851990$1047621$2899611
The University of Newcastle$3827845$597364$4425209$559469$4984678
The University of New England$1507820$584751$2092571$831845$2924416
The University of New South Wales$1415040$525380$1940420$947732$2888152
The University of Sydney$3167365$899143$4066508$0$4066508
University of Technology Sydney$2547290$849293$3396583$0$3396583
University of Western Sydney$2143613$861000$3004613$342000$3346613
University of Wollongong$2506731$739762$3246493$765022$4011515

Total NSW

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cost of universities

In 2013, the twenty most expensive vice-chancellors in Australia earned nearly $18 million in salaries between them. This does not take into account the army of DVCs and PVCs that support their work. At Sydney University, six DVCs together earned more than $3.1M, almost $4.1M if you also include the vice-chancellor’s salary. Across 39 Australian universities, they are an expensive group.

When we look at the purpose of higher education (teaching and research) and its problems (audit culture, high administrative costs and so on) it seems that if we were to just shave off this whole layer of the university, everything would be fine. To see why we don't just do that, we need to see what caused it - that is the chapter that I am working on now for the book which we think will be called Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university (UNSW Press).

The growth of this costly executive also reflects some wider changes in the university. The key one is the general cost of running the place. A 2012 report by Ernst & Young on Australian universities said that the overall cost of running universities now exceeds the cost of teaching and research. Ernst & Young were in fact trying to make a case that organisations like theirs, which they claimed could be lighter on their feet, should enter the higher education ‘market’. But it is nevertheless true that administration and other costs have escalated. The ‘economies of scale’ that Dawkins sought seem to have had the opposite effect. 

Not all of the decisions made in universities are irrational, however, and thinking about the rising costs since the 1980s is to simultaneously make mind-numbingly boring lists of things like IT infrastructure, student support etc etc and also to consider how whole areas of work have professionalised in the past 30 years - and professionalisation itself is something I am also interested in.