Friday, 8 November 2013

The DVC epidemic and the regulatory state

A major target for criticism by academics has been the cost of compliance with regulatory frameworks imposed by government. This is a result of longer historical developments than scholars often suppose. Back in the old days (from the 1957 Murray review onwards) the Universities Commission decided on everything. Salaries were fixed (so the unions only negotiated with one ‘boss’, the government) and so was everything else. The Universities Commission told universities which buildings they could build, how much equipment they could purchase, which courses they could run (calculated on ‘manpower’ projections) even the precise size of the offices allowed for professorial and sub-professorial academics. In their history of Monash University, Graeme Davison and Kate Murphy tell of staff attempts to get around the Universities Commission office size specifications, so that tutorial groups could fit into staff offices. They were so creative that there remain, in certain buildings, some otherwise-unexplainable architectural oddities, a result of compliance with bureaucracy at its maddest.

This type of regulation, which stories like this one at Monash show, must have often been irksome. But it was cheap. Deregulation of many aspects of running universities gave institutions the ability to be more flexible under a range of different circumstances, but it also meant that universities needed the people and information with which to make such decisions themselves. And with deregulation, the decisions and tasks only expanded.

While the flexibility to make decisions that made sense locally must have been freeing, it also meant that for government, monitoring universities became more important. With so much at stake, governments needed to know what universities were doing, constantly. This reflects the behaviour of what political scientists refer to as the ‘regulatory state’.  The regulatory state describes a shift in the character of governments as they responded to global economic change. Rather than using their discretion to govern broadly, like using taxation to control the economy and making decisions in an ongoing way, the regulatory state created rules and institutions within which everything (‘everything’ meaning the market) must act. In many states, a key example is the central independent bank.  Kanishka Jayasuriya argues that this marks a shift in the character of organisations like universities away from being welfare-like bodies, providing an educational service, to institutions that regulate an educational market for citizens. These citizens were then defined by their capacity to participate in the market. An upside to this market-citizenship is that it led to moves to include more citizens in universities, for excluding people was also to deny them citizenship. The effect (as will be discussed in chapter ten) was widening participation in higher education, extending its benefits to more members of society.

This transformation, however, came with lots of rules. While the Australian Reserve Bank became responsible for regulating many aspects of the economy that used to be the task of government, universities were now largely responsible for the health, safety, civility and prosperity of the nation. Rules and measures to assure that banks and universities fulfilled their hefty responsibilities were needed: and the creation and monitoring of those rules became the task of the state. Within universities, this led to changes in their structure. Someone in each institution needed to be held to account for maintaining the rules and for performing the tasks within them. These people were the DVCs. This is one of the main reasons for the DVC epidemic.

It began with DVCs (or PVCs) for research. Generic DVCs to support vice-chancellors had been in place at some of the larger institutions since the 1960s and 1970s, but now more specialised labour was needed. At Macquarie University, a PVC for research was created in 1987. The University newspaper argued that the position was now needed, in part because of the new imperative to commercialise research (more about that in the next chapter) and due to the new complexity of relations with Canberra in research funding – the ARC was on the offing.  But by bit, beginning with the research portfolios, the universities created a top layer of DVC-types to be the face of each issue.

No longer was a DVC in fact just a deputy to the vice-chancellor. Their responsibilities began to reflect a new specialisation of labour required at the interface between universities and society, especially government. Their task within the university was to implement, monitor and assure compliance with the myriad rules applied by the regulatory state. So, exorbitant salaries aside, they seemed to become the ‘enemy’ of rank and file university staff.

---- This is a first draft of a segment of Chapter 7: The DVC Epidemic for the book I am writing, called Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, with UNSW Press ----

1 comment:

M-H said...

Interesting. I didn't know much about the rise of the regulatory framework. Of course, along with the DVCs there have been staff whose job it is to support this work. You asked recently what has led to the rise in non-academic staff at Unis. I suppose this is a part (although not all) of the answer.