Raewyn Connell, University of Sydney 
When neoliberal policies in Australia began to bite in the sphere of higher education, towards the end of the 1980s, a common reaction among university staff was astonishment and then dismay. To see staff of other universities as opponents rather than colleagues, or to prove the economic value of courses never designed to be sold, seemed bizarre if not mad requirements, and morally offensive too.
Today we can see how the policies brought in by John Dawkins and his advisors, and deepened ever since, made sense in neoliberal terms. Universities were redefined as competitive firms, rather than branches of a shared higher education enterprise. Deliberative planning was quickly replaced by struggle for advantage, and a scramble for amalgamations produced our current odd collection of universities.
Numbers in higher education were increased, without a major increase in central state funding, by commodifying access: fees were re-introduced, and step by step increased. Federal government funding as a proportion of the higher education budget collapsed, from around 90% to under 50%. The national university system, in the 1970s remarkably uniform in quality and resources, became self-consciously unequal. The emergence of the “Group of Eight”  crystallized the new stratification, as positional advantage was leveraged.
Higher education was increasingly seen by government as an export service industry in which Australia could find comparative advantage, the cultural equivalent of iron ore. High fees for overseas students monetised this idea, replacing an earlier regime where Australian universities offered modest development aid to South-east Asia for free. De-regulation is currently being deepened to include domestic students.
At the same time, universities have been re-shaped on the model of corporations. Traditional hierarchy (remember the God-Professor?) had been partly broken down from the 1960s to the 1980s. Ironically this opened a space, in new conditions, for growth in managerial power, with Vice-Chancellors and Deans increasingly understood as entrepreneurs, being paid like corporate managers, and – together with their officers – actually having more autonomy. The price is greater social distance, and often distrust, between university managers and academic staff. Corporate techniques of personnel management along fractal lines (performance management, auditing regimes) have been introduced. Older forms of collective deliberation, such as the departmental meeting, have declined, and no new ones are created; hence we see a Vice-Chancellor addressing his staff, on a grave issue, by sending them a video.
The nature of work in universities has been changing too. The impact of ICT , the changing character of libraries, and the return to mass teaching are familiar. Significant fractions of non-academic labour in universities are outsourced. Some support functions close to teaching staff are deleted from organization charts (e.g. the departmental secretary), while new ones close to management are added (e.g. marketing). The expansion of student numbers has been handled with rising class sizes and a cheaper labour force.
Though universities do not care to publicize the issue, and the data are opaque, it seems that about 50% of Australian undergraduate teaching is now done by casual labour (euphemised as “sessional”). Among permanent or tenure-track staff another stratification is emerging, between research-only, research-and-teaching, and teaching-only posts. Embedded here is a division between internationally-mobile and locally-confined careers, an important inequality in a globalizing profession. Though it is difficult to be precise about such things, I believe there is a widespread sense among academic staff that the demands of the job have become more relentless, the benefits more uncertain, and the level of trust lower. (For parallel trends in the UK see Gill 2009.)
Competitive markets require visible metrics of success and failure; this is tricky to do in education. Neoliberal policy-makers have solved their problem in the school sector by means of NAPLAN and MySchool  – to the dismay of most educators, aware of the distorting effects of high-stakes competitive testing on the broader curriculum in schools. Powerful metrics are still lacking in the Australian university system, with opaque international league tables an unsatisfactory substitute. But Canberra has launched attempts, clumsy so far, at quality assurance and competitive assessment (witness ERA round I) . We can be confident there will be fresh attempts to measure “performance” by universities, and attach rewards and punishments to the measures.
Some implications for knowledge
A first-order effect of the neoliberal turn is to instrumentalize research and teaching. Research that benefits a corporate or organizational interest, or fits a politician’s definition of national priorities, is encouraged: the ARC’s Linkage grants embody this . Australian businesses’ dismal interest in research has limited the effects locally, so far as research is concerned. But a strong effect is visible in teaching. Under market logic, degrees that seem to offer economic pay-offs to the student attract higher enrolments and become more important to universities; the distribution of full-fee-paying students across programmes provides one map of this effect. The difficulty that philosophy departments around Australia have in the new regime is worth pondering. Philosophy was central to the idea of a university, but no longer is; we don’t have to be nostalgic to think this a significant shift.
To look more deeply, if anything has replaced philosophical reflection at the heart of university life, it is performativity (Lyotard 1984). Showing auditable output within the logic of the system and its measures becomes the requirement; no-one is simply trusted to be doing valuable work. We have proliferated within the university, sometimes with and sometimes without external pressure, many mechanisms of surveillance and reporting under the rubric of accountability. In my view many are Potemkin devices of no substantive worth, but they institutionalize distrust of staff, while adding to the time pressure in academic jobs.
The most striking sign of performativity is the obsessive quantification of research output, both individual and institutional. We are seeing right now a startling proliferation of journals, peer-reviewed so they meet the audit requirements, which exist essentially to lengthen c.v.’s. A very large proportion of papers submitted to existing journals are unreflective repetitions of existing research designs. This is also true of a large proportion of PhD theses, under the pressure of funding-driven time limits and formulaic controls. For researchers to stop and think deeply about what they are doing, perhaps feeling their way towards a new paradigm, would be unwise: if you did that for two or three years in this university, you would become liable for the sack.
In neoliberal theory, competition drives innovation; so market-savvy universities make large claims to be innovative. In fact, in all sectors of education, competition and auditing drives standardization of curricula and pedagogy, a convergence on the market leader. I have been told by a publisher that writers of new textbooks are instructed to have 80% of their content in common with the market-leading book in their field, and looking at texts in my field, I believe it. Standardized curricula are needed with a large casualized workforce to make the job of teaching-on-the-run practicable. Our sessional teachers do not have time or support for serious curriculum innovation. External auditing (e.g. in teacher education, with the new accreditation Institutes) also tends to standardize content. When Canberra develops high-stakes tests of the “effectiveness” of university teaching, as with NAPLAN there will be irresistible pressure to teach-to-the-test. Australian universities are losing control of their curriculum and the logic of neoliberalism is that we will lose more.
Three effects of the neoliberal regime in the realm of knowledge most concern me – and should be considered by anyone concerned with the foundations of the university curriculum in the contemporary system of knowledge.
First is the reproduction of global dependency. We are positioned in global as well as local markets, and the global market leaders are Harvard, Columbia, Cambridge and their peers. Their curricula serve as the gold standard. Australian universities were created as colonial institutions, and Australian academic life remains markedly extraverted (Hountondji 2002). We import our keynote speakers from the USA and UK, we send our bright students to Cambridge and Chicago, we try to publish in the American Journal of Orthology. Neocolonial dependence is built into performativity through international rankings of journals, departments and universities, even in small details such as the “impact factors” (based on citation counts overwhelmingly in metropolitan journals) we now see in job candidates’ publication lists. Local intellectual cultures are undermined, and the potential wealth of global diversity in knowledge formation is shrunk to a single hierarchy of centrality and marginality.
Second is the entrenchment of social hierarchies in knowledge production and circulation. Access to elite education is a very important form of privilege today, available mainly to the children of the privileged, as the “sandstones” in Australia show locally, and the Harvards internationally. Access to the means of producing knowledge is also concentrated – one measure is the institutional distribution of ARC grants, another is the scale of our casual teaching workforce, not resourced for research despite being trained for it. The rise of Intellectual Property regimes under neoliberalism creates fences around knowledge itself.
I don’t doubt the Dawkins-era intention to make university education available to more people; that indeed happened. But it happened through neoliberal mechanisms that undermined the democratic potential of social investment in higher education. Rather than opening out the knowledge system in participatory ways, our power-holders have systematically fenced and stratified the republic of knowledge to the point where there is no popular ownership of science or humane knowledge. It’s a speculation, but I think the dangerous success of the climate-change deniers is partly due to this.
Third, and perhaps most serious, is the impact of market logic on our relation with truth. A university’s responsibility is, ultimately, to be a practitioner of reason and bearer of truth. Research workers in all our fields know how hard it actually is to establish truth. This is not a responsibility one can take lightly, and it is contradicted by the public presentation of a fantasy university. When I walk down Eastern Avenue and see my university hanging up vainglorious banners saying how wonderful we are, my heart sinks. Marketing logic has pushed Australian universities (like others) to invent selling points and halo effects, an imaginary world of breakthroughs and great minds and blue-sky payoffs. To be blunt, it pushes universities into a realm of calculated misrepresentation that is hard to distinguish from lying.
And in conclusion…
The purpose of this paper is to invite a discussion of issues that are fundamental to the future of the university. I don’t have an immediate solution to propose, except discussion itself. To invite this, of course, is to assume that there are alternatives worth talking about.
Neoliberalism is the dominant policy logic in our world. One can of course embrace it, as the Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne has recently done with evident joy. But it is not the only possible logic, and there is more than one way to respond to the neoliberal pressures that exist. Neoliberal policymaking, once brutal, now prefers to govern indirectly, through regimes of incentives and disincentives. The rewards and costs are real, and reckoning with those regimes is inevitable. But in doing so we are not obliged to treat staff ruthlessly, we do not have to construct fantasies about ourselves, we need not defer to Harvard, and we need not pretend to be BHP .
It seems to me that a viable alternative to MyUniversity  will have to grow from an understanding of knowledge production and higher education as a distinctive form of work – in my discipline’s jargon, from the intellectual labour process itself. Modern intellectual labour involves complex forms of cooperation requiring trust and reciprocity; it involves both a critical and affirmative relationship with existing knowledge, so the process is cumulative and educative; and it is inherently unpredictable and open-ended, therefore in an important sense ungovernable. Shaping institutions to foster and support such labour (by students as well as staff) is not easy, but it is a task worth our intelligence and commitment. It will require some nerve, it will have costs, and it will require confidence in ourselves as a university.
Raewyn Connell is University Professor at the University of Sydney, a member of ISA and a former President of TASA (The Australian Sociological Association). This paper was prepared for discussion at the Academic Board of the University of Sydney. More of Raewyn’s writing can be found at www.raewynconnell.net.
 John Dawkins was the Labor Party minister who took over the Education portfolio in 1987, and shifted policy dramatically away from nation-building and social equity towards human-capital formation and neoliberal competition.
 The Group of Eight, also known as “the sandstones”, are the universities, mostly older and bigger, who have tried to exploit the turn to neoliberalism at the expense of other public universities and have formed a separate lobby group to do so.
 The common local term for computerisation plus the Internet.
 NAPLAN is the national testing programme for language and mathematics “achievement” which all schools are compelled by the federal government to undergo. MySchool is a federal government website listing all schools in the country and giving their test results, which the media immediately convert into league tables treating schools as competing firms (or football teams). This was launched by the current Labor Party Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, when she was minister for education.
 The Excellence in Research for Australia Initiative (the corporate/nationalist title alone shows there is something wrong with the thinking about research here!) is an official attempt, begun under the Labor Party government, to make competitive rankings of departments in the same field across different universities. It is widely condemned by academic staff but used in publicity by university management – when their departments come out well.
 The Australian Research Council is the main national funding body for university research, in all disciplines except biomedical (which has its own fund). To its credit, the ARC has tried to remain independent. Governments keep trying to impose “national priorities” on ARC decisions, and under a more right-wing government some years ago there was an attempt to impose a political test. “Linkage Grants” are an attempt to link university research to corporate users of research, with limited success.
 BHP is the Broken Hill Proprietary company, Australia’s biggest firm, which has a very long history of anti-union stances. It was a miner, then a steelmaker, now with neoliberal de-industrialization is entirely a miner again, amalgamated with Billiton (then owned in South Africa, formerly Dutch) to form what is currently the biggest mining firm in the world, exporting huge quantities of iron ore and coal from Australia.
 MyUniversity is the federal government’s website giving information about all the universities in the country. It does not yet have the toxic effect of MySchool given by competitive test results, but that is only a matter of time.
Connell, Raewyn. 2011. Confronting Equality: Gender, Knowledge & Global Change, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, chapters 5 and 6.
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