Wake up academia: time is running out to voice your objections to Abbott’s “reforms”

By Anna Sullivan

“Wake up, ” Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra Professor, Stephen Parker, told Australia’s academics in a passionate speech in Sydney recently where he railed against the Abbott Government’s higher education reforms.

The professor was speaking at the National Alliance for Public Universities’ forum held in Sydney earlier this month at the University of Sydney.

He was unequivocal with his views. “These reforms are unfair to students and poorly designed policy. If they go through, Australia is sleepwalking towards the privatisation of its universities,” he said.

He challenged Universities Australia’s very vocal and some Vice Chancellors’ very quiet support for the proposed changes.

This call was made whilst I was attending the Australian Association for Research in Education Annual conference in Brisbane. I returned from the conference trying to understand why we (academics) have largely been silent about the proposed reforms, when just about all of us are very concerned.

I don’t believe it is because we endorse them, but more that we have lost our sense of collective agency to voice our concerns. Performance cultures have lead many of us to be wary of taking a stand about issues that matter.

Academics face a ‘high degree of uncertainty and instability’ because they are ‘constantly judged in different ways, by different means, according to different criteria, through different agents and agencies’. Three-year probation, performance management and promotion applications seem to have contributed to a culture of ‘fear’. As a result, academics seem reluctant to contribute openly to public debate.

The questions for me are: How do we collectively regain our voice? Why do we need to find our collective voice?

I returned from the conference thinking about the idea of the activist teacher and how university leaders can empower academics to be activists, have a sense of agency and exercise professional judgements. For me, Professor Parker woke the activist in me, for which I am grateful.

When I speak to my friends they say, “I thought that the universities supported this reform because Universities Australia has advertised its support”. However let me say very clearly Universities Australia is not representing my views or the views of many of my colleagues. For this reason we have to find ‘our’ voice.

A group of academics formed the National Alliance For Public Universities to give voice to the researchers, teachers, administrators and other staff whose perspective has been overlooked.’ They have prepared a Charter for Australia’s Public Universities

This alliance is promoting a collective voice for academics.

So where are we now? Professor Parker claims that this might be half-time as the government regroups, advertises and lobbies.

We have only a few weeks to find our voices. So I say, “wake up academia”! We might not get another chance.

Please add your support to a a Charter for Australia’s Public Universities today.


Anna Sullivan photo


Anna Sullivan is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of South Australia. Anna currently teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students in the area of managing learning environments. Anna is a chief investigator on a few Australian Research Council Linkage grants. Her current research interests include critical policy studies, micropolitics, teachers’ work, student behaviour, classroom management and school discipline.

3 thoughts on “Wake up academia: time is running out to voice your objections to Abbott’s “reforms”

  1. Maralyn says:

    You are so right Anna.

    Minister Pyne hit back at critics of his “reforms” in The Australian as reported by the Centre for New Public Education. Note the “we will come back strongly in February”.

    CNPE report is as follows:-

    Federal Education MInister Christopher Pyne has indicated he will persevere with the push to get the slated government higher education reforms through the Senate, saying “we’ll come back strongly in February”. Minister Pyne has argued that criticisms of the legislation focusing on tuition fees are misplaced and that the “real debate” should be about supporting the quality of Australian tertiary institutions.

    The education portfolio has been impacted by the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, with a reduction in the number of available places in the Skills for Education and Employment programme announced. There will be 8700 fewer places in the program, which supports the acquisition of basic speaking, literacy and numeracy skills for job seekers.

  2. Anna Sullivan says:

    Why is the Government doing this?

    “STUDENT debt will double to more than $50 billion over the next four years if the government’s higher education reforms are passed by the Senate.

    As the government embarks on an advertising blitz to sell the university shake-up, yesterday’s budget update revealed that with more students paying a greater amount of higher education fees, student debt will balloon from $25.1bn this year to $52bn by 2018.

    The update also reveals the multi-billion-dollar cost of trying to lure Senate crossbenchers to support the reforms. Proposed changes to the government’s higher education reforms have sacrificed more than $3 billion from the budget.

    Net savings forecast from higher education reform have been downgraded from $3.9bn to $642.4 million over four years from 2014-15, a $3.2bn hit to the budget. This includes new expense measures of $2.7bn, and revenue writedowns of $481m. An extra $100.1m will pay for a structural adjustment fund offered as a sweetener to universities concerned about cuts to course grants.

    Net savings forecast from higher education reform downgraded from $3.9bn to $642.4 million. So why are we doing it?”

  3. Steve O'Connor says:

    I strongly object to Minister Pyne’s reforms which have never been clear, never been publicly discussed and never achieving any manadate. If they are agreed to then the lives of our chioldren and the re-skilling of our nation will change forevr.
    I also object to hearing that the VC’s have all ( except one) have agreed to the changes, so there is no need to worry. This is so erroneous. The goal is not run by the keepers but by the inmates. In other words, the people who are affected by these changes should be the ones to decide not by those employed to run the system.

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