Monday, November 9, 2015

Not-for-profit Private Australian University

Marko Beljac in "#Occupy the university" (Online Opinion, 5 November 2015) suggests that "In a free society university life must necessarily be autonomous and self managed" but "... the university essentially becomes a private enterprise supplying graduates to other corporations. The courses universities provide, the manner they are delivered, and the research that they do, necessarily will cater to the interests and concerns of the corporate sector. ...".

Universities do cater to the vocational needs of their students, which I suggest is not all together a bad thing. There should be scope for non-vocational studies, but someone has to be willing to pay for these. If the students are not willing to pay, because such studies will not get them a job, and the state will not pay, because their is no perceived social benefit, then who will pay?

Calls for a non-corporate approach to universities, such as that by Beljac, are not new. These are documented in Hannah Forsyth's "A History of the Modern Australian University". We do not need to look to Paris students riots and have our own history of learning experiments:

    On Thursday, July 12th, a meeting was held of some of those interested in the concept of a Learning Exchange in Canberra. Laura Turnbull, of the World Education Fellowship, was present and was able to suggest several possible contacts potentially influential in getting an exchange underway.

    The meeting learned that there are several, Community Service Centres already becoming established in Canberra. These are at private addresses where people can ring for information on various things - such as, clubs and societies, legal advice, etc. Obviously, this is similar in concept to a learning exchange and any exchange set up should logically work with theses groups. ..." From "LEARNING EXCHANGE", Woroni , Thursday 2 August 1973

A radical dawn in the corporatization of Australian universities happened, almost unnoticed, in July 2012, when Torrens University Australia was admitted to the Australian National Register of higher education providers as an "Australian University" and authorized to self-accredit courses. Torrens is part of the private for-profit, Laureate International Universities, which provides education online to 800,000 students around the world.

Professor Jim Barber, while UNE Vice-Chancellor,  advocated changes to government regulations to allow on-line universities to be established in Australia. He failed in this, however Laureate's example with Torrens shows it is possible to establish a new institution with a different way of working. This approach could be applied for new non-government, not-for-profit higher eduction institutions which have social goals.

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