Private Enterprise Universities

The trend to take our wonderful government-based research universities in Australia down the Private Enterprise path has ruined the quality of tertiary education because of at least two effects.

Firstly they chase the dollar, so revenue from enrollments for anyone and everyone from anywhere dominates. When I was there we knew we were in the top 4% of the population in IQ. It was accepted that not everyone had an ability to complete advanced education. I love Gough Whitlam, and how he made sure anyone able to complete uni was enabled to go there. That is different from current emphasis on everyone should go there or at least to some diluted version of what it used to be.

Secondly, private enterprise research chases clandestine contracts. Hence the recent news at Melbourne Uni where they have finally agreed to be open about where their arms dealing research projects come from. Forced by the pro-Palestinian protesting students, bless them.

University research almost by definition is meant to be in the public domain. Industrial research in America, which includes defence, has always been in the realm of large well funded R&D departments within their giant companies. and not in universities. Where it belongs I think. Of course private universities are primarily an American invention, so there is that too. But I’d rather see our companies increase their internal R&D to do anything secretive. There could be incentives like tax support. We already do that with tax clawbacks these days.

I think is a great thingĀ  so that universities remain pure in their research and we all benefit when say a new medical breakthrough is made or a new subatomic particle is discovered or a new causality is found in economics that leads to better societies or how the materials were shipped to build the pyramids.

3 Replies to “Private Enterprise Universities”

  1. I think the financing scheme before The Great Gough was superior: The communist government provided 10,000 Teachers Scholarships and 10,000 Commonwealth Scholarships based on Leaving Certificate scores.
    Saint Gough’s scheme was unaffordable (typically!), hence the many fixes put in place since then, which have partially created the current haphazard mess.
    My first fix would be to restore the Scholarship’s schemes, just double the numbers to allow for population increase since then.

    Secondly, I would reduce the numbers and salaries of the top levels of management until they can demonstrate that their faculties all encourage dissent and debate, rather than suppression of contrarian views. The current anti-Israel bigotry is but one of many symptoms of this uniformitarianism, which runs counter to the Enlightenment. Universities are acting as beacons of The Un-enlightenment.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, academia has become exceedingly corrupted by the government research grant system. Measurements show that even in fields where results are known to be likely to be checked, around 90% of peer-reviewed published research papers fail replication of reported results. Until each university shows that it is serious about solving this problem in the sciences (it’s reportedly WORSE in the “arts”) then it won’t receive a penny of grants from me.

    Fourthly, we will never have a manufacturing base unless we immediately address the problems of too few students learning hand skills such as moulding, casting, machining, soldering, brazing, welding, sheet-metal work, boiler-making. And the problem of too few students doing any maths greater than counting the number of humpies in the next village. Whither Engineering in Australia? How will Universities bring Australia back into technological eminence?

    Fifthly. I don’t think that it is correct that US Universities in the past have not been involved in military research and development in a major way. MIT, JPL and others…

    1. Hi Colin,
      There is certainly merit in both systems. I remember the scholarship system, not just for uni but through high school and what was called matric in those days. Of course free tertiary education is an ideal. And idealists, like Gough, usually struggle, like Gough. It takes a very keen skill to determine how to make something like free uni work, and few were keener than Gough. If and only if it is determined that free uni is desired, then the other side of the coin is the coin, paying for it. That is the hard bit, but in my view should not be impossible. I do not have the details but I doubt that Gough thought that bit through. Idealists usually avoid the fiduciary. Maybe as an idealist he believed put it out there and it will ultimately pay for itself, bright new minds going into enterprise and what not, paying back. Also he was faced with contrary opposition to it, so some forces were artificial, against him rather than his ideas. Still love the man though. We in Australia espouse free education, through to secondary levels, but in reality it is not. It is expensive to have kids.

      Totally agree about reducing management. Especially when you get weird ones who want to move a whole campus and take over a city. Grandiose megalomaniacs in my opinion.

      I like your third point. Scientific method is something that everyone thinks they understand but most people have skewed ideas of what it is. Or at least many experts have varying definitions, including mine most likely. A key part is the last part: replication. Unless a result can be repeated by others, it carries little weight. And your fourth point I agree with. Many plumbers and bakers and taxi drivers have been urged into university and because the unis are now profit driven, rarely fail. So there is a dearth of what used to be the majority, tradespeople and small business entrepreneurs and good hard workers. You get all the way to a fifth one. Yes some US universities do or have done military research. Mostly private universities though, like CMU, but most of it is done discretely at home. I think JPL is a federal government body like CSIRO. I guest lectured there and I remember it as part of NASA.

    2. The Guardian has published an item today, discussing expert opinion on the overseas student intakes. I like the piece because it has several very interesting, to me, tables of stats. Melbourne Uni is number 13 world wide and top Australian uni. UTas just makes the top 20 in Australia. USyd has $1bn from Federal Government and $1.4bn from overseas enrolments. Australian university research tops overseas ones, contrary to my view in my post. All good, except all opinion experts are in one way or another associated closely with universities and therefore must have a vested interest in what they say. Hard to be an expert on universities and not be associated in some way of course. But I trust unaligned opinions the most. So much bias, leaning left or right, that I am fearful of toppling over.

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