Universities in civil war over why corruption isn’t working

We reported last week that university chancellors had ordered a review into its peak lobby group – Universities Australia (UA) – because of its lack of success in influencing the Morrison Government:

Education consultancy PhillipsKPA will assess Universities Australia’s core functions — and its relationships with key cabinet ministers and top public servants — handing its findings to vice-chancellors next year.

The review comes after the sector failed in its attempts to gain access to pandemic financial support payments such as JobKeeper, secure backing for foreign students to return to Australia, stop a new funding regime that will cut overall commonwealth contributions, and avoid having their deals with foreign powers being subject to vetos from Canberra.

The Australian’s Tim Dodd has provided more information on why UA is being reviewed:

When university vice-chancellors met for one of their scheduled get-togethers a few days after the 2019 election they had a session planned on working with government.

It was cancelled at the last minute. Why? Because the peak body Universities Australia had not prepared itself for the possibility that the Coalition would win. It had placed all its bets on Labor and when Scott Morrison unexpectedly held onto power it was totally unprepared.

“There was no plan B,” said one of the participants at the event, held in Melbourne on May 21 last year, just after the May 18 election.

Many vice-chancellors were infuriated. So were university chancellors…

The Melbourne plenary meeting was a critical event along the road to the major review…

To make matters worse there was also no “blue book”, the document which UA would have been expected to give to the incoming government.

Before each federal election every major industry lobby group customarily prepares a “red book” (for Labor) and a “blue book” (for the Coalition) which list the policies they want to see implemented, presented in such a way to gain most sympathy from the incoming government. At the last election UA only had the “red book”…

UA’s structure and functions are also being looked at the in the review. And there are also many vice-chancellors, possibly some of the same ones, who want UA to perform better in its lobbying and engagement roles…

Universities need to take a long hard look in the mirror at their own poor conduct.

The whole sector has become overly commercialised and centred around maximising revenue and fattening administrator pay packets over teaching and research quality. It has shifted from higher learning to higher earning.

Wage theft is endemic across universities. Front-line university staff have been gutted and entry and teaching standards trashed, with the ratio of students to academic staff ballooning:

As senior management earn fat paychecks, entry and teaching standards have been gutted to accommodate international students, cheating by these students is rife, Chinese influence runs rampant, free speech has been gutted, and universities’ casualised workforce are underpaid and bullied into passing low performing foreign students.

Domestic students have also been forced to carry Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) students through their courses via group assignments. These group assignments pair local students with international students, often resulting in domestic students doing the lion’s share of work, effectively becoming unpaid tutors, and cross-subsidising the marks of international students.

The whole education industry has morphed into an immigration scam, with universities acting more like migration agents than educators.

The universities’ behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic has also been deplorable, displaying classic moral hazard behaviour throughout.

In February, universities lobbied the federal government to lift its travel ban on China. Then it paid for Chinese students to circumvent travel bans by travelling into Australia via third countries like Thailand and Dubai, in turn helping to spread the virus. They lobbied hard for students to jump the arrival queue via oxymoronic ‘safe corridors’ hotel quarantine. Now they want Australia to stress its hotel quarantine system to allow students to return before actual Australians.

Thankfully the Morrison Government refused to kowtow to universities’ pressure to open Australia’s international border. Otherwise Australia would have had an even bigger virus threat on our hands.

These institutions have all but ruined their values, reason for being, and licence to operate.

Rather than crying over their falling influence, universities should clean-up their own back yards.

The Australian public wants more transparency, more accountability for measurable outcomes, a greater focus on quality of education and quality of research, a greater focus on domestic students, and a cap on international student numbers.

The UA review should address these issues instead.

Unconventional Economist


  1. The entire sector needs a root and branch clean up and it should be relatively easy for the Government given the “Golden Rule”

    “S/he who has the gold makes the rules”

    The Govt gives the universities ALL ITS FUNDING via (i) direct contributions (ii) lending HECS / HELP to students and not keeping the unis on the hook for debts that aren’t repaid and (iii) facilitating the lax immigration conditions that allow foreign students to work and therefore pay for their courses.

    We need to investigate (i) and only fund reasonable courses (a lot of the humanities can be gutted), (ii) we need to make universities underwrite all HECS borrowings and repay the Govt and (iii) as all MB readers know – fix the intl student visa and remove working rights.

    Then let’s see what happens …

  2. “..with the ratio of students to academic staff ballooning:”

    Your graph is a bit misleading with the highly truncated Y axis, and does not support that conclusion.

    I don’t even know what the definition of ballooning requires as a % increase, but a less than 10% increase over nearly 10 years is unlikely to cut it.

  3. Charles MartinMEMBER

    “It was cancelled at the last minute. Why? Because the peak body Universities Australia had not prepared itself for the possibility that the Coalition would win. It had placed all its bets on Labor and when Scott Morrison unexpectedly held onto power it was totally unprepared.”
    lol, maybe these geniuses will be prepared for the next election.