Thursday, 30 October 2014

History in parliament...

I'm in Broken Hill doing research now. Between rural knowledge I was floored to find myself mentioned in parliament this week - with a quote from my book acting as the climax for Kim Carr's speech. Excuse the following link (blogging from my phone) but check it out:;db=CHAMBER;id=chamber%2Fhansards%2F7fb8a854-501b-4ea4-b493-3a180fcf5bf7%2F0227;query=BillId_Phrase%3A%22r5325%22%20Dataset%3Ahansardr,hansards%20Title%3A%22second%20reading%22;rec=2

Monday, 6 October 2014

How do I get hold of the book?

I've had a few messages lately asking about getting hold of a copy of the book. 

There are plenty of bookshops stocking the hard copy. Try your local independent bookshop or your university bookstore and you should be fine.

You can also order it through the co-op bookstore or through NewSouth Publishing. For eBook readers, it is also available on iBook and Kindle.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Vice-chancellors have missed their opportunity to display real scholarly leadership.

There are several mysteries associated with current government proposals for higher education, but few are as inscrutable as the recent behaviour of many of Australia’s vice-chancellors. 

In the early 1990s when Sydney Vice-Chancellor John ward reflected on the changes wrought largely by the integration of universities with the global knowledge economy, he pondered on the changes to his own role since the early 1980s. The pull of stakeholders – government, professions, industries and the public service – were remoulding university administration. Higher education would be less collegial and more managerial from here on.

Read the article at

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Book launch

Actual physical copies of my book landed on my desk this week. It comes out 1 October I think. The book launch is at 5pm on Friday 3rd October at Gleebooks. Registration for the event (helps with catering and whatnot) is at

It was exciting, but also a bit weird seeing it. Kind of distancing, like it was written by someone else...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Maybe free university didn’t improve access for all, but neither will fee deregulation

Education Minister Christopher Pyne defied historical orthodoxy last week by declaring Gough Whitlam’s free tertiary education a failure. Free education only helped reinforce the place of the rich, Pyne argued.
Pyne is right. And yet this is also a spectacular misuse of history. As a historian, I hate bad history. But in this case the stakes are much higher than my discipline’s lofty principles. Pyne’s proposals for higher education bode ill for equity and Australia’s economic competitiveness.
History can help us with policy, but only if we properly understand it.

Read more at:

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Is it true Whitlam's free education mainly helped the middle class?

I have no wish to go into competition against the ABC's excellent fact checking habits, but I thought I'd share the answer to a question I was posed on Facebook this morning. 

"Christopher Pyne claimed on ABC RN this morning that when Whitlam abolished university fees, it did not change the demographic composition of the student body, ie "all the middle class people planning on going to university anyway now simply went for free", and it did not lead to greater participation by lower ses groups. Opinions? Data?"

Here's what I said:
Pyne is using the same data and argument that was used in establishing HECS. Yes, for the most part demographics did not shift with the - relatively small - expansion at the Whitlam reforms. But we should remember there were only a few years of expansion really - by the end of the 70s unemployment among university graduates was growing so that growth stagnated.

In the 1980s when they wanted to know what the effect of free education was, found that the new group was mature-age women. In a period where women's participation was still lower than it needed to be introducing HECS and impacting that was a big loss. But women now exceed men in numbers (though not benefits of higher ed of course).

The expansion that Pyne won't discuss is post-Dawkins. HECS was a really excellent system that addressed the equity concern with free education (working class taxes paying for the perpetuation of elite advantage), funded the only REALLY significant expansion universities have seen and included attention to equity. There were and remain problems with equity, but they were not caused by the HECS system.

Deregulation is absolutely not the same thing as this and I am angry about using the pro-HECS arguments for deregulation. Deregulation will be disastrous, not only for equity (despite scholarships…) but for the labour market in general. Not straight away…give us a decade. I am furious with the VCs for supporting this, though it shows that are beyond hope as the ones who will reform the system (I admit I did have some hope, for a while…). This is very bad policy, in fact, for everyone. It will help the Go8 bottom line, but not for long. In a decade we will have raised fees as high as the middle class can bear, low-SES families will have to be advised to stay out of higher education because the cost benefit doesn't add up and we will be heading towards an under-skilled and under-competitive labour market...

I was then asked: So how do we explain the huge expansion of staffing in universities in the 70s - if it was not in response to increasing student numbers - where did those rivers of gold come from?

Oh it did grow - figures are [in the book...out soon!]- and quite a lot, it just did not make the mass system that we see today. But growth slowed really dramatically c.1978. The system was confused. They were still benefiting from the Murray review all through the 1960s, the baby boom helped late 60s to mid-70s. Universities believed they would continue to grow. They were crowded and the government funded new universities…some of which opened at exactly the wrong time. The oil shocks had that unexpected effect on the economy and stagnation in growth in student numbers hit universities in the late 70s. Universities had NO experience with responding to that. By 1981 they were in trouble…

I wrote a bit about this with Tim Pitman earlier in the year, see

Monday, 28 July 2014

M of M

I was reading Stephen Matchett's blog on my way to work recently and was a bit surprised to find myself there (my name was spelled incorrectly but I still knew it was me).

Here is what he said:

"Oh good, a new analysis of the unhappy condition of overworked, underpaid, universally oppressed Australian academics (deans and above excluded) in time for the deregulation debate. The last was by Richard Hils, the understated Whackademia (2012) and now Hannah Forsythe (Australian Catholic University) has a manifesto of misery to relate, at least on the basis of the blurb for her book, due from New South Press come spring. “Universities today are plagued with ingrained problems. More than 50 per cent of the cost of universities goes to just running them. They now have an explicit commercial focus. They compete bitterly for students and funding. Scholars rarely feel their vice-chancellors represent them and within their own ranks, academics squabble for scraps.” I am sure she means universities other than ACU."

He couldn't have read it yet - I had not quite even finished writing it! Of course (unlike Whackademia - which I am sorry to say I did not like at all) A History of the Modern Australian University does not, despite this comment, join the Jeremiad school of university books. It is not blindly optimistic either, however. Most importantly, what it is, is FINISHED (well, I'm still finalising the Index…)! Manifesto of Misery, out in October. Oh and ACU is not left off any hooks, nor are any other universities with which I've been associated.