Archive for the ‘Academy’ Category
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Tags: cash rules everything around me, limits to marketization
Notionally, regulation could level the playing field for NLMM [the neoliberal market model] commercial competition by flattening status differences and breaking open the elite institutions. Government could build research capacity in lower status institutions, level down the peaks and/or create new research universities. It could override merit (and hence elite closure) in student selection by opening or expanding enrolments in elite institutions and then step back to watch the market work. But, this would undermine not only the logic of status competition but also high status producers and consumers themselves. This is politically risky for states. Anyway, a levelled commercial competition would not repress status for long. Competition would re-stratify the system by magnifying small differences in research and social participation over time. Narrow status differentials are sustained only in systems where higher education is governed largely as a non-competitive public good and is provided at uniformly high quality levels, as in the Nordic countries. It is possible to have low status differentials or market competition, but not both.
Government cannot abstain on public goods, though it quibbles over funding them. It needs productivity spillovers, scientific and cultural literacy, technological capacity and industry innovation; and social equity policy is politically essential. ‘The distribution of opportunities for post-secondary instruction is a ubiquitous concern in modern societies, and hence invites a large degree of central coordination’ (Geiger 2004, 162) and funding. Nations vary in how their political cultures define ‘equity’ in higher education – for example in post-Confucian societies, with their deep family commitment to self-cultivation and social positioning through learning, social equity is compatible with high household investment – but all such systems are headed by public research universities, including South Korea.
Governments also use higher education policy to build their own political capital, by making the gift of educational opportunity more visible or by fostering science to brighten their modernist image. To secure these political benefits, governments must be able to intervene in the system settings and fine-tune strategic outputs: ‘Markets by design’ are more amenable to these political agendas than markets of ‘spontaneous interaction’ (Niklasson 1996, 8). Genuine NLMM deregulation would mean setting these political options aside. It does not happen.
In other words, governments investing in the neo-liberal imaginary also have other ends. NLMM visions in higher education slide back to an NPM control and allocation regime, articulated through ‘quasi-markets’ (Niklasson 1996; Dill 1997 and others) in which the policy and organisational cultures are market-friendly but the system drivers remain regulated. As Naidoo (2008, 3) sees it, market mechanisms are applied selectively, ‘to further the state’s agenda for change … the state can actively mobilise market mechanisms to attain political goals’. For example, governments deploy competition to expose weak institutions and drive mergers, while evading responsibility for potentially unpopular outcomes. User charges and devolution to institutional entrepreneurs enable fiscal allocations to be cut. Output formats and targets bring with them direct control over products and local priorities. Competition for funding secures predictable outcomes, without the state being seen to service its favourites. Regulated quasi-markets also enable one-way accountability to governments at system centre and managers at the institution centre (Porter 2008) more closely than to consumers. Devolved systems that are premised on self-managing agents generate less resistance than command. Governments employ competition as divide and rule, enhancing their residual authority.
All of this suggests that the intended outcomes are political rather than economic. To build a genuine NLMM in higher education would be to block the flow of these political benefits.
University league tables are increasingly influential. Australian universities lucky enough to appear in the Jiao Tong, Times Higher Education or other world rankings can tout their positions as a way of attracting students and funds.
One way of rising in the league tables is to hire researchers who are authors of lots of highly-cited papers in top journals. However, within Australia, this is a zero-sum game, as there are only so many such researchers to go around. It is time to be more innovative in the quest for a really impressive rank. Here are three possibilities.
(1) Mandate that all papers submitted to top journals have more authors – perhaps ten at a minimum. This will raise citation rates immediately. This clever strategy relies on a quirk in the way citations are counted. If you co-author a paper with a colleague, the two of you are credited with one paper in total, but when the paper is cited, each of you receives a citation. If the two of you share authorship on all your otherwise sole-authored papers, your combined citation counts will double.
With ten authors for each paper, citation rates will be ten times as great as with sole-authored papers. Citations can escalate even more as co-authorship reaches into the hundreds. Given the overheads for coordinating co-authorship, it would be easiest if a central agency assigned authorship, keeping a record of who actually did the work. Any recalcitrant academics should be denied research support.
(2) In each Australian state, one university should be designated as the top prospect for league table improvement. Every productive academic at other universities in the state should be formally assigned to be a staff member of the top prospect.
The University of Queensland has the best ranking in Queensland, so productive researchers at Griffith, James Cook and other universities in the state should be administratively relabelled as UQ staff. They can sit in the same offices and teach the same classes, but be counted as UQ for the purposes of publications and citations. UQ is then bound to rise in the rankings.
This strategy will enable at least five Australian universities to really shine in the rankings. Top researchers at the University of Tasmania can be assigned to ANU. Universities that refuse to participate should be denied research funding.
(3) Amalgamate all the universities in Australia into one. The number of publications, citations and so forth should be enough to propel this combined university into the top ten in the world.
What should it be called? The most representative name is the Australian National University, which already has an excellent reputation. What is now Sunshine Coast University can become the ANU campus at Sunshine Coast. Any current university that wants to retain its name should be defunded. All funding will go to the ANU.
This strategy has some beneficial spin-offs. It is well known that many students seek, above all, a degree from a prestigious university. Some may forgo a high quality education at the University of Ballarat for a so-so education at Sydney or Melbourne, because degrees at Sydney and Melbourne have far greater prestige.
With all degrees in the country from the ANU, students won’t need to choose between education quality and status. They can choose the best place to study and have an ANU degree regardless. This will also simplify overseas student recruitment and reduce unproductive duplication of effort.
The beauty of these strategies is that there is no need to increase the actual performance of Australian universities. As a result of ERA, universities now have a great capacity to massage their publication data to give the greatest appearance of quality. By getting universities to cooperate rather than compete, and by adopting innovative strategies, the same staff and research output can be used to move up in the world rankings.
There might be a problem down the track, as other countries adopt the same strategies. So there is no time to be lost.
Brian Martin in the Australian.
Why academics are on strike – and students getting arrested – at Sydney:
“To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.”
See e.g. through here.