De-mystify Public Policy for Higher Education

Yesterday evening I attended the first seminar in the new Higher Education Colloquium Series organised by the Faculty of Education and Social Work of the University of Sydney. The first presentation – ‘trying to de-mystify public policy for higher education’ was given by Geoff Gallop, director of the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney and former Premier of Western Australia.

He made several interesting observations and recommendations. Todays higher education section of The Australian emphasised his plea for further deregulation of the sector. Although the Australian system is very market driven, there is still a lot of micro-management coming from the federal government. He argues that the argument for significant deregulation is gathering momentum on the basis of a general case for more flexibility and more diversity overall. I hope the current Minister of Education takes his advise on board. Flexibility and diversity are very apparent in the vocabulary of the policy makers, but I am not sure whether deregulation is…

Another important point he made was (paradoxically?) a greater involvement of the state governments.

Higher education is a federal responsibility an, according to Gallop, this has made state governments wary of investing in universities. For this you need to know that in the last decades or so, most state governments have been labor governments while the federal government is led by the liberals. This lead state governments to think that if they started investing in universities, this would just be an argument for the federal government to lower spending on the – already underfunded – higher education system.

Examples from Western Australia and Queeensland show that this is not the case. Hence, Gallop argues that state governments should use their universities in their regional economic and innovation policies. To accomplish this however, universities need to become more politically savvy. They will need to act more pro-active in order to convince their state governments that their universities can play a major role in revitalizing the regional economy. After all, they all talk about developing knowledge economies in their states and obviously, universities play (or should play) a crucial role in that. Hence, both can profit from such a partnership.

A very interesting presentation and discussion. The series will continue on a monthly basis for the rest of this year with a range of very interesting speakers such as Richard Johnstone (Carrick Institute; 23 Aug), Simon Marginson (University of Melbourne; 27 Sept), Catherine Armitage (The Australian; 18 Oct), Michael Gallagher (Group of 8; 15 Nov)) and Ingrid Moses (University of Canberra; 4 Dec). I won’t be able to attend the next one in August because of two conferences in Europe, but I’ll probably write something on the other presentations. Further information on location, etc , have a look at the FESW website.

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