News & Views item - April 2011


My... View is That Governments... Just Need to Set Up a Competitive System: Denise Bradley. (April 18, 2011)

Times Higher Education sent Phil Baty over to Brussels last week to attend the 3rd Annual Symposium on University Rankings and Quality Assurance in Europe.


Of particular interest are some comments made by the former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, chair of the Review of Australian Higher Education, and current Interim Chair, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Australia; Professor Denise Bradley, AC. She spoke in the session concerned with: "The Role of Rankings, Quality Assurance and Benchmarking in Enhancing Participation in Higher Education and Increasing Employment Opportunities in Europe."


According to Mr Baty's write-up Professor Bradley told the Europeans that currently there is a heated debate in Australia about the merits of concentrating resources on an elite group of universities at the expense of the whole system, but in her view those urging university funders to “pick winners” were losing the argument.


The fact of the matter is that there is something of a battle going on between the education part of the bureaucracy and [the education] minister vs the research part of the bureaucracy and [the research] minister. And currently the research part of the bureaucracy is not winning. There is a pressure for greater specialisation and the picking of winners...I have to say that the political realities of Australia and the way in which votes are cast lead me to think that there’ll be great difficulty for any government in concentrating research funding or directly influencing the missions of universities much more than it does [now]. My own personal view is that governments don’t need to do that. They just need to set up a competitive system. And what will actually happen, if it is a true competition, is that differentiation will occur. We see that already in Australia. [Currently, because research funding is distributed on a competitive basis, about 70% is already concentrated on the Group of Eight universities]. We have to be careful. We don’t want to have an American system, with a very long tail of really bad institutions that are taking people’s money for degrees that don’t give any advantage at all to students. We really care about that in Australia. There is unanimity in Australia…that this is not a system we want to have in our country.


So why are we squandering up to $35 million along with thousands of hours of academics' and university administrators' time on the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research's Excellence in Research for Australia?



There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.