Mumpung masih seger-segernya isu Group of 8, di blog ini doang tentunya, ada baiknya saya copykan tulisannya David Kaczan di On Dit edisi Equality. Kalo yang mau baca artikelnya secara langsung, bisa di-donlot On Dit versi PDF-nya di sini. Artikel ini menarik, kalo mengulas isu sensitif dari sudut pandang orang Australia sendiri, bukan pengamat dari luar kayak gue. Silakan disimak!
Your University is better than mine
Have you ever wondered just how The University of Adelaide stacks up against its competition? In whimsical moments of ‘what could have been’, you may have been tempted to attribute your meagre employment prospects to a substandard degree. Or perhaps recruiters were falling all over you at the career fair–veritable smorgasbord of corporate stationary it is. Standards vary quite a lot across institutions. Grifith University takes the wooden spoon this week, after its Vice Chancellor Ian O’Connor admitted to plagiarism in a newspaper article for The Australian. Not just any old plagiarism, but a copy and paste straight from Wikipedia. Unfortunately for Dr. O’Connor, despite his careful copying – he got it all wrong anyhow.
At the centre of this brouhaha is a controversial solicitation from Griffith University to the Saudi embassy for a grant of $1.3 million for their Islamic research centre. In return for f inancial generosity, the Saudi Government gains the opportunity to plug its religious plurality credentials: supporting moderate, dissenting Islamic institutes in the West. Although the Saudis only provided $100 000 anyhow, journalists, academics and politicians have taken the opportunity to bludgeon Griffith for its sloppy standards.
Whilst some journalists suggested that Dr O’Connor had got himself caught up in a covert Saudi propaganda campaign, a claim not helped by the University’s attempts to keep the deal secret, more than likely it’s simply testament to the way in which universities must now operate. Public money is just harder to come by, and universities are expected to make up the difference with fees and research sponsorships.
But the fun side of market-allocated education (conlicts of interest, shady Saudi deals and substandard courses aside), is seeing them all scramble for our approval. It hasn’t always been like this: University of old was an age of no SELTs, no supps; if you didn’t like it, lump it. Universities did research, not childcare, and don’t try and pay your way in. But should we get all nostalgic for our parents system? No; for starters our Universities didn’t cut the fat internationally like they do now. And anyhow, the Whitlam system of free tertiary education was simply unsustainable for the taxpayer. The heady days of this education utopia are now well and truly over and instead, a quasi-privatised market system sits supreme. Academics are not always comfortable in this new regime: corporatism with its clients, performance outcomes and managerial processes often do not make for a creative ideas environment.
There are 38 universities in Australia, and the old ‘sandstone’ institutions tend to dominate the top ranks. The Melbourne Institute 2007 ranking puts the Australian National University on top, followed by 2) Melbourne, 3) Sydney, 4) Queensland and 5) New South Whales. Adelaide comes in at a reasonable 8th . Flinders gets 18th and Uni SA 21st.
The Times Higher Education world ranking is surprisingly kind to Australian institutions. ANU comes in at an impressive 16th place, and Melbourne University gets 27th . Adelaide gets 62nd and Flinders gets 351st . The other major world ranking (the is a little tougher, with the ANU getting 54th , Adelaide somewhere after 200, and miserable Flinders on the other side of 400.
But if it’s quality teaching you’re after, Adelaide lunks it hard. It managed to beat only Charles Darwin University and Uni SA in 2005. Third from rock bottom. Flinders did a little better, at 26th. The so called ‘sandstone’ institutions don’t look so good now, and if you’ve ever thought that Adelaide rests on its laurels, your suspicions weren’t unfounded. Console yourself – we have the Barr Smith lawns.
HECS fees increased by 25% in 2005, and one fifth of Australian students are international. Fees for overseas students are some of the highest in the world, second only to the USA. Without the internationals, our university would actually have to close the doors tomorrow, such is the importance of this revenue. It will be interesting to see how addicted Australian universities cope when improving institutions in Asia start overtaking the Australian ones on the rank tables.
Universities are inherently elitist. Rankings are partially based on peer-review, which reflects personal prejudice and the legacy of history. They celebrate the achievements of the individual, and are competitive in their measurement of success – the citation count. The Australian universities will never compete with those in the USA, which are buttressed by great torrents of private philanthropy. Such money chases the most prestigious institutes and in doing so, reinforces their dominance.
It is ironic that criticisms of the political leanings of universities are often made in the name of egalitarianism. Universities are out of touch, elitist bastions of irrelevant dissent and left-wing hand wringing we are told; humanities departments in particular are veritable terrorist sympathisers. The Howard Government’s cultural warriors, certain newspapers and think tanks were keen to prosecute this agenda. But at the same time, the supposed remedy for this progressive disease was corporatisation: weaning academics off their public drip will supposedly force them to better represent the needs and views of Australians. But in so doing, the institutions have become stratified by funding, whether in the pressure to accept dubious funding sources (the Saudi embassy, anyone?) or by charging more cash for their courses. Distinction by ideas has been replaced with distinction by finances.
The quality of university courses will remain mediocre if there is dollars to be made in being so. The University of Newcastle in 2003 was busted for passing 15 students who plagiarised, simply to avoid losing the fee-paying students. Anecdotal evidence aired by the ABC in 2005 suggests that many similar cases have occurred, even if they haven’t ended up in front of the corruption watch dog. Should it be possible to offer high quality education, at reasonable fees and yet still make a proit? Yes – but the current education market is just too cut-throat for anyone to be fussy.