This workshop arises from a concern about the way knowledge is being shaped by the commodification of higher education. Rather than being regarded principally as a public good, knowledge has been transformed increasingly into a private good and this is exercising a profound effect on the social sciences. After 20 years, the shift of the cost of Australian higher education from community to “consumers” is almost complete. Some Australian law schools, for example, now receive as little as 10 per cent of their income from governments.
Following the Browne Report, the UK government has accepted that no public money should be used to support the teaching of any undergraduate university discipline, apart from one or two `priority’ areas, such as medicine and engineering. It is likely to be only a matter of time before this model is emulated in Australia, especially as further deregulation has recently been initiated. While quite a lot of scholarship has been devoted to the broad policy issues associated with privatisation, comparatively little work has been devoted to the impact on the disciplines. It is therefore timely to focus on the ramifications of this trend for the social sciences and to compare disciplinary experiences and responses with a view to thinking through the way forward.
The evidence suggests that as funding for public universities contract and institutions are forced down the entrepreneurial and managerial path, they tend to adjust their primary teaching and research mission in favour of private revenue raising. The more government funding contracts, the more insistent are the business imperatives. High fees exert a similarly distorting effect on students. They evince a preference for the functional and the applied over the theoretical and the critical in the interests of credentialism and careerism.
Academics themselves are expected to be entrepreneurial in seizing and capitalising on teaching and research opportunities. The pressure to perform and constantly reinvent the self has caused academic careers to become less fulfilling when every activity is expected to have use value in the new academic market. A focus on the production of new knowledge workers and citizen consumers also has far-reaching significance for the nature of society, including the future of democracy. As Australia is well on the way towards a totalising user-pays model, a thoroughgoing exploration of the issues is essential.
The workshop will group sessions around a re-theorisation of the university and three key facets of academic life, viz, teaching, research and governance with particular regard for the impact on the social sciences. A hard look will be taken at the new market and managerial paradigms and possible ways forward.