WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON: ‘Whackademic’ leadership is ruining tertiary institutions
AUSTRALIA is an established education destination for Malaysians. Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently went on tour of the education sector Down Under.
About a quarter of a million foreign students in Australian universities are testimony to the state of education in the country.
At about this time last year, an Australian teenager, who stabbed an Indian student to death and sparked a diplomatic row with India, has been jailed for 13 years.
The unnamed 17-year-old admitted to killing Nitin Garg in a Melbourne park in January 2010. The victim suffered multiple stab wounds.
This is not the first of such incidents causing the decline in the number of Indian students and forcing the authorities to reassure foreign governments of the safety of their students. Racism was cited as the cause leading to massive street protests at In Whackademia: An Insider’s Account Of The Troubled University (2012), United Kingdom-born Australian academic Richard Hil wrote a “scathing insider exposé” which “lifts the lid on a higher education system that’s corporatised beyond recognition, steeped in bureaucracy, and dominated by marketing and public relations imperatives rather than intellectual pursuit”.
The author, an honorary associate at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at University of Sydney, also wrote Surviving Care: Achieving Justice And Healing For The Forgotten Australians.
His articles have been widely published in The Australian, Australian Universities’ Review and Campus Review.
Hil exposes a world that he claims stands in stark contrast to the slogans and mottos joyously promoted by Australia’s universities.
Raising bold questions that go to the heart of Australian higher education, he made “an unsentimental call for a re-enlightened higher education sector that’s about more than just revenue, efficiencies, and corporate profile”.
“Despite the shiny rhetoric of excellence, quality, innovation and creativity, universities face criticism over declining standards, decreased funding, compromised assessment, overburdened academics and never - ending reviews and restructures.”
The Australian university system that started in the mid-19th century largely excluded the poor due to expensive fees.
Except for a brief period (1972-1975) under pro-equity and pro-education Whitlam Labor Government, the situation is very much the same today.
An academic at a major Australian university, Dr Gideon Polya, highlighted that the top private schools now disproportionately provide students for top Australian universities (the so-called Big Eight) located in the state capital cities and with prestigious medical and law schools.
Australian children who attend government schools are largely excluded from premier universities and coveted courses such as Law and Medicine.
Universities in Australia are allegedly becoming increasingly dependent on full fee-paying students from overseas, leading to an education industry (“cash crop education”) worth A$18 billion per year. This is at the top end of — if not the biggest — revenue generator for the Australian economy.
Hil pinned down his concerns to the fact that universities are being corporatised and money-driven, and dominated by “market-place academics” and “line managers” who are calling the shots. The phenomenon is worldwide.
As Polya noted what has happened to Australian universities — and indeed to Australian society — is mirrored in higher education institutions in other democratic societies, in particular Western democracies.
It was observed that in Australia and in the West in general, the corporatising of tertiary institutions reflects the same of society as a whole. And for Malaysia, it will not be much different.
Whether you agree with Hil or not, it will not be entirely wrong to say that much of what he wrote is now evident in many universities internationally, in part due to the practices of “whackademic” leadership.
This paves the way for education to be “whacked” out from one of galaxies of the mind to that of small-mindedness characterised by the culture of bean-counting and micromanagement.
New Straits Times Learning Curve 23 December 2012