Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ming's Legacy

In the Weekend Australian Christopher Pearson has a swing at the great Ming's legacy.

He has taken exception to an item in the Higher Education Supplement by Bob White which had harked back to the expansion of the Universities and the creation of Commonwealth funding under Menzies as the last time a Commonwealth Government had done anything positive for Universities. Perason's generally elitist critique is based on the assumption that the threefold increase in student numbers and the linked increase in academic posts came at the expense of quality because the expansion must have required admitting people of lower standards. He then makes the usual "cluture wars" critique of the academic sector being made up exclusively by rabid left-wingers who then supposedly have melded all thinking in the country in their own image. He includes the usual snide distinction of the 5 new "besser brick" universities from the "Gothic".

It is all pretty pathetic really. The first thing to note is the high population increase post war - both from baby boomers and from immigration. The second is that university places possibly simply hadn't kept pace with existing population growth, and certainly would have declined through the war. So the claim that the increase of places equals a reduction of quality is based on some assumptions that all other change had followed a "standard" path.

As for the so-called invasion of the left, this is and remains a myth. At least it is a myth that this has had any enduring effect on the make-up of intellectual debate, there are plenty of functioning right-wingers out there. Heck, even Tony Abbott survived the university system, and Peter Costello went through a Menzies University.

The idea that the five Menzies institutions are second rate is really getting confused. Yes that claim might be able to be levelled at the Universities spawned by the Dawkins reforms (of which the University of Western Sydney from which Bob White hailed is one) but then again if there are n universities one must be the best and one must be the nth.

Pearson simply is a big bag of wind. But also the likes of Bob White should get a little bit more real about the developments since - without the Dawkins reforms he'd be a Lecturer at a Teachers' College.

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