Thursday, March 25, 2004

Go Monash students!

For the second time this week, students at Melbourne’s Monash University have staged a sit-in. It is time that the Monash administration now listened to them – or resigned en masse, and handed over to someone who will.

The justice of the Monash students’ case is incontrovertible. Since HECS fees were introduced 16 years ago, they have inexorably ratcheted up, while the quality of service delivered at public universities has plummeted.

Where has the money gone, then? For starters, it has been squandered by administrations on ill-fated ventures like overseas campuses, white elephant software, and online-learning black holes. Also, as the alienation (a la Marx) truly set in, the upper echelons entered their debauched phase – their offices were refurbished as though they were private sector executives, and their pay packets adjusted accordingly. To their discredit, most academic staff colluded in this process.

Make no mistake about it – Australia’s public universities have been run for the last decade or so in the exact way a tin-pot dictator runs a third-world country. There has been an obscene mal-allocation of resources, with the collective wealth of a university being used almost exclusively to benefit a select, tiny few. There is not a single Australian public university that can be considered exempt from this charge, AFAIK.

The rationale of Monash’s (and just about every other uni’s) administration for the latest ratcheting-up of HECS is a lie – and for professionals who are supposedly in the business of furthering truth and knowledge, a contemptible lie. The extra money raised will of course be squandered – just like the rest of the money has been – rather than spent on improving the quality of service offered to students.

As a sessional academic, I deal with the fall-out from this squandering every day. In my area, over 50% of the students are full-fee paying international ones. You might think, then, that the course as a whole would be well-resourced. Not a chance. Like a junkie who begs for loose change, my department is a pathetic sack of shit to look at – unbelievable amounts are funnelled into its arteries, but in the public-eye and the classroom, it’s a poor-me mendicant.

This has got to change.

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