Commonwealth higher education policies : their impacts on autonomy and research in Australian universities

  • Cathy Quann-Youlden

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    In recent years, the Australian Government's (Commonwealth) relationship to universities has become one of greater involvement as political circles recognise the escalation in the significance of higher education as a key determinant in Australia's economic, social, cultural, and intellectual development. The increasing role of the Commonwealth in Australian universities is largely a consequence of this recognition, but it is also due in part to changes in the way governments approach the public sector and publicly funded institutions. Both the literature and extensive Commonwealth reports provide an array of details in relation to: what the Commonwealth wants from its universities; why it wants it; what it is doing to ensure that it gets what it wants; and the results of its actions-at least from the perspective of the Commonwealth. But what is missing is how universities themselves perceive the impact of the Commonwealth's increasing involvement in universities. Although academics and managers in Australian universities have much to say about how current and proposed Commonwealth policies affect their working environment they are not given much of a venue to opine. As such there is a lack of literature on how universities perceive the impact of this increasing involvement. This dissertation aims to fill the gap by providing a forum that addresses universities' perceptions of how Commonwealth policies affect their universities. Specifically, this dissertation sets out to discover if and how Commonwealth policies change universities and focuses on how policies influence autonomy and research in Australian universities through the responses of those who work in the offices of the deputy vice chancellors of research in twelve Australian universities. One of the most significant findings of the thesis is that the Commonwealth's increasing involvement in universities is viewed by respondents as a consequence of the Commonwealth's mistrust of Australian universities. Furthermore, the Commonwealth is seen as lacking expertise in areas relating to universities-their needs, history, purpose, mission, and how they best relate to and contribute to society-and their need for autonomy. This dissertation offers some insights into perspectives whereby policies built on the Commonwealth's mistrust and lack of expertise in university matters negatively influence autonomy and research productivity in Australian universities. The results indicate decreased productivity which leads to further mistrust that appears to decrease productivity even more a cycle that respondents fear might be a self-propelling downward spiral. Eight hypotheses and one overarching proposition emerge from the findings. In addition, nine areas are identified as adding to the overall understanding of the affect that Commonwealth policies have on university autonomy and research productivity in Australian universities.
    Date of Award2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Kringas (Supervisor) & Mark Turner (Supervisor)

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