Late last year the transnational corporate behemoth Ernst & Young released a report on the future of higher education entitled University of the Future. It claimed that “the dominant university model in Australia … will prove unviable in all but a few cases” and that we all have to under go radical change or be inundated by the rising waters of higher education competition. In response, Dean Ashenden, the co-founder of The Good Universities Guide, cast a sceptical eye on this statement in a piece in crikey.com:

Of course they would say that, wouldn’t they? University of the Future is a marketing tool, aimed at persuading universities to use the services of Ernst & Young’s higher education consulting division.

Echoing this, Leo Goedegebuure the director of Melbourne University’s LH Martin Institute wrote in The Conversation:

I assume everyone sees through the simplistic marketing ploy of Ernst & Young’s own “university model for the future”

And in the comments on this piece Gavin Moodie, a shrewd independent commentator on higher education in Australia, wrote that the Ernst and Young report:

is as exaggerated and misleading as its 2011 paper on ‘Higher education and the power of choice’ of July 2011 which made 5 claims which have turned out to be as wrong as they seemed at the time.

So can we count on those steering the good ship Looneyversity to see past this corporate ruse? Surely our clear-headed leaders will stand firm, refuse to be panicked, in the face of the apocalyptic rhetoric of E&Y. Apparently not. This week our esteemed deputy vice chancellor, Rhonda Hawkins announced that Ernst and Young (whose services are far from cheap), will review the relations between the Schools and the Divisions at UWS.

One of the central claims of Universities of the Future is that:

university administration will need to be significantly leaner than it is today. Most universities at present have significantly more support staff than academic staff. This ratio will have to change.

So Ernst and Young’s brief is patently clear: cut the administrative fat. But anyone at UWS who is frustrated at the volume of red tape they have to deal with, and who might be inclined to rejoice at this news, should be very cautious. The clear agenda is not be to cut the numbers of university managers; these people look after themselves and their bloated salaries. Nor is it to cut down the systems of reporting and surveillance that have grown like a cancer. Rather, we can expect Ernst and Young to recommend outsourcing of key student support and service functions and the shedding of large numbers of front-line administrative staff. And when the tender is announced for external bodies to provide the services that the looneyversity will no longer supply, which company do you think will be at the head of the queue?

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