Thursday, June 5, 2008

Unsafe at any speed

Our Chancellor has said:

'UNE is lagging behind all other Australian Universities in one area – it is the most dependent on Federal Government grants. I perceive this as a high risk – and one that must be quickly addressed by opening up and attracting other sources of funding, particularly in the areas of research and development, from sources other than the Federal government.'

It has always been true that 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'.

But given that the piper must be paid by someone, what entity should do so?

I think it is obvious that it should be the entity that most shares the values of and is most accountable to those listening to the tune. An ancient and venerable private university ought perhaps to be funded by rich alumni. A Catholic university ought to be funded by the Catholic Church. And a public university ought to be funded by the voters.

For a regional university, the obvious source of funding which will be accountable to stakeholders will be the State Government. For a university with pretensions to national importance, the Federal Government is just as good. It is not 'high risk' for a public university to be funded by the Government. The public sector is, rightly or wrongly, cushioned against the slings and arrows of the market. This is why the economy of a city like Canberra is so placid and stable compared to the economy of a city like Cairns. And public funding cannot be withheld or redirected on ideological or economic grounds with the same ease as other sources of funding- because ultimately, the State and Federal Governments are accountable to the electorate.

It is high risk for a public University to receive a large proportion of its funding from:

* Corporations which are accountable ultimately to institutional shareholders overseas, rather than the Australian electorate.

* Overseas fee-paying students whose numbers will wax and wane with the vagaries of the market and the whims of foreign governments.

Parenthetically, I am one of those staff members who have no confidence in the Chancellor. He is not properly carrying out the task he was appointed to do (for instance, he has attended only 13 of the last 24 graduation ceremonies) and instead he is trying to do a job he was not appointed to do, subverting the authority of the Vice-Chancellor. He should go. Now.

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