Are the academic chickens coming home to roost in the West? You betcha.

I blame John Dawkins and his tertiary amalgamations in the late 1980s. The difficulty is that you can’t unscramble this particular box of eggs.

Nearly three decades later the echoes of this disastrous policy are still being heard.

Essentially what happened was that Australia’s highly efficient and effective second-tier,   tertiary vocational education system was forced into the top tier university system. It’s been a muted success in places like Monash University which merged with CIT/ Chisholm Institute but you would be hard pressed to find many success stories.

Many academics with a strong background in teaching/business/industry/technology were forced into an environment where they were  increasingly required to shift their focus from teaching to research. It’s been a difficult and not very successful transition.

In some universities such as Victoria University has been disastrous. Mainly because the academic infrastructure that was bundled up to make the new university was never going to be able to make the transition to a research institution.

The Age reports: Up to 115 academics are set to lose their job as Victoria University pins its dwindling fortunes on a new college for first year students.

It would be interesting to see how many of these academics are relics from the old TAFE  and CAE days.

Around 60 per cent of VU students at the university have received ATARs below 50 or are less prepared for higher education. This has led to one in three students dropping out during the first year of study – a much higher rate than the nationwide average of 21 per cent.

It’s a vicious circle, once University gets its reputation for being one of the less desirable onesie attracts less desirable students and has difficulty attracting good staff and the downward spiral continues. The other difficulty is that universities like VU tried to attract research academics when they need good teaching staff for the kind of college they wish to establish. But university reward system doesn’t reward good teaching, it rewards good research.

This is compounded by the fact that the organisational problems facing the VU are immense.

VU has 9 campuses, (one of which is in Sydney) and was an amalgamation of 13 different organisations including the Melbourne School of Hairdressing, the School of Painting, Decorating and Sign Crafts and four TAFE Colleges.

With 27,000 students, it is one of Australia’s smaller Universities.

So it is widely diverse geographically and has no economies of scale.

One of the facts of life of modern universities is that you need to be able to pack 500 first and second year accounting students into a lecture theatre four times a week to get the economies of scale in cash flow from a business school to make large universities financially viable.

VU simply doesn’t have the numbers to be able to do this.

VU is a symptom of a much wider problem facing the tertiary sector in Australia. The Group of Eight – The University of Melbourne, The Australian National University, The University of Sydney, The University of Queensland, The University of Western Australia, The University of Adelaide, Monash University and UNSW Australia are all doing well, it is the other 30 who are struggling

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