The 'managerialism' much maligned in Australian universities is partly a response to their increased complexity, regulation and accountability
(pages 21-27 of the printed journal)
Orwell de Foenander, in whose name this lecture is given, devoted his academic life to Australia's system of conciliation and arbitration, while dreaming of a day when collective bargaining would provide what he believed would be a freer, more-flexible and responsible way to regulate employer-employee relations. In Foenander's time, the accepted definition of a university was of 'a corporation of teachers or assemblage of colleges for teaching the higher branches of learning, and having power to confer degrees' (Masterman, 1952:55). In contrast, the OED definition of a university is 'a high-level educational institution in which students study for degrees and academic research is done'. In the differences between these two definitions lies the tension in academic work in Australian universities today.
In 1950s Australia, senior academics or professors were accredited as experts by the community for their higher learning, and that expertise guaranteed autonomy in the exercise of that knowledge, including how and what to teach and research. Flexibility was greater than in many other occupations and the traditions developed about teaching and research were given form in the university.
For over 100 years, Australian academics had many of their conditions of employment determined by their university employers; then, after the middle of the twentieth century, by ad hoc decisions of commissions; and, finally, from 1974 through the federal Academic Salaries Tribunal (O'Brien, 1993).
In the post-World War II years, as Australian universities grew and began to educate their own staff by awarding doctorates, academics did not share in the collective employment regulation of many other employees, including other salaried professionals. Their employment frame of reference was more closely aligned with the doctors and lawyers whom they educated.
O'Brien (2003) argues that the key events shaping the industrial relations and regulation that we see today in Australian universities were:
The 1983 decision of the High Court of Australia that allowed university staff to access the federal industrial relations jurisdiction;
Federal registration of the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations (FAUSA) in December 1986;
The 'second tier' wage decision of 1987 and the 'structural efficiency' principle introduced in the 1988 decision; and
The amalgamation of universities with the more-unionised institutes of technology and colleges of advanced education (CAEs) from 1989 in the 'unified national system'.
Then came the 1991 decision of the federal industrial relations tribunal that formally introduced enterprise bargaining to the Australian system, followed by the Industrial Relations Reform Act, 1993 which entrenched collective bargaining as the dominant means to regulate wages and employment conditions in Australia.
Related to these changes were a series of major organisational shifts that are captured in part in Figures 1 to 4, which have four data points: 1975, 1985, 1995, and 2005. Figure 1 shows a slowly growing university system and an exploding CAE/institute of technology system from 197585 where staff growth of over 155 per cent in the college sector can be compared to a mere 5 per cent in universities.
Figure 1: Higher education full and part time / casual academic staff
However, during 19952005 higher education staff numbers grew by around 4.6 per cent, but full-time and fractional research and teaching staff declined in absolute numbers by 1.3 per cent. Relevantly, research-only staff in universities increased by over 33 per cent between 1995 and 2005.
Between 1975 and 2005, student numbers increased from 274,738 to 703,751, while student/staff ratios increased by around 45 per cent during this time as Figure 2 demonstrates. The proportion of casual staff in the academic staff population increased from 15 per cent to over 22 per cent of full-time equivalent staff during the 19952005 period.
Figure 2: Higher education student/staff ratio (SSR)
For many academics in the last 30 years, the number of students for which they were responsible increased hand-in-hand with the number of casual or sessional staff which they had to coordinate. Full-time academics now manage large teams of casual and sessional staff in more than one subject or course.
While figures 2, 3 and 4 suggest major increases in higher education productivity in terms of students taught, doctorates awarded and publications achieved, technological changes in university systems have not materially decreased the effort required for teaching and research. Consequently, such major increases in teaching and research productivity are likely to have changed the way academics see their jobs and universities. Particularly for research-orientated junior and middle-ranking academics, it is clear that hours worked per week have increased in the attempt to keep the preferred balance between teaching and research.
Figure 3: Higher degree by research (HDR) load and publications
Figure 4: Higher degree by research (HDR) and publications key ratios
A recent survey of the satisfaction levels of Australian academics with their jobs and universities (Coates et al 2009) found that, on a five-point scale, those at sub-professorial levels scored below 3.5 with only academics in Portugal, the UK and South Africa recording lower scores. In contrast, Australian professors recorded almost 4.0, close to the average for their international counterparts.
Australian academics are also among the least satisfied internationally with management issues, including their level of influence and engagement in their universities. While satisfaction improves with rank it is overall low, particularly in relation to institutional support. However, the survey revealed that Australian salaries are now competitive with their overseas counterparts, although previous evidence (Horsley and Woodburne, 2005) is that, within Australia, academic salaries declined against average weekly earnings from the 1970s, although the rate of decline slowed in the 1990s.
Key traditions of academic work specifically, autonomy over what is taught and researched, intellectual freedom and collegial governance are assumed in the construction of academic work and university operations, and have become embedded in Australian legislative or regulatory instruments. Academics operate as largely autonomous professionals in organisational units in which there is limited hierarchy in the way work is organised and monitored.
This template remains the bedrock but collective employment regulation and other policy changes dating from the 1980s have added to it. FAUSA, one of the precursors to the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), was an academics-only staff association concerned with education and research policy and practice, but also industrial issues. Its representations prior to the advent of the Academic Salaries Tribunal were principally in relation to individual grievances and disputes by staff with a university.
After the 1983 High Court decision, it was argued that federal registration of FAUSA must be sought to forestall attempted unionisation and fragmentation of academic staff through representation by other registered federal unions. There were heated discussions inside FAUSA about what employment matters should be subject to collective regulation via a log of claims leading to the creation of an award. The consensus was for a limited log of claims and minimal regulation of the employment conditions of academics.
But hard on the heels of federal registration came, in quick succession, the impact of the restructuring and efficiency principle (or second tier) and then the structural efficiency principle of the federal Commission on academic employment.
The process that began with the second-tier decision of 1987 fundamentally changed the conditions of university staff compared with teaching staff employed in institutes of technology and CAEs. The latter had more public-service type arrangements, involving state tribunals. For the universities this was far-reaching regulation of employment arrangements by an external body.
The introduction of redundancy and dismissal provisions for academic staff in 1989, accompanied by the introduction of performance-appraisal systems, spelt the end of tenure. Tenure was based on the protection of academics from the vagaries of university or government funding, and from pressure to compromise their autonomy or intellectual freedom. Similar arguments were advanced in Australia about tenure for judges and heads of government departments. Today, only judges retain protection from dismissal for unsatisfactory performance or on the basis of redundancy.
Also introduced at this time was a single unified salary structure for university and CAE academic staff, which was a precursor to the later amalgamation of the sectors and of the unions representing university and CAE staff.
O'Brien (2003) argues that the decisive change in union approaches in universities came with the dissolution of the 'binary divide' and the amalgamation of the union of college staff (UACA) with FAUSA and the creation of an industry union for higher education, NTEU. The UACA's more 'unionate' approach to industrial relations and regulations came to dominate the newly formed union. The inclusion of administrative and professional staff in the NTEU also deepened this change in orientation.
At the level of employment regulation, many of the university-CAE amalgamations were facilitated by agreements that codified particular sets of employment conditions from previous employment in the latter. This was followed in the early 1990s by a national code of conditions of employment, which regulated leave, probation and promotion. In an era of industrial relations focused on deregulation and flexibility, academic employment erected its first national set of employment regulations. Further, into this period of major change was injected the principle of enterprise bargaining, intended to provide greater flexibility in responding to the circumstances of particular enterprises, rather than the demands of specific occupations or industries.
Although academics had taken industrial action in the late 1980s in support of salary claims, salaries were set nationally outside universities. Enterprise bargaining introduced adversarial negotiations within universities between unions (representing employees) and senior executives (representing management), with many of the latter being longstanding members of their relevant staff associations. Subsequently, the tactics and rhetoric of adversarial bargaining have become entrenched in the way employment conditions and salaries are discussed in universities.
While the universities were still largely dependent on federal government funding, a national approach and national outcomes from these supposedly enterprise bargains was inevitable. These enterprise bargains showed limited variation in salary outcomes and core conditions. Nationally-determined standards expressed in enterprise agreements became part of the fabric of employment regulation. Into these agreements in recent years came a clause to guarantee academic freedom, indicating the extent to which this model of regulation is seen as the way to 'protect' the academic's job.
So pervasive had this national regulation of academic employment conditions become that when the Howard government required universities to offer individually-bargained agreements (AWAs) in 2005, the take-up remained very low (Barneveldt, 2009). Collective negotiation and regulation remained the choice of both employers and unions.
The collectivisation of employment arrangements for academics in Australia has not neglected some core features of academic work. From academic freedom to the requirement that research is a standard expectation of academic employment, there has been little difference between the views of the two parties to the bargain because both are attempting to represent and protect academic work and the nature of the university.
Paradoxically, despite the post-1980s introduction of the symbolic, rhetorical and tactical aspects of collective bargaining, and while union/employer negotiations over collective arrangements and individual disputes remains the norm, university employees are increasingly not members of their union. Australian universities, despite increasing variation in the outcomes and timing of enterprise agreements, and greater dependence on national and international markets for funding, are still relatively uniform nationally.
When the path of collective regulation became evident in the 1980s, Professor David Penington, then Chair of AHEIA and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, argued that this new model would create tensions within universities characterised by collegial forms of governance. Professor Penington was undoubtedly prescient. Australian universities are now characterised by 'top-down' management decisions and complex administrative processes, which are often called 'managerialism' (Coates et al 2010b).
The way that employment arrangements are discussed tends almost inevitably to the adversarial witness the determination of academic workloads. Where academic autonomy is the norm, workloads are set more or less collegially. Collegiality can mean that the senior academics decide what will be done by whom, or that a group of colleagues meets to decide on teaching allocations.
In Australia there is a requirement in university collective enterprise agreements for a process that secures consultation with all affected staff, for transparency and for processes to deal with grievances. For the unions there are safeguards against exploitation, over-work and inequitable treatments. For managers, there are the benefits of transparency, consistency, guarantees of effective and efficient allocation of work, and safeguards against inequitable treatment.
When this process is contested it escalates into the relatively rarefied world (from the stance of the average academic) of unionmanagement negotiations. Individual academics frequently perceive these as complex processes imposed by management, the inevitable administrators of this model.
There remain a range of academic policies that in most universities are subject to decisions by boards of academic peers. Decisions about staff selection and promotion rely on peer input. Academics retain representation on the key governing bodies of their institutions, and a significant proportion of university executives and managers are drawn from the ranks of academic staff.
The tension between the two realities described above is clear. In the first, academics fall within Drucker's (1999) concept of 'knowledge workers', largely self-managed professionals who should be treated as 'assets' rather than 'costs' by their employers. From this perspective, universities will worry about the salaries and conditions of their academic staff to ensure that they are attracted and retained.
In the second reality, the academic is the university, the owner, producer and reproducer of its knowledge and culture. In this frame, the college of scholars would decide how they would be organised and rewarded.
The experience of today lies somewhat uneasily between the two. Some elements of work, organisation and reward remain firmly controlled by academic staff. But the resources used to support universities and their staffs come from a variety of sources, some with considerable external accountabilities. Consequently there are structures and positions that manage these resources and accountabilities on behalf of universities which are not necessarily coterminous with the collective views of academic staff.
In summary, the union has attempted to ensure that the knowledge worker is appropriately rewarded. It has substituted its collective mechanisms for the collective regulation of the profession. Academic salaries in Australia have kept pace with international comparators. While de facto tenure no longer exists there are employment security safeguards beyond those available to many other workers, and many conditions exceed those available in the general community. If academics were only knowledge workers these might be the signs of a very good job. However, it is clear from surveys of academic opinion that some of the elements of an academic 'good' job are missing or being eroded.
The 'managerialism' much maligned in Australian universities is partly a response to their increased complexity, regulation and accountability. As is clear from both management and union actions, there is often agreement about some of the tenets of academic autonomy, intellectual freedom and collegiality that should be preserved. Collegial concerns about excellence, particularly in research, find an echo in the management and objectives of universities.
There are tensions, but the regulatory features of the post-1980s world have been intertwined with some of the features of the collegial world that preceded it. While we cannot go back, we should question the accretion of new regulations and processes. Life and work are not improved by adding ever more clauses to enterprise agreements or widening the scope of regulations. Importantly, we must re-examine the work of academics, recognising that lone scholars shuffling between classes and research have been replaced by staff teaching and researching in large teams. Academics working in these teams require multiple skills and now face greater accountability to those outside their immediate group of colleagues.
There are good reasons to preserve the core tenets of our universities and academic work because they embody the hallmarks of 'good work' in every sense of the term. There are excellent reasons to ensure that all those who are employed have a voice and that managements engage with and consider staff when making decisions and fulfilling their accountabilities.
However, there will be no good future if we do not reconceptualise the nature of academic work and recognise that our full- and fractional-time academics are actually the managers of their work in a more contemporary sense than was understood when their academic autonomy and control were seen as characteristics of the job. This is our challenge in universities academics were never just knowledge workers, but today they are definitely knowledge managers!
Blackford, R 1992, 'Enterprise bargaining and higher education: A changed role for the AHEIA', The Australian Universities Review, 35 (1), 13-17.
Brown, T, Goodman, J and Yasukawa, K 2010, 'Academic casualization in Australia: Class divisions in the university', The Journal of Industrial Relations, 52 (2), 169-82.
Coates, H, Goedegeburre, L, van der Lee, J and Meek, L 2008, 'The Australian academic profession in 2007: a first analysis of the survey results', paper presented at the International Conference on the Changing Academic Profession, Hiroshima, Japan.
Coates, H, Dobson, I, Edwards, D, Friedman, T, Goedegebuure, L, Meek, L 2009, The attractiveness of the Australian academic profession: a comparative analysis, Research Briefing, October, L.H. Martin Institute, Melbourne.
Coates, H and Goedegebuure, L 2010a, The Real Academic Revolution, Research Briefing, November, L.H. Martin Institute, Melbourne.
Coates, H, Dobson, I, Goedegeburre, L and Meek, L 2010b, 'Across the great divide: what do the Australian academics think of university leadership? Advice from the CAP survey', Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 32 (4), 379-387.
Horsley, M and Woodburne, G 2005, Australian Academic Salaries Time Series Project, 1977- 2002, The Australian Centre for Organisational, Vocational and Adult Learning.
Larson, M and Sarfatti 1977, The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis, University of California Press, Berkeley.
Masterman, J C 1952, To Teach the Senators Wisdom or an Oxford Guide-Book, Hodder and Stoughton, London.
O'Brien, J 1993, 'The collective organisation of Australian academic staff, 1949-83', The Journal of Industrial Relations, 35 (2), 195-220.
O'Brien, J 2003, 'Becoming 'unionate'? From staff association to national unions: the 'industrialisation' of university staff 1983-93', The Journal of Industrial Relations, 45 (1), 35-47.
Slaughter, S and Leslie, L 1997, Academic Capitalism, Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
Smith, G 1992, 'The regulation of academic employment: the past and the present', The Australian Universities Review, 35 (1), 8-12.
Van Barneveld, K 2009, 'Australian Workplace Agreements in universities', The Journal of Industrial Relations, 51 (1), 59-74.
A condensed version of a presentation to the Social Justice Seminar held at the University of Melbourne on 3 May 2011.