Australian universities have changed, over the past three decades, to the point that many now question whether these institutions should still be called ‘universities’. Some believe that this story of change is one of success, of growth, and of excellence in teaching and research. The events precipitated by COVID19, however, tell another story.
Australian universities are in crisis. This crisis, which has been starkly revealed (although not caused) by the impact of COVID19, include ever larger class sizes, declining teaching standards, less substantive content in academic coursework, less rigorous research, massive job losses, massive casualization of teaching staff, unsustainable executive salary packages, unsustainable over-spending on non-teaching and non-research activities, lack of accountability and financial transparency, student fees that do not reflect the cost of actual education (and are far in excess of what comparable tertiary sectors worldwide require students to pay), increasing decline of academic autonomy and, ultimately, the absence of any accepted understanding of what a public university is or ought to be.
Academics for Public Universities was formed to provide research on these regressive trends. We are a group of academics from multiple Australian universities who are applying their interdisciplinary expertise to analyse the existential crises currently facing higher education in Australia. Our aims include to conduct substantial research into these problems to provide comprehensive national data sets, to publish and disseminate the results of this research in order to increase public awareness and media debate, to re-examine ideological and social assumptions about the nature and function of public universities, to compare the Australian current situation with international practice. The research also aims to highlight the relationship between financial waste and the governance crisis of universities: the autocratic nature of their governance, out of line with the public sector they purportedly mirror. After all, these institutions are formally and officially called “public universities”.
APU aims to offer expertise to the tertiary sector in order to advise on possible solutions to the crisis as well as to collaborate with State, Territory and Federal MPs and senators to better inform them of these problems and to develop and pursue strategies to address them, including legislative reform.
We wish to express our solidarity with colleagues in the TAFE sector, who have been experiencing often similar, and in some cases very different, challenges. We are therefore committed to seeking solutions within the tertiary sphere that will benefit the entire educational sector over the decades to come.
Who are we?
Below are details of the members of our main collective organising group.
You can find a list of more than 1.5K signatories of our open letter here.
APU is also collaborating with a wide network of academics across Australia.
Dr Siobhan Irving is a medical anthropologist and casual academic who has both convened and tutored for units in sociology, anthropology and communications since 2014. After graduating from the University of Aberdeen with a joint MA in anthropology and religious studies, Siobhan completed a PhD in anthropology from Macquarie University in 2019, which passed without revisions. Her PhD thesis explored romantic relationships and sexual healthcare within Muslim communities in both Singapore and Sydney, Australia. Siobhan also serves as an executive committee member of Sydney Queer Muslims, where she serves as the non-profit group’s academic advisor and uses her research experience to assist in developing outreach programs and activities to help the group better support LGBTQ+ Muslims. Her current research focuses on methods of improving the accessibility of sexual and mental healthcare and other supportive services for young people.
Professor Fran Baum AO is Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Foundation Director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. She received an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for her public health service. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences and of the Australian Health Promotion Association. She is a past National President and Life Member of the Public Health Association of Australia. She co-Chair of the Global Steering Council of the People’s Health Movement – a global network of health activist (www. phmovement.org). She also served as a Commissioner on the World Health Organisation’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health from 2005-08.
She has held multiple grants from the National Health & Medical Research Council and the Australia Research Council (including an ARC Federation Fellowship) which are considering health inequities and public policy, social determinants of health and Health in All Policies. In September she was awarded an NHMRC Investigator Leadership 3 Fellowship which provides $2.24m for a research program entitled “Restoring the Fair Go”: which policies and practices are likely to reverse growing health inequities in Australia post-COVID-19 (see here for short video on grant )
She is the author of Australia’s top selling public health textbook The New Public Health (2016, Oxford University Press) of which there are 4th editions with over 20,000 copies sold. Fran is an activist academic who advocates for a fairer, more sustainable and healthy Australia.
After finishing a master degree in applied physics, Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau came to Australia in 2006 to undertake his PhD at the Australian National University in Canberra. He is an Australian, French born, world leading expert in human remains analyses. His research focuses on the development and application of direct dating methods and micro-analytical techniques to key questions in archaeological sciences, such as the timing of human evolution, interaction with the surrounding environment and ecological niche, as well as hominids diet and early life history. Specifically, his research is concerned with the understanding of mobilization, incorporation and diffusion of isotopes and radionuclides into animal and human fossil remains, as well as the constant improvement of analytical techniques, such as enhancing methodology, protocols and accuracy of ESR and U-series methods or elemental and isotopic imaging of early human remains. Investigating the use of geochemical technique in living humans especially for medical and biomedical research is also of prime and growing interest.
Julie Kimber is a labour historian. She teaches history and politics at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, and is the federal secretary of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.
Dr Stephen Lake completed a double Honours degree in History and Theology at Flinders University in 1988, where he received a prize in Economic History and was a candidate for a university medal. He tutored there for two years. He was awarded a Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Australia scholarship to complete a PhD at Cambridge on early medieval monasticism; he spent a year at the University of Tübingen. In the academic year 1997-8 he was a Lecteur d’anglaise at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne. He was awarded a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Bamberg in the Graduiertenkolleg 311 for a project on medieval doctrines of the soul as the seat of ethical action in ancient Greek, medieval Islamic and Scholastic philosophy. In 2001 he took another research position in the Sonderforschungsbereich 485 at the University of Constance, where he completed a project on the early and early medieval Christian Church’s care of the sick and the Latin West’s failure to appropriate Greek medicine. In Constance, he also taught courses on medieval history and philosophy, Roman history and literature, and an Introduction to Islam. He returned to Australia in 2009; after an 18-month appointment as a research associate at ACU Brisbane, he became unemployed, and has remained so. In 2018, he held a sessional contract at UNSW to teach on the Third Reich, and is currently enrolled in a second PhD at the University of Sydney with a project on the Frankfurt School’s response to fascism. He lectures regularly for his local U3A group in the Southern Highlands, NSW. In 2009, he returned to Australia with completed or largely completed book manuscripts on John Cassian and Early Medieval Monasticism, The Church and the Sick, ca. 400-ca. 800, a re-interpretation of the Twelfth-Century ‘Renaissance’, on a Philosophy of History, and translations of Carolingian Treatises De anima and of the Gallic Church Canons, as well as work on medieval doctrines of the soul and ethics, and materials for an introduction to Albertus Magnus. Some of that work has been very positively peer-reviewed in manuscript. Being unable to obtain any academic appointment, or an affiliate position, or research funding at a mid-career entry level, he has not published those books. He has published a dozen articles on John Cassian, Gregory the Great, and medieval philosophy. He also works on modern Continental philosophy, the political philosophy of democracy and of human rights, and American history.
Dr Adam Lucas is a senior lecturer in science and technology studies at the University of Wollongong (UoW) and Academic Program Director for the Bachelor of Arts at UoW. Adam majored in science and technology studies and the history and philosophy of science at the University of New South Wales, where he completed a Master of Science and Society, a Master of Arts (Honours) and a Doctorate of Philosophy. Since the mid-1990s, he has also taught at UNSW, Sydney, and UTS. He is co-editor of Brill’s ‘Technology and Change in History’ book series and president of the Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science. Adam’s research focuses on the history and sociology of early modern and premodern machine technology, and contemporary climate change and energy policy. He has published widely in the creative arts, the sociology of science, the history of technology, social and economic history, archaeology, politics and political economy. During the premierships of Bob Carr and Morris Iemma, he worked for a number of years as a researcher and policy analyst for the New South Wales Government in The Cabinet Office, State and Regional Development, Aboriginal Affairs and Housing. Prior to that, he worked as a freelance journalist, art curator and writer.
Justin O’Connor is Professor of Cultural Economy at the University of South Australia and visiting Professor in the School of Cultural Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University. Between 2012-18 he was part of the UNESCO ‘Expert Facility’, supporting the 2005 Convention on the “Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions’. Justin has produced Creative industry policy reports for the Australian Federal Government and the Tasmanian State Government, and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DEFAT) on Creative Industries and Soft Power. Justin is currently working on two research projects: UNESCO and the Making of Global Cultural Policy, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific; and Urban Cultural Policy and the Changing Dynamics of Cultural Production– on cultural manufacturing and urban space. He has co- edited The Routledge Handbook of Cultural Industries (2015); Cultural Industries in Shanghai: Policy and Planning inside a Global City (2018, Intellect); Re-Imagining Creative Cities in 21st Century Asia (2020, Palgrave Macmillan) and is co-author of Red Creative: Culture and Modernity in China (2020, Intellect).
Dr Alessandro Pelizzon completed his LLB/LLM at the University of Turin in Italy, specializing in comparative law and legal anthropology with a field research project conducted in the Andes. His Doctoral research, conducted at the University of Wollongong, focused on native title and legal pluralism in the Illawarra region. Alessandro has been exploring the emerging discourse on rights of nature, Wild Law and Earth Jurisprudence since its inception, with a particular focus on the intersection between this emerging discourse and different legal ontologies. In addition to having published extensively in the area, he has organised numerous events in Australia on Wild Law and Earth Jurisprudence, he is one of the founding members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance, and he has been a moderator at the UN General Assembly Dialogue on the Harmony with Nature. Alessandro is currently an Executive Committee Member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and an expert member of the UN Harmony with Nature programme. Alessandro’s main areas of research are legal anthropology, legal theory, comparative law, ecological jurisprudence, sovereignty, and Indigenous rights.
Peter Tregear OAM is a Professor of Music at the University of Melbourne. After completing doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge he was appointed to a Fellowship and Lectureship at Fitzwilliam College and, more recently, at Royal Holloway University of London. Peter Tregear received Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to music and professional societies.
Since returning to Australia he has served as Executive Director of the Academy of Performing Arts at Monash University and Head of the ANU School of Music in Canberra. In 2019 he was appointed the inaugural Director of Little Hall at the University of Melbourne.
Peter is a noted commentator on arts and cultural policy and on the role universities can play in growing and sustaining civil society more generally. He has published widely in the academic and mainstream press; books include Ernst Krenek and the Politics of Musical Style (2013) and Enlightenment or Entitlement: Rethinking Tertiary Music Education (2014).
Dr Oliver Vodeb is a critical design theorist, creative practice researcher, student and educator.
He graduated from sociology (University of Ljubljana) and Economics (University of Maribor) and holds a PhD in sociology of design and communication from University of Ljubljana, where he has studied under Mirjana Ule, Rastko Močnik and Aleš Debeljak.
Oliver co-founded Memefest in 2002 and is the principle curator of the Memefest festival of radical design+ communication. He’s books include Socially Responsive Communication (University of Ljubljana), Indebted to Intervene: Critical Lessons in Debt, Communication, Art and Theoretical Practice (Intellect), Demonstrating Relevance: Response-Ability, Theory, Practice and Imagination of Socially Responsive Communication (University of Ljubljana), Food Democracy, Critical Lessons in Food, Communication, Design and Art (Intellect). He is currently working on two new books: Radical Intimacies, Extradisciplinary Investigations in Making Things Public to be published by Intellect and Postbranding: Fundamentalist Marketplace Semiotics to be published by Onomatopee.
Oliver has designed and directed dozens of public campaigns and interventions across the world and has been invited to give lectures and workshops at Universities in Europe, USA, Canada, Latino America, Australia, Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean.
Dr Richard Hil is Adjunct Professor in the School of Human Services and Social Work at Griffith University, Gold Coast; Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business, Law and Arts at Southern Cross University, member of the Editorial Collective of Social Alternatives, board member of the Justice for Fallujah Project and former Convenor of the Ngara Institute. Richard has published over a dozen books, the most recent of which is The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History, with Ross Caputi and Donna Mulhearn. His most recent book (co-authored with Kristen Lyons and Fern Thmpsett), Transforming Higher Education in the Twenty-Frist Century: A University for the Common Good will be published by Routledge late 2021. Over the past five years Richard (under his own name and as ‘Joseph Gora’ and ‘Henry Barnes’) has written on Australian higher education for The Australian, Campus Review, New Matilda, Arena Magazine, The Advocate, Social Alternatives, University World News, The Conversation, Overland, Online Opinion, Pearls and Irritations, and Countercurrents. His views about higher education are best encapsulated in Whackademia: An insider’s account of the troubled University, published in 2013 by New South, and Selling Students Short; why you won’t get the university education you deserve, published by Allen and Unwin in 2015.
Dr Toby Freeman worked at Flinders University from 2002-2021. He has a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) and a PhD. His expertise is on collaborative research on health equity. He worked as a Senior Research Fellow at the Southgate Institute for Health, Society, and Equity from 2009-2021, serving as Deputy Director from 2015-2021. He also held leadership positions in the College of Medicine and Public Health and Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute, most recently as Co-Program Lead for Social Determinants of Health. Dr. Freeman also led a global health equity research theme in the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Social, Political, and Commercial Determinants of Health.
Professor Emeritus Kim Economides currently teaches at the University of Cyprus (UCY) and is Honorary Professor of Law, University of Southern Queensland (USQ); Adjunct Research Fellow, Law Futures Centre, Griffith University. Previously he was Dean and Professor of Law at the former Flinders Law School, Adelaide (2012-18). Prior to this he was at Exeter University, Devon, UK for 30 years where he held several leadership roles: Professor of Legal Ethics (2000-09); Head of Law (1999-2004); Director of the Exeter University Centre for Legal Interdisciplinary Development (EUCLID) (1989-93); and Acting Director of Exeter’s Centre for Legal Practice. Emigrating to New Zealand in 2009, Kim was appointed as Professor of Law and Inaugural Director of the Legal Issues Centre at the University of Otago in Dunedin (2009-12).
Kim studied law in London and was one of the first researchers at the European University Institute in Italy where he worked on the Florence Access to Justice Project (1976-79) and now contributes to a new Global Access to Justice Project.
Kim has a longstanding interest in professional ethics and regulation: he was a member of the UK National Committee of the Council for Academic Autonomy (CAA) from 1988-89 that sought to defend academic freedom following the Education ‘Reform’ Act of 1988 that removed tenure and threatened the values and standards of the academic vocation. From 1993-95 he was seconded as Education Secretary to the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Legal Education & Conduct (ACLEC). He was Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Hamlyn Trust (2004-09) and Series Editor, The Hamlyn Lectures (2005-10). He was Founding General Editor of Legal Ethics (1998-2008) and has also served as President of the International Association of Legal Ethics (IAOLE) (2014-16). Kim holds triple UK, Australian and Cypriot (EU) citizenship, with permanent resident status in New Zealand, and seeks to bring a global perspective to his research.
We acknowledge the unceded sovereignty of the First Nations peoples, Traditional Owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures; and to elders past, present, and emerging.