CGHE Seminar 62

How good are Australian universities?

In this seminar Professor Simon Marginson will provide a critical overview of Australian higher education, arguing that Australia, and Australian higher education, are positioned in an unstable location between their British history and Asian geography.

He will begin by examining the evolution of Australian higher education from its colonial roots, which continue to be shaping in certain ways. He will describe the scale and scope of the national system; position Australian universities and research science within the worldwide sector; comment on their internal life and their relation to government, economy and society; consider the relationship between scholarship and national life; and focus on the three-way nexus between Australia, Asia and the universities.

In the making of contemporary Australian universities, as in the United States, the key decade was the remarkable 1960s. In his 1964 bestseller The Lucky Country, Donald Horne famously argued that a provincial and mediocre culture weakened Australia in face of challenges such as declining British power, the rise of Asia, technological change, and the compelling needs to expand the educated workforce and to use talent more effectively. Universities were derivative and weak.

For Horne, Australia was a country lacking a mind, in which ‘intellectual life exists but is still fugitive’. Much of that has now changed. In the 1960s and 1970s Australian higher education was transformed in a great public effort. Australia now has 23 universities in the world top 500, according to the 2017 Shanghai ranking, and educates 200,000 students from Asia. But much of Horne’s challenge still engenders reflection. Has the country been transformed along with the universities? Has Horne’s anti-intellectualism been put to rest? Has Australia finally discovered its place in Asia? And what, if anything, remains in the high-corporate high-service Australian universities of the adventurous public values and improvised creativity that characterised the era in which the present system was built?

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Simon Marginson

Simon Marginson

Simon Marginson is Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford, Director of the ESRC/OFSRE Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), Joint Editor-in-Chief of Higher Education, and Lead Researcher with Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Simon’s research is focused primarily on global and international higher education, the contributions of higher education and higher education as a public and common good, and higher education and social inequality. At Oxford he leads the MSc (Education) subject on ‘Global higher education’. His recent books include Higher Education in Federal Countries, edited with Martin Carnoy, Isak Froumin and Oleg Leshukov (Sage, 2018) and High Participation Systems of Higher Education, edited with Brendan Cantwell and Anna Smolentseva (Oxford University Press, 2018).

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