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ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : COVID-19 has torn the fabric of our higher education institutions. But were the threads of that fabric already wearing thin? And if the pandemic has exposed existing flaws, how can we use this opportunity to remake the system so that it’s better suited for now and into the future? Welcome to The New Social Contract, a podcast that examines how the relationship between universities, the state and the public might be reshaped as we lived through the age of coronavirus. I’m Tamson Pietsch. Your host and a historian at the University of Technology, Sydney.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : This is the second episode of The New Social Contract. And in this episode, we’ll be tackling the context of the crisis. What are the challenges? And how did we get to here?

NEWS GRAB Mark Scott, head of the New South Wales education department, on the ABC, ‘Education in the Age of COVID-19, Q+A’ : This is a vital industry, important all across the country, important to the future of the nation. And it really is facing very significant threat now. And attention must be paid.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : But before we get started, if you’ve just discovered this pod. Welcome. I’m so glad you found us. And can I just make one tiny suggestion, which is to maybe go back to Episode One and start from the beginning?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : The series will make more sense that way. In that first episode of The New Social Contract, we did one of my favourite things. We looked back to help us look forward. We discussed how the social contract for universities has taken many shapes throughout the 20th century and how those shifts can tell us a lot about what might be possible at a time when the social contract seems set to change again.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : So head back to Episode One if you haven’t listened to it already. I’ll be waiting here when you get back. Okay. All caught up? Then let’s get going. In this episode, I want to try to figure out how we got here and no, not the thing about whether someone ate a bat or a pangolin. I want to look at how Australian higher education has become so exposed –    to look at the vulnerabilities in the system and the decisions that have led us to this point.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : To help me do that, I’m speaking with.

TIM DODD: I’m Tim Dodd, higher education editor of The Australian.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : So where are you joining us from today, Tim?

TIM DODD: I’m at home, at my desk. I’ve been here for the last five and a half weeks. A different way of working.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : It sure is. And I’ll also be speaking with Gwilym Croucher.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: I’m an academic and researcher in the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. I’m recording from a very warm study in a very wet Melbourne.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : First up, we’re hearing from Tim Dodd.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Tim, thanks for joining me today on The New Social Contract podcast. Those in the university space, Tim’s name will ring a bell. You would have seen it in black and white on the byline of a national broadsheet. Tim is the higher education editor for The Australian. And in 2014, he was named Higher Education Journalist of the Year by the National Press Club. So it’s great that you’re with us, Tim.

TIM DODD: Thank you Tamson, I’m very pleased to be here.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : I wanted to talk to you, Tim, because we’re trying to work out the context of the crisis that the higher education sector in Australia is experiencing right now. What do you think the greatest vulnerabilities are that have emerged in the higher education sector since COVID-19 erupted into our lives?

TIM DODD: The clearest one is the vulnerability to that interruption of conventional student market. Universities, of course, have thought that. And their critics have warned about it now the last four or five years because of the immense reliance on international student income. Nobody, I think even the severest critics of universities, ever expected that it would happen suddenly and dramatically as it has. We’ve seen a plunge in university income. University Australia thinks that all universities will be down by as much as four point six billion dollars this year. I think it could even be more than that. And it carries on into following years as well because if you rely on income from international students, of course, they’re going to stay for two or three years. So if students aren’t coming, that has an effect over the next two to three years. And with the uncertainty as to when international travel will be able to resume, that puts universities in a pretty invidious spot.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : How did this reliance on international student fee revenue come about?

TIM DODD: In part, it’s an accident of history. We have an English speaking country. We have a good university system by world standards. And we are near Asia where there has been a massive, rising, incomes, growing middle class, and these people wanted their children to be educated. It goes back to a decision which John Dawkins made as the Education Minister in the mid 1980s when he decided that universities could educate international students and keep fees. And they discovered what really was a magic money making machine. You could bring in international students and this would pay for more research, particularly in the Group of Eight universities, which in turn led to a rise in the rankings, which then attracted more international students. So it was a way to bring in far more revenue than they had access to in the past. And it was a virtuous circle for a long time. And it meant that Australian universities have been able to afford way more research than in the past. They’ve been able to call a top researchers from overseas. But as we can see now, there was a weakness in this circle. It’s now extremely exposed and a university is going to look very different in the future.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Ok, so I’m going to bring Gwilym Croucher in here now. Gwil’s research focus is on the funding, financing and history of universities. Gwil, what does COVID-19 reveal about the settlements that universities and the state have come to across the last few decades?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: The pandemic has revealed that governments have really bought the argument that universities are engines of human capital in advanced economies. This means that they are the prime way that workforces can be skilled and the main way that countries can increase and sustain economic growth over time. The pandemic has shown that universities really are at the heart of the science state that’s developed in many countries since the Second World War.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: They train the scientists, they provide the advice and the keepers of the expertise that governments have relied on when dealing with the immediate effects of the pandemic, but also when they’re thinking about what recovery is going to look like.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : So how is COVID-19 magnify existing pressures in Australia’s higher education sector?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: There is likely going to be less international students into the future coming to Australia for undertake study. There will be less funding available from all sources. As we know, Australian universities rely heavily on the Australian government to fund their teaching and research. And clearly, governments will have less money available as they deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic. But universities also rely on funds from philanthropy, from industry and directly from student fees. All of these sources are likely in the future to be diminished.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: One pressure that the pandemic is definitely placing on universities is a shift in the types of degrees that students prefer. As the economy in many countries become significantly less predictable for students as they enter the labour market. Or indeed, when they go back to universities to up skill, then preference for degrees that seem to provide employment or professional degrees will likely increase. Whereas those that it’s less clear what the employment path is following study will likely diminish.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: One of the existing pressures that the COVID-19 pandemic is magnifying is regard to online education. The pandemic will likely force a reckoning with online education in many places around the world. The promise in the 1990s that universities would be able to shift a lot of their teaching online has in some ways gone largely unfulfilled.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Okay, so traditionally university education has been delivered face to face on campus and has equipped students with all sorts of things, friends and networks and cultural capital and a whole lot of citizenship building.As well as really the immense privilege of three years to think and learn with other people of your age group. Online education is a whole different ball game. So I asked Tim Dodd, what he thinks about its prospects.

TIM DODD: We have indeed had online education now for a while and it has not yet taken over. When MOOCS appeared on the scene in 2012, people including myself, thought this is going to be a major change and challenge for universities. Now. universities are still there. A lot of people say, well, MOOCS weren’t all that cracked up to be. And the other interesting thing is that in China, which is now a major source of international students and in fact, because of its large population, it’s got a major proportion of students worldwide, even though they are doing everything online in China now. I don’t do university education online until COVID-19. For the first time, Chinese students have had to do university level study online. Then will this change something? In the past, there’s been a very well ingrained cultural expectation in China that if you’re going to go to university, that involves being in a classroom and listening to lecturer goes the front of the class. The idea that you would want to go overseas to Australia or another country to learn, it might be far less attractive than in the past.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : But international students have not just helped fund Australian universities. They’ve injected energy and life into our cities, our communities and the wider economy and society.

TIM DODD: Last year, international education earned 40 billion dollars worth of export revenue. And most of this was not in university fees. Most of this went into the larger economy. So it’s responsible for about a quarter of a million jobs. They rent accommodation. They buy food. They pay for all of their living expenses. So that’s a massive economic boost which won’t be there if they disappear, which is a reason why the government needs to do everything it can to keep this industry going.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : What could the government do concretely now to maximise that benefit?

TIM DODD: We have to be welcoming of international students and value the ones who are here now. International students, when they come to Australia, they are required to have enough money to support themselves in the first year. But after that, we allow them to do part time work – up to 40 hours a fortnight. And they do a part time work. And now so many of them have lost their jobs because they work in restaurants. They work in areas which have collapsed as the economy has closed down under the impact of the coronavirus And these students now, have got no means to support themselves or to pay their fees in many cases. So as this is a temporary crisis, governments really have to step forward and say we’ll support students through this. It’s the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, but it also from a business point of view, I think it’s a no brainer.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : So the big question is, will students really want an online education?

TIM DODD: I would think that what students would be happy with is if they can. The skills which they need for a career as cheaply as possible. I think they would appreciate paying less for tertiary education.

TIM DODD: This is where the real importance of online education comes in, because potentially it’s far cheaper. Also it’s improving as well. Recently, students would’ve been online in their classes because of COVID-19. These were hastily developed pieces of online education. That would have been a lot of reading PDFs and a lot of talking on Zoom. Online education is developing. It will soon have the high level production. And that, I think, will make online education more attractiv. Both in the fact that they’ll be more effective. And when we use it at scale, it will be cheaper. I don’t think that means the end of the campus. I think that school leavers in particular still want to go to campus and socialise with their peers. But it does mean that universities will have to change a lot. And these changes have already taken place.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : One area that might see change coming is research. Universities create public benefit through research. So how is it being funded? I asked Gwil Croucher.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Part of the success of the Australian research effort has really been that it is being funded from a number of different sources. One of these sources has been part of the fees that international students pay for their education in Australia. It’s certainly one of the reasons that a lot of students have come from overseas to Australia is because of our research effort. And so they’ve largely been very happy to do this as we have less international students come in the future and therefore less fees that they pay, this presents a real problem for research effort in many universities. While universities receive a huge amount of money from the Australian government for research through the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. A lot of this is for specific programs, whereas the funds that are provided by other sources, such as from international student fees or indeed from philanthropy, give universities a lot more discretion with where they are able to pursue particular research agendas. They’re able to fund projects that perhaps their academics couldn’t get funded through the ARC or the NHMRC. And this could present a real problem for a number of universities and their research efforts. The pandemic is magnifying a key pressure that many Australian researchers feel in terms of where to find research funding. Governments in Australia and indeed overseas, which do provide significant research funds to Australian researchers, will have less money in their budgets and therefore there’ll be less funds available. Governments also have a different preference for the kind of research they want to fund. And this is exacerbating a long argument in Australia and other places around the world about how much blue sky or fundamental research should be funded.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : But haven’t Australian universities done very well in the research rankings? I asked Tim how the funding system we had in place at Australian universities has informed the type of research that they’ve done?

TIM DODD: Well, I think this is part of a rather complex picture here to try to analyse what’s occurred. Obviously, this access to a larger stream of income had a positive sign, but also it’s put universities in a position where they are slaves to the international rankings. These are the lists, which are produced Times Higher Education, by QS and by the Chinese Shanghai ranking, which mean that you have to get research published in high ranking international journals. And that means that there is, I think, a bit less emphasis on search about Australia. And it also means that universities put a huge amount of effort into working out how to look as good as they can in those rankings.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : And what might that funding landscape look like?

TIM DODD: Right now, I don’t think there’s much more money that universities can expect from governments. The federal government is not well disposed to offering funding to universities. And secondly, it’s going to have a lot of other demands on the budget in future years and major deficits, which makes me think that we are going to see more online education, which is offered at mass scale.

TIM DODD: And these changes aren’t easy to make because obviously it involves a loss of jobs and they’re very hard to make these changes in normal times. But we’re now in crisis times. And if anything, this is when you’ll see changes of this nature which will be extremely disruptive.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Like many, Tim Dodd seems to be predicting disruption with an emphasis on skills training. So what does COVID-19 mean for the education workforce? I asked Gwil Croucher what he thought.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Since the 1990s, universities in Australia have employed a significant number of casual staff. Be current pandemic presents a real problem for how universities are going to manage their workforces as they face the prospect of reduced revenue. One of the ways that they will be able to reduce their outlays is clearly by reducing the number of casual staff I have. This will present a huge problem, obviously, for many of these casual staff as they raise employment. But in the longer term, it will potentially deskill a lot of the Australian academic workforce. If people are out of the system for a year or two, they will naturally find employment somewhere else. And we may face a situation in Australia where to solve the short term problem of university budgets being diminished, we lose a lot of great talent.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : You’re saying that because people are such a major part of how universities deliver value, you can’t turn the tap of labour on and off?

The role of people in universities is particularly important because they embody significant expertise, which is built up over years and is often particular to disciplines and even particular to the way that institutions do things. If we deskill the academic workforce, it’s very hard to replace.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : You noted that one senior regional university Vice Chancellor said that Australia has too many universities for its population, too many campuses and too much duplication, too many trying to do the same thing. Is oversupply one of the vulnerabilities of the higher education sector in Australia now?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Australia doesn’t necessarily have too many universities. What Australia does have is large universities by world standards. So part of the question in terms of oversupply is do we have the optimal size universities? Are they in the optimal places?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : What’s the decision? we want to make in the future about whether it’s important to support smaller institutions in regional areas so that people are able to find education close to their homes? Or do we want to promote central hub institutions, which is largely what Australia has done, where there is a number of big institutions in the big cities. There’s not obviously a right answer to this. But one thing is for sure, the more institutions you have, the more duplication you’re going to have in terms of the way that they have to operate their administration and just indeed their facilities. So there are genuine costs to having more institutions. Having said that, there are also advantages. And these are often costs that we may well want to bear to get those advantages. Students don’t necessarily have to travel as far, which is important. We can also build greater diversity in the way that institutions operate. We can do greater diversity in the focus of different situations, which can be extremely important so that we don’t have a one size fits all model.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : One model of education that you might have heard discussed is micro credentialing. They’re essentially short courses, most of which are directed at skills acquisition or certification.

TIM DODD: One thing that came out of the crisis is that the Education Minister, Dan Tehan, has now authorised short six month courses, which will be offered between now and the end of the year. Many universities are climbing on board and offering these courses, which I think are likely in the long term to change things.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : I asked him if he thought Dan Tehan’s micro credentials would exacerbate a trend that was already in existence?

TIM DODD: We had a report last year which Dan Tehan had commissioned shortly after he became minister 18 months ago, which was called The Review into the Australian Qualifications Framework. And among its recommendations was to make it easier to have short courses which were accredited. That’s part of the reason why he’s encouraged universities to offer short courses now to train people who are currently out of work.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : I mean, what this all adds up to is a kind of really radical change in Australian model of higher education in which training for professional qualifications has happened, as you said, in three or five year blocks. And then what happened after that led to an enormous change to the structure of higher education in Australia.

TIM DODD: I think you’ve put your finger on something really interesting. It is true that universities has been this perhaps unspoken contract with business and their positions, whereby universities training people in courses which are accredited by professional groups such as lawyers, accountants, engineers and computer scientists and so forth, so that people emerge with a credential that is accredited and move on into the workforce. And most of the training in universities is for courses like that. Now, if nothing changes and you’ve spent your time working more on the job to get to these professions, well, that really does change the role of the universe.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: The one thing universities are not anymore is elite. I think the other thing about Australia is that universities have always been seen by governments and to a large extent by the population as a signalling device for the middle classes. And that’s problematic.


DR GWILYM CROUCHER: It’s problematic in a number of different ways. It really diminishes its roles in producing skills. It diminishes its role in furthering debate and fostering a generation of new knowledge. All these things get subsumed under its key social signalling role. The other thing it does is it undermines its political capital. So when governments face tough times and indeed really difficult public policy choices, it can make it a lot easier for them to turn their backs on universities because they’re not seen as critical in the same way as other levels of education are and indeed other forms of post-secondary education.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : These are unprecedented times as we keep hearing. But this isn’t the first time that Australian universities have seen their international student market fall away. I asked Tim Dodd about this.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Australia suffered a major shock in its international student market between 2009 and 2011. That was the time of the global financial crisis. But Indian enrolments halved at Australian universities during that period, and many Australian universities lost 60 per cent of their Indian enrolments in a single year. And the overall slow recovery meant that Australian universities missed out on what was at the time, judged, one point three billion dollars in tuition fees. Did universities learn anything – and government – did they learn anything from this international student market crash in 2009? It was 10 years ago now.

TIM DODD: Yes. And part of what drove that was, as you mentioned, it was the global financial crisis. And also there were a series of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, which had a major effect in India and wide publicity. But after that, things did recover. And since about 2012 onwards, we’ve seen the boom international students that has gone on growing until now. What did we learn from that? Not as much as we might have, I guess. What was not learned was the point that it is a volatile market and it can crash. Nobody expected the crash to be of this magnitude. It was thought more likely that we might lose international students because of an economic recession in China. Or that the the Chinese government, for geopolitical, decided to turn off the tap? It’s come much more suddenly than it’s ever expected.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Universities and the Australian government really heeded the message that came from the 2010 reduction in the number of Indian students coming to Australia. All universities, and the government putting in a huge effort to try to restore confidence with their students. And indeed they did come back. But what it does demonstrate is that there is only so much influence that Australian universities and the Australian government can exert on the international student market. Much of it depends on factors well outside their control. So, for example, the Australian dollar and what that means in terms of the relative cost of Australian international education plays a huge factor. How international media present Australia is something that is largely outside our control. The global financial crisis had a very similar impact for many institutions as the reduction in Indian students enrolments had in 2010. The financial crisis caused some institutions to rethink how they were relying on income from different sources and also to reorganise so that they could better deal with such a shock.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : So why we are left so vulnerable now then?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: The pandemic because it affects pretty well every aspect of economy and society at the moment, has really hit universities from a number of different angles, whereas universities are quite resilient and potentially able to deal with one or two shocks. So, for example, if there is a reduction in the number of domestic students coming, they can scale down a bit. If there is a reduction in the number of international students coming, they can cope with that. Because there are so many shocks coming so quickly, it puts them in a very difficult position.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : So it’s a time when we’re really reassessing and re-evaluating the role of higher education. Gwil, what do you think should be the priorities for universities?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: One of the key priorities for universities at the moment is to think about how they will position themselves in 10 years. After the immediate crisis has passed, there’ll be an opportunity for reinvention, but also they’ll face a very different international student market. They will  face potentially a quite different domestic student market.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Spitball here: what kind of universities does Australia need in the 21st century? What do we need? You know, as we face recovery from this, but also the challenges of the continuing ecological crisis?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Australian universities have always managed to contribute to the social, intellectual, economic life of the country when they’ve been well-run and on the front foot. Australian universities, as they go forward, will need to ensure that they maintain and to an extent recapture that role in leadership. Australia may need more, may need fewer universities, but what it certainly needs is universities that are financially viable, that have quality teaching and that are recognised as being leaders around the world.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Universities talk a lot about their value to the economy and also their role as the providers of skills. But universities are not just about preparing young people for the workforce. How many of you fell in love for the first time at university? Why haven’t we been hearing these type of stories?

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Universities are big and complicated federations, and that’s part of the strength of them, is that they have a lot of different people doing a lot of different things. But it can also at times present a real challenge in terms of the the narrative that they are able to present. Universities in Australia, perhaps have not embedded in their local communities as they are in some other countries. So, for example, despite what you may think about US college football, it does mean that many people in US towns and cities who have no interest or desire to attend a university or college there nonetheless feel a strong connection to their local institution. In Australia, the system has also created potentially some more distance that people feel from their institutions as well.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : And that, in many ways raises the age old question of what universities are for. Tim says it simple.

TIM DODD: The purpose actually is pretty obvious. It’s to educate our population in a way that means that they are able to move into the jobs that are available. And if you look at the role of universities and other education providers in the tertiary sector, what we want as a nation is for them to be able to educate students well, the right standards and give them the skills which they need and do it as cheaply as possible because it’s an economic inputs. And you don’t want to spend more on it, than you have to. You don’t want to make students spend more time in their education than they need to because that will cost them individually more and means that they can spend less time earning. So it’s an important issue and you see it through to its conclusion, it really means that you need to look at the possibility of major reform.

TIM DODD: There’s no reason, for example, why basic qualification in university, that’s the bachelor’s degree, ought to be three years. Why would people not as a matter of course, study for either one or two years? If things change, technology advances in the industry, they need to learn more, well they can return to another new course or a six month course. And this idea of continuing education over a lifetime is widely talked about. It’s certainly talked about universities, but it requires effort by government to introduce the types of reforms that allow it to happen. That might be what can occur out of this crisis.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Gwil, he has a more expansive view.

DR GWILYM CROUCHER: Universities are extraordinary institutions. They have changed their purposes over time to meet the expectations of their communities, their governments, their students and indeed their staff. And they’ve done this while also charting a course internally that follows the evidence. It follows knowledge. It follows what they do these days in terms of their research. And it is this ability to blend external expectations with internal narrative that has really become their strength.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Over the last 30 years, international student fee income has become crucial to the settlement between government, the Australian public and their universities. It’s enabled enormous growth in teaching and research. It’s helped to revitalise our cities. And it’s created a generation of graduates throughout our region who have a story to tell about Australia. It has also come with increasing casualisation and an emphasis on rankings and all that entails. In many ways, this has meant that the question of the social contract for Australian universities has not had to be confronted until now.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : Next time on The New Social Contract, we’re going to explore what the crisis in higher education means for those on the ground. What are campuses without students? How are academics putting their teaching online for the first time? And how would those who came to Australia to study finding a way to live and learn in lockdown?


ROSLYN: I would really, really hope that things do go back to physical teaching and physically applied courses at the campus. But I suppose I won’t hold my breath because I want things to be, you know, as safe for everyone as possible. So if it means having to wait longer, then maybe that’s just how it’ll have to be. But I would like to complete my final year of the class on campus, I reckon.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : If you would like to share your experience of university life during COVID. If you’ve got an idea for us or something you want discussed, we would love to hear from you. Please email us or even better, use your phone to record a voice memo and email it to We’ve put up instructions on our website showing you how to do this.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAMSON PIETSCH : And if you can, please feel free to leave a review or rate us on your podcatcher. Tell a friend about us on your next Zoom chat or tweet us @TNSCpod because this is a conversation we all need to be part of. Thank you to my guests, Tim Dodd, the higher education editor at The Australian, and Gwilym Croucher, a senior lecturer in the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. And the news grab you heard at the start of the podcast came from the head of the New South Wales Education Department, Mark Scott, speaking on the ABC Education in the Age of Covered Q&A special. You can find a link to it in our show notes. That’s it from me. I’m Tamson Pietsch and I look forward to you joining me next time.


Podcast playlist


8. The future of higher education – who will set the settings?

July 12 · 44 MIN

In the season finale of The New Social Contract, host Tamson Pietsch is joined by Dr Gwilym Croucher, Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, to consider for the final time how the relationship between universities, the state and the public might be reshaped as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this episode we look beyond Federal Education Minister Tehan’s proposals to ask three questions:

  1. What is the vision for higher education that lies behind the Coalition Government’s plans?
  1. What bigger questions about universities do they raise?
  1. What might be some of the other ways those questions could be answered?

7. The purpose of universities in the 21st century – A Vice-Chancellor and Shadow Education Minister’s perspective

July 12 · 40 MIN

Higher education leaders and policy makers in Australia are facing a lot of hard decisions right now.

The New Social Contract Podcast spoke with UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs  and Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek to find out their different perspectives on the purpose and role of universities in the 21st century.

There are lots of factors contributing to the uncertainty in the tertiary sector at present – will international students return? How much debt can be sustained? What will happen to research funding?

But one thing that would make it easier to act in the present, is a clear plan for what universities should do in the future. What are universities in Australia for? The answer to that question will shape the kind of system we get.

*Note: The interview with Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs took place on Tuesday June 9 2020.

The interview with Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education and Training took place on Tuesday June 16 2020.


6. Universities and Communities – who should they serve?

July 12 · 43 MIN

Who is it that makes up the constituencies of a 21st century university? And what should different sections of the public be demanding from those institutions?

These questions go to the core of higher education’s purpose. Do universities create communities – or do communities create universities? And why might we be seeing the answers to these questions change?

Thanks to The New Social Contract episode six guests:

Matthew Cox Director of Logan Together, a whole-of-community initiative based at Griffith University and within the Logan community

And Professor Jim Nyland – Chair of Engagement Australia and Associate Vice-Chancellor Brisbane at the Australian Catholic University.