Why academics are feeling down Down Under

February 14, 1997

Australia's academics appear to be suffering from deep depression: they believe standards are slipping, there are too many universities with too many lower-quality students for too few staff, workloads are too heavy, and there is too little time for research.

They see the future as bleak, dim, dismal or even doomed and they certainly would not urge any young person to consider a career in academe.

These were the views of a random sample of academics at universities in three states who were surveyed by researchers at Monash University. The academics who responded to a detailed questionnaire teach at Monash, Adelaide, and Canberra universities. Despite the differences in the locality, size and type of institution, academics from each of the universities hold remarkably similar and gloomy views about the current state of higher education in this country.

Of those surveyed, more than 70 per cent were concerned about the overall quality, working conditions and morale in universities as a result of the changes that have occurred over the past five years. A majority did not agree that the quality of teaching, research or the standard of incoming or graduating students had improved, and almost half referred to the difficulties caused by larger student intakes with less resources and funding.

Most thought that support for teaching in universities had declined over the past five years and nearly a third believed the significance given to teaching was limited or only nominal and that research was still seen as more important.

At the same time, the group generally disagreed that research opportunities and research funding had increased or that increased competition for funding had improved the quality of research. In fact, more than half believed there has been a decline in quality and a decrease in the time available to carry it out.

"Overall, the survey reveals a common core of shared values and concerns among the three universities," a report of the investigation states. "There were no significant differences in overall morale between the universities . . . morale is low and the future looks 'bleak'."

One of the researchers, John Gough, from Monash's school of education, said that while the results could not be generalised to all universities, there was a considerable degree of consensus among respondents about the state of Australian higher education.

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