Flat White

Sydney University chooses to chase cash, not quality

13 March 2021

1:32 PM

13 March 2021

1:32 PM

There is an old and proven saying: Personnel is Policy. You hire the person best suited to implement your strategies and policies. People follow structure follows strategy is management and governance 101. 

If you are looking for someone to run a bank, you hire someone who understands banking. If you are looking to run a construction company, you hire someone who understands construction. If you are looking for someone to run a university, you hire someone who understands universities and education. But if you are looking for someone to run a government lobbying operation, you hire a professional logroller. 

Yesterday, to the surprise of many, but not this writer, the Senate of the University of Sydney, Australia’s oldest university, appointed Mark Scott AO to be its next Vice-Chancellor; effectively, the university’s Chief Executive Officer. 

Scott is leaving his job as the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, the largest employer in the Southern hemisphere. Before that, Scott was the managing director and managing editor of the ABC. For a measure of Scott’s achievements, have a look at Australia’s PISA scores and the current output from the national broadcaster. 

The Australian university business model has been proven broken and unsustainable. From a long identified over-reliance on foreign students to overpriced courses to terrible education outcomes to rubbish research to speech and culture problems to an exponential (and unjustified) growth in executive salaries and administrator positions.  Remember that it was the University of Sydney, under the “leadership” of Scott’s predecessor that erected the $64 million (budget, not actual) F23 building to house administrators. Not researchers. Not teachers. Not students. Administrations. 

Just consider not only the maintenance costs of a $64 million building, but the volume of administrator salaries necessary to populate a $64 million building. 

The coronavirus crisis did not break the university business model.  It just highlighted it. The universities are bleeding cash and academics. Bureaucratic administrators come and go, but you can’t run a university without academics. 

So, with reality hitting it in the face, what does the University of Sydney do? Does it look to adjust its strategy? Does it look to right size? Does it seek to change its business model? Nope. It hires someone who the SMH describes as someone who “may not have a PhD. But he knows how to talk to politicians”.

Great. More lobbying to extract more privilege and more tax subsidies to another failing industry. You’d the Sydney University was making cars or submarines. 

This appointment is an admission that the key strategic objective of the University of Sydney is not to educate Australian students, not to add to Australia’s human capital, but to feed and sustain University of Sydney administrators and executives. 

The Chancellor (chair) of the University of Sydney, Belinda Hutchinson, says: We need to get our message out better than we have done … {W]e have to take the community with us on what we do and why what we do is so important, 

The first refuge of the reality denier.  It’s not the product.  It’s the salesman.  So let’s just hire a better salesman to sell the rubbish product. 

Sorry Chancellor Hutchinson. It’s not the salesman. It’s the product. Putting a ribbon and cherry on top of bovine excrement won’t make it any more appealing.  No matter the message or messenger. 

No doubt the most profligate government in Australian history, the Morrison Liberal-National government will capitulate in due course. You know, a special education sector stimulus package now that JobKeeper is ending. Maybe they can call it AdministatorKeeper. 

Equallly, no doubt the Australian Labor Party will give its unqualified support in giving the University of Sydney with more privilege and other people’s money.  After all, the University is located smack bang in Tanya Plibersek’s electorate and a vast majority of the staff — executive, academic and administrative — live in Anthony Albanese’s electorate next door. Handily too, the campus is just a short stroll to the ABC headquarters in Ultimo.  All the better for appearing on the Drum and Q&A.  You know, as Hutchinson said: “to get our message out better than we have done”.

Australia. A country with great potential striving for mediocrity and led by clowns and grifters.

Stephen Spartacus writes at Sparty’s Cast.

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