Massification Meets the Knowledge Economy: Are They Compatible?

Monday, July 14, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Katie HUGHES , Victoria University, Melbourne MC, Australia
This paper begins by outlining the ‘education revolution’ policy direction of the recent Australian federal government, and the ways in which it envisaged meeting its goal of having a 40% of the population between 25 and 34 with a Bachelor’s degree by 2025, and ensuring that 20% of tertiary students came from LSES backgrounds. This is contrasted with the achievements of the UK government’s ‘Widening Participation’ strategy. It then discusses the institutional and policy challenges which broad social inclusion goals generate for the tertiary sector – challenges designed to fundamentally reshape universities forcing them to become partners in a national educational mission. 

It explores the discourses about ‘diversity’ and ‘social inclusion’ which have driven this policy development, and which presented as a moral imperative. It argues that they obscured a neoliberal impulse to increase the commercial orientation of the tertiary education sector where universities compete in a free market to provide clients (students) with products (qualifications) that meet a market niche - thereby meeting the needs of both the economy and the educational consumer.

The paper then examines the foundation of the arguments which employ both social and individual benefits of mass tertiary education, and discusses the impact of massification on universities themselves. What happens to elite institutions that traditionally catered for young, white, independent male students when they are required to accept ‘diverse’ students? Do the universities who welcome ‘diversity’ lose status? Are elite, conservative universities able to successfully resist equity policies? Should they?

Finally, the paper makes a judgment about the responsibility universities should have for the promotion of democratic benefits and social justice - and the likely success levels of government-led equity initiatives.