d e a n   f o r b e s                                                               knowledge economy - universities - cities

MEDIA commentary 2009

“Ombudsman for international students: Senate Report” Campus Review, 30 November 2009.

University rankings a sore point”. The Advertiser, 2 November 2009.

International students don’t want English skills devalued”, The Advertiser, 1 September 2009.

Fix rorts - but don’t break the education-immigration nexusCampus Review, 17 August 2009.

International review will stick to ESOS issues: Baird“, Campus Review, 17 August 2009.

Comment on ASEAN’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, SBS Radio’s World View, 22 July 2009.

Call for revived Colombo Plan”, The Australian, 8 July 2009.

Unis fear drop in international student numbersABC News, 23 May 2009.

ASEAN challenged on rights rhetoric” Radio Australia Connect Asia, 3 March 2009.

Blog 2009                                                            scroll down to see more 2009 blogs














I have been lazing around with my family over the Christmas break, trying not to think about work.  But I have reflected on 2009, and a few things brought back particularly happy memories:

  1. Bullet The 45th anniversary of the launch of the Seaview Road Board Riders club

  2. Bullet A week in Rome, Trastevere to be precise, using up much shoe leather walking Roman streets

  3. Bullet Reading the daily Crikey commentary in the afternoon edition of The Independent Weekly’s on-line Indaily

And a few work-related:

  1. Bullet The successful launch of the Southern Knowledge Transfer Program

  2. Bullet The opening of Flinders University Victoria Square

  3. Bullet Getting through the first cut with our Education Infrastructure Fund submission

  4. Bullet Leading a group of seven DVC/PVCs through a series of events in the USA  (31/12/09)


I accepted a position on the Scientific Committee of the Third Knowledge Cities World Summit, which will be held in Melbourne from the 16-19th November 2010.  I missed the event in Shenzhen last month, due to a commitment at Nankai University, so I am looking forward to attending this third meeting.  It is being hosted by Victoria’s Office of Knowledge Capital.  (23/12/09)


The interim report of Bruce Baird’s Review of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000 has just been released.   Universities have responded positively, possibly because they are relieved that their darkest fears have not materialised.  (8/12/09)


My essay on the “Asian City” in the Sage Encyclopedia of Urban Studies was published last month (November 2009).  It is not easy trying to capture the essence of the Asian city (if there is indeed such a thing) in the small number of words I was permitted, but I enjoyed writing it. 

The Encyclopedia is edited by Ray Hutchison (University of Wisconsin Green Bay) and is available in hard copy and on-line, but only to subscribers.  (6/12/09)


John Ross’ article on “Ombudsman for international students: Senate report” is in this weeks Campus Review.  Some excerpts where he has quoted me are below.

An excerpt...“The report says “the current infrastructure” of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office “would be an appropriate avenue” to develop the new mechanism.

Deputy vice-chancellor (international) with Flinders University, Professor Dean Forbes, said the suggestion made sense. “We need international students to be heard when they have issues – and before they become major issues,” he said.

And another...“But Forbes said that while Senate committee reports were compiled with the best of intentions, there was “no immediate imperative” for governments to implement their recommendations.

He said the report was a useful addition to discussions about international education, but contained few surprises. “The real challenge is about getting more consistent standards enforced across Australia,” he said.

“Some institutions are not performing up to standard. That’s our real problem.”  (30/11/09)


A paper that I presented to a conference on University Relations in the Asia Pacific in Cairns is on the site: “International contracts and MOUs”. (19/11/09)


I have travelled to Tianjin in October or November each year since 2002 to take part in a presentation ceremony for the graduates of the Masters programs run jointly by Flinders University and Nankai University.

The initial discussions between the two universities commenced back in 1998 following a chance encounter between a Flinders and a Nankai staff member in Shenzhen, where both universities had programs at the China Development Institute. 

Agreement was reached in 1999, and the first cohort in the Master of Arts in International Relations, Economy and Trade commenced in 2000.  A second Masters program in Hospital Administration was launched in early 2003.  The programs are taught in Tianjin, with additional cohorts in several cities in China.  Prior to today’s ceremony, about 1,500 students have graduated from the program; another 130 will graduate today.

The International Department of China’s Ministry of Education has recently rated the Flinders-Nankai programs in the top 10 of the 600 joint programs offered in China. 

While the joint programs have helped forge close links between staff in the two universities, attention is now focusing on building additional forms of collaboration.  On Sunday, a Conference on the Global Financial Crisis and the Economic Development of China and Australia will be held at Nankai.  (7/11/09)


The 2009 Academic Ranking of World Universities has been released and is attracting attention.  My comment in The Advertiser is contained in the article University rankings a sore point.  (2/1/09)


The international promotion of Australia’s education will shift to Austrade, the government has decided.  A meeting of DVCs International in Canberra was told by AEI staff this afternoon that the government has responded to the recommendation in the Bradley Report and will shift the marketing budget (simultaneously cutting it back) from AEI to Austrade.  This is a significant change, and not without risk. 

It was also done without consulting the sector.  A colleague called the decision a bombshell.  The upside is that it creates an opportunity to re-think the way that Australian education is marketed internationally.  (2/11/09)


The IEAA-EAIE Symposium on Advancing Australia-Europe Engagement  attracted about 80 participants, of whom 22 were from Europe.  A broad range of issues were covered in a day and a half, ranging from an overview of European studies in Australia, and Australian studies in Europe, to research and government links, double and joint degrees, and university policy reforms.

The small group discussions which centred around three themes generated very positive responses.  The themes were leadership in international education; engaging academic staff in international education; and the nature of international university networks.

As rapporteur, I pulled together what I thought some of the most important strands of the discussion, and identified some priorities that could usefully be addressed by the IEAA and the EAIE.  These were: the benefits of a regular strategic dialogue about common interests; the opportunity to jointly identify leadership skill sets; further analysis of international university networks; sharing information useful in putting to the respective governments; investigating the environmental consequences of increasing levels of the international mobility of students and staff; and a final half suggestion to establish a European Special Interest Group within the IEAA.  Click here for my Rapporteur’s report for the meeting.  (13/10/09)


Frankfurt: The first stopover, arriving on a Qantas flight from Singapore.  The morning at the rapidly expanding Westend campus of the Goethe University of Frankfurt, a short walk from the centrum.  Goethe is best known for the Frankfurt School of sociologists and philosophers.  It is a comprehensive university and the principal public, autonomous university in Frankfurt. 

Salamanca: A two hour drive from Madrid, across very dry countryside that looked much like southern Australia during the drought.  Met with colleagues from James Madison University who manage a study centre in conjunction with the University of Salamanca, which claims to be one of the oldest universities in Europe.  Three cohorts of American students each year spend up to a full semester immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment, but studying in classes by themselves.  The old centre of Salamanca is impressive, as are the tapas bars which the JMU staff seem to know very well.

Madrid: Attended the European Association for International Education (EAIE) Conference and exhibition.  Over 3,600 participants joined the event at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos.  The EAIE event has become more professional each year, for the first time not being held on university premises.  While there is still much emphasis on student mobility and other traditional aspects of international education, there is a rapidly growing sense that many universities are using the event to improve their global positioning and identify and enhance commercial activities.  Met many European partner universities and agents, along with a smattering from the US and Asia.  The absence of any strong representation by Chinese universities was often remarked on.  Despite numerous cases of participants being pick-pocketed on the Metro, and having bags stolen at the event, Madrid proved a great choice for those who opted for an inner city hotel.  The nightlife in Madrid was extraordinary.  Took the opportunity to compare the tapas bars of Madrid with those of Salamanaca.  It was a draw.

Milan: The annual Council meeting of the International Network of Universities (INU).  It was held at Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (aka the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart), which has five campuses throughout Italy, but its  stately main campus is located in central Milan.  Eight universities attended the meeting, chaired by the President of Malmo University.  The INU’s Research Steering Group and the International Officer’s Special Interest Group also held meetings.  The INU is very active in promoting student and staff mobility, running an annual global citizenship and peace program in Hiroshima, facilitating the development of double and joint degrees, and a range of other functions.

Rome: Morning visit to Universita Roma Tre in the south.  Flinders has been a partner with them in a joint European Union-Australian Government funded program since 2006, resulting in good numbers of students travelling in both directions.  We have joined up again in a bid for a new round of funding.  The afternoon was at Universita Roma La Sapienza, the first public university in Rome, being established in the 14th Century.  Formal links between Flinders and La Sapienza span the last decade, and include student mobility, research links centred on Italian migration, archeology and medicine.  Met with staff from a range of areas who are keen to identify some specific areas of links with Flinders.  (27/9/09)


This segment summarises my comments to The Advertiser in response to a submission to the Senate Inquiry into International Education. 

“EducationNow has been told by Flinders University lecturers that failing international students because of poor language skills was difficult because this resulted in protracted complaints from family members who paid their fees.

However, Flinders University deputy vice-chancellor (international) Professor Dean Forbes said he had never experienced any such pressure in 19 years of teaching there. 

‘The English language capability of all students is an issue and it is being dealt with’, he said.

‘The submission does not specify the evidence (that standards were relaxed) and only cites an un-named human resource manager (as evidence employers don’t favour graduates of Australian students).’

Professor Forbes said all universities found examples of forged results in English tests which ‘rapidly’ showed up when students had to complete class work.”  (1/9/09)


I recently received invitations to join two Linked-in discussion groups.  One is the EAIE Marketing & Recruitment group, and the other is the Informa Higher Education Series.  I had come across Linked-in before, but this motivated me to find out more.  The networking facilities, based around a professional bio page, enable you to track down former work mates, alumni etc, and provide a kind of summary CV.  It doubles as a job advertisement, together with space for recommendations from colleagues.  Don’t know if it works, but it looks sound.

The discussion groups do what discussion groups do.  I haven’t spent much time looking at them yet.  Nor do I know whether I will be able to keep up them.  I am already struggling to keep tabs on other new things on the web.

A negative: the overall site is slow to navigate.  Perhaps it’s because it’s Sunday and there are others, like me, who pass a wet and windy afternoon exploring the web and catching up on old emails.  (30/8/09)


Extract from article titled “Fix rorts - but don’t break the education-immigration nexus

Immigration may be at the heart of the allegations of corruption and exploitation that have rocked international education in Australia. But while the shonky operators need to be closed down, Australia must make sure it doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, according to the deputy vice-chancellor (international) at Flinders University, Professor Dean Forbes. "It would be a pity if the argument shifted to one that totally broke the nexus between education and immigration," Forbes said. "We might redefine the link between education and immigration, but we don't want to lose it...(17/8/09)


Extract from article titled ‘International review will stick to ESOS issues”:

Professor Dean Forbes, deputy vice-chancellor (international) at
Flinders University, welcomed the (ESOS) review. But he said it shouldn’t delay
obvious and urgent reforms. “People have used this crisis as an
opportunity to express a whole range of views on international students
– sometimes enlightening, but sometimes obfuscating the real issues,” he
told CR.

“It’s pretty clear where tightening up needs to occur - it’s in the
private VET sector. We know there are weaknesses around the information
provided to students, particularly from agents. And we know our
regulatory frameworks are okay but their implementation varies state by

“We went through an exhaustive review of the ESOS Act a few years ago
and we only started implementing those changes in the middle of 2007. It
tied up a lot of resources and we don’t need to go over a lot of that
ground again. We just need to focus on key areas. If that happens – and
if we can avoid some of the hyperbole that’s marked some of this debate
– it could be a good outcome.”

Forbes criticised the inclusion of sustainability in the terms of
reference. “If institutions weren’t looking at sustainable approaches to
international education already, they certainly should be now – but I’m
not sure how you legislate for that. Sustainability is a major issue,
but it’s something for broader analysis and debate. I’m not sure how
governments can contribute other than drawing attention to it and
providing for those kinds of debates.”  (17/8/09)


Another day, another review.  A few months back Julia Gillard announced a review of the ESOS legislation next year.  The current environment has forced her to bring it forward.  The Terms of Reference for the review of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act and associated regulatory and legislative frameworks has been released.  The review will be undertaken by former NSW politician Bruce Baird; with significant help from a secretariat, I expect.  An interim report is due in November.

Specific systemic problems with ESOS need to be addressed.  In particular, the implementation and enforcement  of the provisions connected to the quality of education providers, especially in the VET sector, and the range of services they provide, or don’t provide.

The Australian Senate’s Inquiry into the Welfare of International Students is also underway.  It is being conducted by the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee, and it’s also scheduled to report in November.  Some 42 submissions had been received by the deadline last Friday, including a   Submission from the International Education Association of Australia.  The Senate Committee will add another voice to the current discourse, though I am sceptical that it will have much influence.  (16/8/09)


I met Scott Jaschik and a handful of his youthful colleagues at the online publication  Inside Higher Ed in Washington last month.  Since then I have been receiving the daily online summary, and now find that I am regularly following up on postings, and dipping into the blogs.  It’s well worth a look, even if you are not that into North American university matters.  (9/8/09)


The IEAA-EAIE Symposium on Advancing Australia-Europe Engagement will be held in Sydney on the 11-12th of October.  Higher education is increasingly international.  The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) and the European association for International Education (EAIE) are initiating a dialogue, commencing in Australia, ‘to extend, deepen and advance the engagement of Australian and European universities and vocational education and training institutions in a range of priority areas of international education’.  (8/8/09)


I have taken the plunge and opened an account on twitter.  Slowly I am beginning to understand how it works, and what use it is to me.  My initial curiosity was in the tweets from universities, the AEI and the British Council.  Each mainly uses it to post information.  K Rudd and M Rann tweet, the latter with a passion.  Tweets on the Iranian election, and the street demonstrations which have followed it, have been interesting.  Finally there are a bunch of people, many with a significant following, who blather on about anything and everything.  Sometimes they are informative, and occasionally amusing.  (2/8/09)


SBS Ethnic Radio (Melbourne)

World View - 22/07/2009 6:17 AM

Attila Mosonyi

Executive Producer Mr Andrew Kruger

The grouping of Southeast Asian nations this week has endorsed the terms of reference for the region's first human rights watchdog. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights will be officially launched in October. Human rights activists have criticised the mandate of the new body, saying it has created a toothless tiger. Prof Dean Forbes, SE Asia specialist at Flinders University, says he understands the criticisms, but says ASEAN is trying to bring a consensus around key regional issues. These human rights issues cannot be addressed overnight and change will be slow, according to Forbes.
Interviewees: Prof Dean Forbes, Southeast Asian specialist, Flinders University
Duration: 4.23


A group of colleagues from seven Australian universities have been in the US for talks on international education programs.  It is the first time such an event has been organised, at least in the last 10 years or so.  John Hayton, the Education Counsellor at the Australian Embassy  in Washington arranged the visit, organised an excellent itinerary, and travelled with us.

In Washington the focus was on the national institutions, including the American  Council on Education, the new National Center for Capacity Building in Study Abroad, NAFSA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Science Foundation and The National Academies.  We also talked with media such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and the online daily Inside Higher Ed.  There is such an impressive concentration of peak bodies and other kinds of associations in DC, and a lot of them are in the DuPont Circle area.

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities’ Commission on International Programs was meeting in Colorado Springs.  We took the opportunity to talk about things we are doing in Australia.  The public and land grant universities are active internationally, and have some high quality programs oriented towards international development, enabling us to benchmark and learn. US AID provides much more direct support for the universities international project than does AusAID.  About 120 senior international officers were at the meeting, making for a fascinating range of papers and contributions.


An afternoon at the exceptional  Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado Denver, and a whole day at the HQ of the Californian State University (CSU) in Long Beach rounded out the trip.   California’s budget problems are going to hit the CSU (and the University of California network) particularly hard, and that means reducing the wages bill. 

My travelling colleagues scattered in different directions today.  They were from the University of Queensland, Southern Cross University, University Technology Sydney, Deakin University, Swinburne University of Technology, and the University of Tasmania. Over a dinner of pizza and pinot grigio last night we debriefed and agreed that it had been a successful trip.  (17/7/09)


Here is a link to my Plenary address on “The international student experience in Australia” presented to the Australian Universities Quality Forum in Alice Springs.  Guy Healy wrote a piece on a proposal for a more focused scholarships strategy, and quoted me on the international student experience, based on the AUQF paper.  (9/7/09)


Unrest among Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney has continued in fits and starts for almost two weeks.  International students have some legitimate grievances, and these need to be addressed.  Australian cities are safe places to live and work, but sometimes students gravitate to accommodation in riskier low-rent suburbs, and travel late at night to get to and from part-time jobs. 

It is also the case that the influx of students, particularly from India, into vocational education and training programs in Melbourne and Sydney, has increased rapidly.  Too many of these students are unhappy with their courses and uncertain about their prospects in Australia.  

Concerns about the ongoing protests, and the almost hysterical coverage in the Indian press, was a key point of discussion at the DVC’s International meeting in Canberra last week.  The Universities Australia Action Plan for Student Safety  is a response to the situation, identifying some areas of the international student experience that must be addressed.  (13/6/09)


It was my first ever visit to Latin America south of the Equator.  I travelled with  five colleagues from Flinders University - Faith Trent, Nico Voelcker, Jim Mitchell, Sergio Holas and Matt Taverner, who, with Sergio, organised the itinerary.  Sergio was born in Chile, and Matt, Nico and Jim all speak Spanish, which made it easy for me.  I did make an effort, though, referring to my Spanish Visual Phrase Book and listening to the pronunciation on an i-phone.   After a day-or two I could get the drift of the conversations, but floundered when I was by myself.

Although it was late autumn Santiago was warm and sunny.  We had arranged visits to various offices, including the Council of Rectors of Universities in Chile, and to the three top universities where we explored potential areas of research and other collaboration.  We already have a student exchange agreement with Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.  I had a whole day ambling around inner Santiago following a Lonely Planet trail,  stopping for coffee and food in various cafes along the route.  Just about all of our travel around Santiago was on the subway, which is fast, cheap and efficient.  And many stations are decorated with contemporary art.

From Santiago we travelled by bus to the adjacent coastal cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.   We spent a day at Universidad de Valparaiso: the video record of the meeting can be viewed here.  We also had good discussions with the staff at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso (click here).  A meeting with two maritime archeologists with links to Flinders colleagues led to a morning in the bay looking at the sites and the spectacular views of Valparaiso from the sea.  We also saw the location where the archeologists are currently working, which is 40 or so metres below the surface, and underneath a giant container ship that was being loaded.  The archeologists have to get an assurance from the ship’s captain that they won’t start the engines while they are below them.

Talca was the next stop.   We travelled from Santiago’s small central station on a comfortable train with its own wi-fi facility, arriving in Talca in the late afternoon in the drizzle.  Flinders has a student exchange agreement with the Universidad de Talca, and the President visited Adelaide in November last year.  Talca is a small city but attracts students from the surrounding Maule Region and other parts of Chile.  We met with three students from Adelaide who told us how much they liked the friendliness of the locals and their preference for living in Talca rather than Santiago.

Concepcion was the final city that I visited, and it was a surprise.  It was bigger and more prosperous than I expected, and extraordinarily vibrant.  In the afternoon and well into the evening the central city was very busy, with people sitting and wandering around the central plaza, but also crowding the streets and shops across the malls and shopping streets.  Concepcion is also a student city, attracting young people from its rural hinterland in the Biobio Region.  The Universidad de Concepcion is large by Chilean standards, and has some impressive areas of specialisation and is seeking to strengthen its alumni connections.  It is also interested in the Asian Pacific region.

One or two colleagues also managed to squeeze in visits to universities in Valdivia in the south, and Arica in the far north, to round out the trip.

I leave Chile with warm feelings about the cities and the people.  Australia and Chile share many similarities, such as size and relatively remote location, but also significant differences, and it is this particular combination that makes it an interesting destination.  I am fairly sure that the university links between Australia and Chile will grow.  Young Chileans are starting to express an interest in coming to Australia either as students or as working visitors, and that, as much as the prospects of a free-trade agreement, or common membership of APEC, will fuel the building of the trans-Pacific links.   (7/5/09)  


Access Economic report on The Australian Education Sector and the Economic Contribution of International Students provides some new, and slightly different, figures on the economic impact of international students: $14.1 billion in expenditure in 2007-08, and $12.6 billion in value-added expenditure.  It equates to over 126,000 jobs, and just over 1% of Australia’s GDP.  (13/4/09)


I have recently accepted a position on the International Advisory and Review Board of a new publication called the International Journal of Knowledge-Based Development.  The Editors are Prof Javier Carrillo of Monterey Technical University in Mexico, Dr Kostas Metaxiotas of the University of Piraeus in Greece, and Dr Tan Yigitcanlar from the Queensland University of Technology.  They are also responsible for the 2nd Knowledge Cities Summit, which will be held in Shenzhen in China from the 5-7th of November 2009.  (10/4/09)


The term knowledge city, and variations of it, is attracting increased attention. Since the 1990s Lester Thurow, Robert Reich, and others, have argued the international competitiveness of countries increasingly depends on the capacity to enhance the knowledge intensive sectors of the economy.  Consequently many cities and urban regions target knowledge industries, and the research, technology, intellectual property, education, and urban amenity features of the city.  Some identify themselves as knowledge cities.   Read more in the paper on “Australia’s knowledge cities: work in progress”.  (25/3/09)


If this was 1999, not 2009, you would probably be puzzled by the title of my talk.  Why, with the world experiencing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, would anyone be interested in hearing about international education? In 2009 things are different.  Read more in the paper on “The impact of China’s weakening economy on Australia’s international education sector”. (11/3/09)


‘The ASEAN leaders summit wrapped up in Thailand over the weekend.

And while ASEAN has always stood by the principle of non interference in each other's internal affairs, it will have a human rights body in place by October. It's a first move, ASEAN leaders for the first time had a 30 minute meeting with civil society representatives at the ASEAN summit. But is ASEAN ready to translate rhetoric into action?’

Presenter: Kanaha Sabapathy
Speakers: Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister, Thailand; Debbie Stothard, Alternative ASEAN Network; Professor Dean Forbes deputy vice chancellor International at Flinders University; Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political scientist, Chulalongkorn University.  Updated March 3, 2009


When I first heard Leonard Cohen’s album The Songs of Leonard Cohen (CBS Records, 1966) in Port Moresby in 1972 I couldn’t believe I had not heard of him before.  I loved his music from the first track.  It fitted snugly into the cosmopolitan, almost bohemian environment of the community that resided on the campus of the University of Papua New Guinea. 

I went on to collect several Cohen albums and then CDs.  In recent years his was the first music I downloaded onto my iPod, and more recently my iPhone.  So when it was announced that he was performing at Leconsfield winery in McLaren Vale on Australia Day 2009 there was no way I would miss it. 

The concert started in the late afternoon.  It was in the mid-30s, the beginning of Adelaide’s most severe heat-wave on record.  The temperature exceeded 40 degrees for six consecutive days.  The performance started inauspiciously with some tetchy, then hostile, interchanges with the extended family that pushed in and plonked on the grass in front of us.

Paul Kelly was a great prequel, but there was no question the significant crowd was there to see Leonard Cohen.  He made his appearance around 7.30.  The sun was still shining and it was hot.  He was dressed in grey and black, with a waist-coat in deference to the heat. After a short intermission and several encores he finally left the stage around three hours later.

The music was sublime.  He sang all his best songs, and thanked the audience for helping to keep his music alive.  Cohen was stunning, the quintessential showman.  He was also polite, poetic, and possessed of extraordinary stamina.  He skipped off the stage when he needed a break.

It was a once in a lifetime event for me and a fair number of others in the audience.  (21/2/09)


It is a battle to position social sciences in the modern university.  The academics in health, sciences and technology have voracious appetites for resources, and appear to offer the best chance for a more prosperous future in a knowledge-hungry world.

The modern social sciences were constructed in 19th century universities.  Growth was spasmodic until the golden years in the 1960s.  The ‘massification’ of higher education was a factor.  The expansion of the social sciences went hand-in-hand with the expansion of established universities and the creation of new universities. Social sciences disciplines were relatively inexpensive to run, and many were not orientated to narrow professions, so the disciplines grew in parallel with the universities.  Increasing staff numbers resulted in an expansion of research output.

From the 1960s through to the 1980s growth was relatively even across the social science disciplines. But changes accelerated in the course of the 1990s.  The proliferation of cross-disciplinary areas of study saw the blurring of the distinction between the humanities and social sciences.  The methodologies, theories and issues that social scientists focused on converged. Some disciplines within the social sciences started to lose ground. Economics, history, geography, anthropology and a few others seemed to stall, losing their appeal to students.  In contrast, commerce and psychology, and a few others strengthened.

There were several reasons.  First, the social sciences fragmented into numerous administrative units, many of which became unsustainable.  Second, growing numbers of fee-paying students placed more focus on programs that could provide graduates with job skills.  Third, many university departments had become complacent, and were slow to respond to the need to make programs attractive and sell them to potential students.  Fourth, public interest in the social sciences lost ground.  Non-fiction areas in bookshops became increasingly dominated by business and self-improvement.  It signalled a decline in the public appetite for social, political and economic analysis. 

Antagonism to large parts of the social sciences grew in the universities.  They increasingly appeared to be a residual, making a significant contribution to undergraduate education, but of lesser status than the flagships of science, health and technology. 

We social scientists have brought this on ourselves, I believe.  The social sciences too often resemble a 19th Century craft guild, holding out against a better organised, better funded, and more professional approach within the health sciences and, to a lesser extent, within the natural sciences.  We need to discard our cardigans.  (1/2/09)

What’s required?  For a start, social scientists need to be less defensive and more confident.  Confident enough of past achievements to focus on the future and paint a picture of how the social sciences will go about making a significant contribution to universities over the next 20 years.  Confident enough to recognize that their success will depend on how vigorously they are able to continuously restructure the social sciences and keep pace with societal needs.

Social scientists focus on big objects: society, politics, economy, history, geography, the environment. They have in common a primary concern with human behaviour.  It is the essence of social science, and also its strongest element.  Interpreting, explaining, even predicting, human behaviour is where social scientists need to make an impact, and a long-lasting difference.

A core challenge for social sciences in the universities is getting students into programs and providing them with the kind of educational experience that makes them want to see it through to completion.  Prospective students expect an education that makes them knowledgeable and articulate, but they also want to know that when they graduate they will get jobs and better incomes.  Demand for the generalist degrees, such as the Bachelor of Arts, is weakening.  Social scientists can turn this around if they can introduce new elements into generalist degrees.  These could include innovative work-integrated-learning opportunities, the incorporation of an international education experience in their courses, or more imaginative pedagogies.

The research output of the social sciences will be judged by relevance and impact.  While many academics believe in Keynes’ proposition that ideas hatched in universities ultimately seed most policy changes, sometimes it’s hard to see the connection. Among the social scientists the economists have probably had the most direct impact on policy issues and debates in Australia.  Financial and economic policies are always in the news, hence the visibility. 

However influencing public policy is not the only, or even the primary measure of relevance and impact.  Impact can include blue sky thinking about the future, as well as grass roots support for disadvantaged individuals.  The point is that social scientists need to be clear about their impact, and not take it for granted.  That means looking critically at what we do, both in terms of the research we undertake, and the way we organize ourselves to achieve these objectives.

This brings me to my final point.  The organizational structures through which the social sciences are managed in universities must fit the social sciences agendas of the 21st Century.  Academics fully committed to teaching, research, and their other key tasks work long hours.  The collegial model of decision-making takes too much time to sustain.   Social science faculties need to group in large administrative units where economies of scale can be achieved.  By contrast, academic work should be organized through flexible teaching groups and research groups.

It will be tough to get the right balance between administrative efficiency and academic productivity.  To optimize and focus the intellectual firepower of academics who have built their careers around individual research agendas.  To persuade our colleagues that reforms are needed to strengthen the impact of the social sciences and secure a place at the centre of the universities of the future.  (14/2/09)


It is rare that Australian universities’ international education activities get commended, expect perhaps with a wry acknowledgement of good marketing.  So I was drawn immediately to the report by million+, a group supported by 28 UK universities, saying that the British universities had something to learn from Australia.

The million+ report is titled Universities and International Higher Education Partnerships: Making a Difference.  In Section 6 of the report it compares the UK with Australia and the US, and has some very positive comments to make about the way the government’s Australian Education International (AEI) and the universities manage international higher education partnerships.

It particularly acknowledges Universities Australia collection of information on university partnerships, and the Transnational Education Quality Strategy, in particular the new AusLIST.  The latter is a useful initiative.  Australian universities are able to put information on their transnational programs onto the AusLIST website, subject to an AEI check of the bona fides of the program (eg host country government approval etc) before listing.  It is voluntary for a university to do so.  (8/2/09)


Despite its reliance on key mineral exports, Australia is increasingly a knowledge-based economy.  Knowledge based industries are responsible for half GDP and one third of the workforce could reasonably be labelled knowledge workers.

Since the 1990s economists Lester Thurow and Robert Reich have argued that international competitiveness of countries such as the USA increasingly depends on the capacity to enhance the knowledge intensive sectors of the economy.  Some cities and urban regions target knowledge industries, and research, technology, intellectual property, education, and urban amenity features of the city.  They are called, or identify themselves as, knowledge cities. 

Boston is often cited as a key global knowledge city, though there is only one mention of the term on the City of Boston’s website, and that refers to a Dutch initiative.  It is the concentration of prestigious universities such as Harvard and MIT that is most mentioned in references to Boston.

The major Australian cities aspire to building their knowledge economies and the strategies have much in common.  However, the terminology varies.  The Committee for Melbourne’s Higher Education Taskforce seeks to brand Melbourne a ‘global university city’ while a futuremelbourne wiki wants the Melbourne City Council and Victorian government to be ‘Australia’s knowledge capital and world leading knowledge city’.

Adelaide, in contrast, has branded itself an ‘education city’ for the purposes of increasing international students, and as a ‘university city’ where the main focus is to attract foreign universities to establish campuses. Perth Education City tagline is focused on international students.  Government investment in research in Brisbane nestles under Queensland’s ‘smart state’ tagline.

Australia’s remoteness from major world centres, small and scattered population, and a tendency to overlook intellectual achievement (and dismissal of the ’chattering classes’) are hurdles to be overcome in building knowledge cities.  Yet the effort to incorporate more focused knowledge-related initiatives into city strategies, the competition between cities to position themselves in the knowledge economy, and the consistent growth in interest from foreign students in studying in Australia are positive signs.  (26/1/09)


The global financial crisis of 2008 has morphed into serious recessions across all the major economies.  There is plenty of talk about how it might impact on international demand for education. 

On the one hand the optimistic view has it that international student demand is counter-cyclical because it is not discretionary investment, but family investment for the future.  Hence the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98 had little impact.  Long-term graphs of total numbers of international higher education students show steady, resilient growth.

On the other hand there is concern that the crisis is unprecedented, almost leading to the total disintegration of the global financial system.  It is far bigger than anyone had imagined could happen, and we are nowhere near the end. It will, therefore, inevitably impact on all economic activity, even international student demand.  

Judging by what I see at Flinders University, and corroborated by what I hear from other Australian universities, applications and offers are above levels at the same time in 2008. Acceptances and enrolments are off a smaller base, at this point, but the indicators are encouraging.  Nor are there any particular signs that existing students are not going to be able to afford to continue, except where it has been due to particular occurrences, such as the Sichuan earthquake. 

But it is too early to call 2009 trends with any confidence.

What are the key factors likely to shape demand for the rest of the year?  The Australian dollar has declined against the US dollar, improving competitiveness against the major competitor, though the Aussie has strengthened against the British pound, making it more expensive than our second biggest competitor.    

The health of the economies from where the majority of students come is important.  Growth rates in China have declined, with unemployment on the increase.  The Chinese economy appears to be well managed, but I still think it is less robust than many in the west believe.  Many other economies, including India, Korea and Japan, are experiencing difficulties. 

Optimists think economies will begin to turn around in the second half of 2009.  I hope they are right.  (18/1/09)


The international student experience in Australia has come in for increased attention.  Within the universities the expression refers to the total student experience; their learning and other activities at university, and their life within the community. 

Universities know they must address the students needs while at the university, and generally deliver effectively on their responsibilities, but some gaps remain.  Ensuring students enjoy and benefit from living in an Australian city or town requires help from the community and other agencies.  The main disappointments international students identify is that they don’t get to to know many Australian students and they don’t get to meet many local people.

When Education Adelaide’s (it goes under the Study Adelaide brand) strategic direction were revamped in 2004, building and sustaining support within the community was made one of the three main goals of the organisation, and it has subsequently taken this role seriously.  It complements the activities that the universities are able to provide.  Together, though, there are limits to the number of students who are helped, and the kinds of support they can get.

The Victorian state government has recently released a report by the Overseas Student Experience Taskforce.  It was prompted by concerns about the wellbeing of international students in Victoria, following some worrying incidents.  The Taskforce was established in September 2008 and delivered its Report in December.

It focuses on five key areas for international students: accommodation, employment, safety, social inclusion and access to information.  It argues that most students are satisfied with their experiences in Melbourne, but the recent rapid growth of international student numbers in the city has exposed some areas that require special attention and the report sets out recommendations to deal with them.

While there are many improvements that can be made in areas of consumer protection, personal safety and better opportunities for part-time work, enhancing social inclusion in cities will take more time, and a skilled, but light, touch of social engineering.   (10/1/09)


As university staff drift back to work after the New Year break, discussion about the Bradley Report (the Review of Australian Higher Education) will start in ernest.

The Report adopts the third wave (phase) model and supports the need to change Australian higher education in this direction.   Five key areas are addressed in the international chapter of the Report: international students and exports; skill needs and growth within Australia; the development of a global workforce;  international collaborations between universities; and international alumni and  the education needs of countries.  The Report's recommendations focus mainly on just two areas: an institutional restructuring of the role of Australian Education International (AEI), and a significant increase in scholarships.

It is recommended that AEI's regulatory functions  be transferred to a new independent regulatory body (R 11).  It is also recommended that AEI’s marketing and development role is transferred to another new independent agency (R 12).  AEI would be left with a narrower set of responsibilities including representation of Australian education internationally, qualification recognition and trade issues.

Other recommendations include an additional 1,000 government tuition-subsidy scholarships per year for international higher degree students (R 13), a proposal that universities match them with living subsidy scholarships (R14), and that there be a uniform approach to school fee waivers for the children of international higher degree research students (R 15).  A related recommendation is to reduce the extraordinary charge on Australian students wanting to take out a loan for a period of study overseas (R 37).

The tone of the Bradley Report's international education chapter is very supportive of international education, and strongly endorses the view that the government provide greater funding of universities and allow the universities to invest more of their international education income in activities designed to build better and more sustainable connections to the global knowledge economy.  It is unlikely that the international recommendations will get much air time, given some of the other matters raised in the Report.  It will be up to the universities to see that the international agenda doesn't get sidelined.  (6/1/09)


The Mumbai slums in Slumdog Millionaire (Dir Danny Boyle 2008) are gruesome places with few apparent redeeming qualities. The three key characters in the film, Jamal, Salim and Latika begin the film as children in the sprawling slum in Mumbai’s affluent beachside suburb of Juhu.  The overcrowding, the grinding work of the inhabitants, the atrocious physical infrastructure, and the out and out poverty of the inhabitants swamp any sense of community, or the hope and laughter which screenwriter Simon Beaufoy was trying to establish. 

When the slum is invaded by anti-Muslim thugs, and Jamal and Salim’s mother killed, the children and their friend, Latika, are forced to fend for themselves.  No adults step in to help them, underlining the absence of social support structures.  The children are rounded up by thugs from an ‘orphanage’ and taken to a new home where they are groomed for lives as beggars on the streets of Mumbai.  The failure to bring out more strongly the supportive social fabric that exists within slums fosters the crude view that poverty goes together with social breakdown, criminal behaviour and violence.  These exist in slums, of course (read Suketu Mehta’s brilliant Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Review, London, 2004), but slum residents also rise above the conditions they endure in slums.

The film is confronting at times as Jamal makes his way through childhood and teenage years, before making it onto the television gameshow Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who Wants to be a Millionaire).  Mumbai, the long-distance trains, the Taj Mahal and other parts of India are shown in gritty detail, as the brothers eke out a living on the streets.  The film has won numerous commendations from critics.  The last film I recall set in an Indian slum was City of Joy (Dir Roland Joffe 1992) and it was Kolkata; Slumdog Millionaire is a much better film. (4/1/09)     


I have been thinking about what appear to be the big global questions for the New Year. 

Three immediately come to mind.  Will the desparate Keynesian responses by western governments avert an L-shaped global recession?  And is there any chance Australia will be less severely affected?  Who will prevail in the ‘warmists’ v the skeptics debates over climate change?  While the bulk of the scientific community seem fearful of the long-term problems associated with climate change, newspapers seem increasingly to support the skeptics.  Finally, will the Obama government be able to live up to global expectations and restore credibility to US foreign policy? 

On a more local note, I will be taking a keen interest in how the global economic situation is affecting international students.  In December the impact seemed muted, but that may have changed.  Just how resilient is Asian family investment in higher education?  A second thread will be to think about how the Review of Australian Higher Education (Bradley Report) recommendations might affect international education in general, and specifically, how Flinders University might cope with some of the significant recommendations such as the introduction of a voucher system.  Third, I am keen to get started on the Southern Knowledge Transfer Partnerships program that received support from the Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund.  The program will provide an important additional layer of engagement by the Flinders community with Adelaide’s southern suburbs.  (1/1/09)


  1. Bullet2009 in hindsight

  2. Bullet Knowledge cities 2010

  3. Bullet Baird’s interim report

  4. Bullet The Asian city

  5. Bullet Senate report on international students

  6. Bullet University relations in the Asia Pacific

  7. Bullet China graduates

  8. Bullet University rankings

  9. Bullet Promoting higher ed internationally

  10. Bullet Australia-Europe higher ed links

  11. Bullet Europe in 2009

  12. Bullet Students’ english skills

  13. Bullet Linked-in

  14. Bullet Fix rorts - but...

  15. Bullet Comments in the campus review

  16. Bullet Reviews and inquiries

  17. BulletHigher ed online

  18. Bullet Australia Europe dialogue

  19. Bullet Tweets on twitter

  20. Bullet Human rights

  21. Bullet The US in summertime

  22. Bullet The international student experience

  23. Bullet International student unrest

  24. Bullet Visiting Chile

  25. Bullet The impact of international students

  26. Bullet Knowledge-based development

  27. Bullet Australia’s knowledge cities

  28. Bullet More on the financial crisis

  29. Bullet ASEAN challenged

  30. Bullet Listening to Cohen

  31. Bullet Where to for the social sciences

  32. Bullet International education partnerships

  33. Bullet Knowledge cities

  34. Bullet The economy

  35. Bullet The international student experience

  36. Bullet Bradley on international education

  37. Bullet Slumdog Millionaire

  38. Bullet 2009: the opening blog