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

Blog 2013                                                               scroll down to see more 2013 blogs


While reading the end-of year best books of 2013 list in The Oz I realized I hadn’t read as many books as I thought I would this year. The reason is that this year I have done more reading online, but mainly not books for pleasure.

During our stay in DC I read Blair Ruble’s Washington’s U Street: A Bibliography (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington, 2010). I had looked at excerpts from the book in the past, but it had more meaning when U St was a 10 minute walk from our house in Shaw/Dupont. Blair’s interest in jazz and cities led him to U St, and he skillfully captures the complexity and character of the area, both in the past and the present.

Also while in DC l read, initially because I thought I needed to, Jonathan Cole’s The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why it Must be Protected (Public Affairs, New York, 2009). It was a long, rewarding  read, convincing me once and for all that the major research universities are almost as good as their inflated sense of importance would suggest.

Finally, I started the year with Brian Stoddart’s exceptionally readable and, as it turns out, timely book, A House in Damascus (ePublishing Works, Shrewsbury PA, 2012). It was the subject of my second blog of 2013. Regrettably, the situation in Damascus has become even more dire than in January this year. And, quite possibly, pointless. (26/12/13)


A new cluster of small, funky businesses is emerging in Long Jetty, along the Central Coast Highway between Pacific St and Toowoon Bay Rd. They are a much needed niche addition to place-making.

Too much of the Central Coast is bland housing, small retailers, big clubs and large shopping centres. There are many street side small retail and trades enterprises, and some are clustered, notably in the Tuggerah Business Park on the Wyong Rd. A significant slice of the workforce have jobs in Sydney and commute daily.

The whole region is connected by over-crowded and poorly maintained roads. Pedestrian traffic is minimal, except along the beach and along a few bikeways. About half the Central Coast is national park. Together with the ocean beaches and lakes, the national park areas are the most significant contributor to the quality of life in the region.

The population of the Central Coast - Wyong Shire and Gosford - is around 320,000, making it the 9th largest urban area in Australia. More effort is needed to improve the infrastructure, and more thought directed towards place-making. Most of what there is is focused on the coastal strip and, to a lesser extent, the main shopping streets. 

The first time I started to think of the Central Coast Highway as something other than an arterial blight on the landscape was when The Glass Onion Society café opened earlier this year. There were already places like Webster’s Vintage nearby, but little sense of a cluster.

Now there are a number of small shops with a grungy feel. The Glass Onion Society Café; Octopus’ Garden, located in an A-frame and an interesting mixture; Café Sora; Long Road Home Designs; Made in Hemp. Many shops sell recycled: Beautiful Garbage; Dapper Darlings Vintage; Webster’s Vintage (a lurid green); Browse About; One Black Rose Vintage; Gypsy and the Rose; The Sound Exchange Record Bar (a bright red); Gumnut Antiques. And alternative health at the Totally Active Healing Centre.

Small retailers always have high turnover rates. I will keep a watch on these 14 shops over the next few months. Long Jetty really needs this kind of cluster. The Central Coast Highway is a narrow but very busy road, meaning that plenty of people will have noticed the changing profile of this part of it. (29/11/13)


Yesterday I drove back to Shelly Beach after a couple of weeks catching up with friends in Adelaide. It’s a touch under 1,500 kilometres.

I came back solo, accompanied by the music of U2, Abba, Imelda May, Leonard Cohen, and Cohen’s cover singers including Antony, Beth Orton, Perla Batalla, Julie Christensen, Nick Cave, and the McGarrigal kids, Rufus and Martha (which reminds me about the site I found on the 10 best female covers of Cohen songs). Apart from music I filled in with generous dollops of Radio National.

It was a great drive, although between Goulburn and Sydney I passed through a ferocious electrical storm.

Each of the last three trips has involved a close encounter with wildlife. A few months back M and I were driving through the Blue Mountains at night and very nearly collided with a large grey kangaroo.

A couple of weeks back we saw numerous emus grazing between Hay and Balranald, before confronting a large emu on the road ahead of us; it took a few steps towards us, before turning and returning to the bush. Coming back near the same spot I came across a large brown emu standing on the side of the road looking at me intently. I had slowed almost to a stop before it turned and departed. (22/11/13)


A preview of Andinet Teshome’s new Amharic language movie Yezore Demer is on youtube. The trailer is worth a look; so is the poster. The film is currently showing at seven cinemas in Addis Ababa. Congratulations Andinet! I am proud to get a credit as an Executive Producer. (5/11/13)


A few weeks back I was contacted by Rebecca Thurlow, an Australian-based journalist with the Wall Street Journal, about a story she was considering writing. She was aware I had an interest in creative cities and wanted to know whether I had any views on Renew Australia/Renew Newcastle.

The national organization, which had its start in Newcastle, helps artists to make use of commercial space that is currently empty, through negotiating with the owners. In return for the space, the artists tidy it up, move in with their equipment, and do their art. It attracts people to the area, and makes good use of space that would otherwise remain junky.

M has an interest in these artists spaces and showed me the areas that have been dealt with in both Newcastle and Townsville earlier in the year.

Following up by looking at their website, it seemed they have made impressive progress. There is too much vacant commercial space in main streets in Australia, and this provides a mechanism for putting it to good use.

Cities need more art and more opportunities for artists to be seen and engaged. It is an essential part of place-making and contributes to the enhancement of vibrant, clever cities. Soft infrastructure of this kind is better left to individuals and the sometimes chaotic outcomes they produce, rather than expect governments to take the lead.


Artists also need help to monetize their art, earning a living through sales, or by building small businesses to produce art or provide artistic services. Renew Australia itself is an example of that, and through its programs can provide artists with access to the additional skills they need.


Based on what I have seen in Townsville and Newcastle, success will vary depending on the location. But that is to be expected. Also, we are currently in a situation where there are abnormally high levels of rented space available. This will inevitably change and challenge the sustainability of the program.


Renew Australia’s strategy is a much better option than current responses to vacant shopping spaces. The graphics showing business activities that are spread across the glass of vacant shops is rather sad. It is much better to fill those vacant spaces, albeit on a short term basis, with real activity.


Federal Government funding for Renew Australia was announced just before the election. Where to now? It doesn’t strike me as the sort of initiative that would much interest the new Government. The ball may bounce back to city councils and state governments. Unfortunately, there are far fewer benefactors willing to fund grass roots arts initiatives in Australia than in the US.


To find out more about the American situation I spoke with Jeremie Gluckman, a Graduate Intern whom I work with and who has links with a number of the grass roots arts organisations in DC. He pointed me to evidence of a significant amount of creative placemaking underway in the USA, with support from organisations like ArtPlace America and the National Endowment of the Arts program of Our Town grants.

It has escalated since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.  From what I know there are a broad range of programs involving the refurbishment of old spaces (eg abandoned churches and shopping spaces) and spear-headed by artists.

The Australian version seems to measure up well to what is happening here. (11/10/13)


The election is over and speculation mounts about what impact the Coalition Government will have on universities.

As you would expect, the response to the election result by Universities Australia (UA) was generally positive. A few concerns were raised, including ‘valuing all research’, which is code for not cutting funding for research outside the medical sciences, as had been indicated in September was likely.  Added to this UA expressed the hope the new Government would remove the cap on tax-deductible self-education expenses.

Incoming PM Tony Abbott spoke to the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference in February this year. In general he countered any fears of a slash and burn strategy, setting out an almost warm account of the past and present value of universities to Australia’s well-being. He even cited the fact that 19 Australian universities were in the world’s top 500, compared to nine Australian companies in the Fortune Global 500.

On the less positive side of things he was cautious about ‘current budgetary circumstances’, code for not restoring the Labor Government cuts.

Abbott also expressed support for ‘the ”hard” disciplines of maths, science and engineering’ which, combined with the focus on medical research, increases concerns about the future of the humanities and social sciences. In addition to Australia, liberal education and the arts in general are under fire in many places, including the UK and the US. The criticisms are often fuzzy, expressing the importance of a well-rounded university education, but opposing certain kinds of social science courses and research by cherry-picking projects based on the language used in the titles or by detecting political biases in the content.

The speech outlined seven principles guiding the Coalition’s approach. Most will be supported, especially the promise to reduce regulation. The new Colombo Plan, and a new ‘type of Rhodes Scholarship for our region’ both seem fine but beg the question of why do Coalition Governments always look backwards to explain what they want in the future? The intention to ‘work with universities to expand their share of the international higher education market’ will have been well received, though I am out of sync with many of my colleagues on this, as I favour a light touch from government.

Shadow Ministers Brett Mason and Christopher Pyne were set the task of guiding Coalition strategy on higher education. Will they be responsible when the new Ministry is announced? (9/9/13)


I will be in Canberra next week for a meeting at the Academy of Social Sciences. While I was working through the 121 documents I must read over the next few days, my mind wandered (no surprise) back to an article that I read while having a coffee at Mt Lofty.

It is by American political scientists Rick Wilson and it’s called The War on Social Sciences. Wilson talks about the threat from among politicians to reduce or eliminate National Science Foundation funding for political science and the social sciences more generally. It is an interesting read.

The battle-lines are not so clearly drawn in Australia. There is a focus on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, and health/medicine, and there have been a few instances when humanities and social science research has come under fire, with concerns generally being on specific projects rather than the disciplines as a whole.

The Prime Minister (Julia Gillard, at the time) announced last month Australia’s new Strategic Research Priorities:

  1. Bullet Living in a changing environment

  2. Bullet Promoting population health and wellbeing

  3. Bullet Managing our food and water assets

  4. Bullet Securing Australia’s place in a changing world

  5. Bullet Lifting productivity and economic growth.

The social sciences and humanities have serious contributions to make to all these areas, so this means they shouldn’t be as threatened as in the US (and the UK). Right? (19/7/13).


Election campaigns seem to bring out the worst in politicians. I switch-off. Too much flim-flam, born of a nihilistic synergy between politicians and the media. A hyperactive Rudd and a chaotic Labor Party battle with an Abbott-Murdoch coalition expecting to stroll into power on the back of relentless criticism of the Government.

Occasionally something is said that is destined to become a classic. Enter, stage right, Tony Abbott, with his 15th of July response to the Government’s decision to move more quickly to an emissions trading system. Summoning up all the self-confidence that comes from a rehearsed killer sound bite he said it was 'a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one'. The media loved it and it was everywhere. The Australian buried it at the bottom of page 6 (on the 17th of July). Now why would they do that?.

The comment dumbs down the discussion. Market mechanisms are used to manage scarce resources. OK, it is not a perfect system, and corrections are often required. We need to reduce our negative impact on the environment, and there are several ways we do it. I live on a busy road where passing pedestrians and motorists constantly discard litter. Cigarette packets, fast food wrappers and empty beer bottles. A market in litter wouldn’t solve the problem. Fines and community campaigns don’t work well either, but things are better than they once were (a picnic scene in a Mad Men episode made the point particularly well).

Excessive CO2 emissions pollute the environment. They are not as visible as beer bottles, but nor is radiation, or a whole range of dangerous substances. The science is sufficiently clear for us to know we need to take action. It is impossible, and unnecessary, to eliminate all human-created carbon emissions, but they do need to be reduced.

A ‘so-called market’: what does that mean? Markets are gatherings for buying and selling. They send signals to the people involved. Good behaviour, such as the reduction of CO2 outputs is rewarded; continuing to expand CO2 emissions will cost. And the two get connected through the trading.

It is not a simple system to get setup, and it does require global buy-in to be effective. But the leadership has to come from the wealthy world where per capita emissions are the highest, and many of the major corporations are based (although the balance is shifting).

Dealing with carbon emissions and climate change is not the only major global challenge, but it is one that seems to have attracted determined opposition based on a convoluted misunderstanding of scientific method and the complexities of proof and probability. We often scold ourselves about being too preoccupied with the present and ignoring the long-term future. Now is the time to get new markets working; it doesn’t help to trivialize the task. (17/7/13)


Yesterday I attended the opening day of ‘Sydney Moderns. Art for a New World’. It’s at the Art Gallery of NSW. There was no way I was going to miss it, if only for the chance to see Grace Cossington Smith’s fine ‘The Bridge in-curve’ (1930) which features on much of the publicity for the event. It captures the Bridge before the two ends were joined, and it is iconic.

It was a larger exhibition than I had anticipated, with the usual problem of over-stimulation. There was too much to absorb in one visit; why don’t they allow a coffee break or a walk outside in the sunshine instead of insisting on a single entrance and exit?

I have always been fond of art deco (French style moderne), particularly in terms of design and architecture. A reconstruction of a living room by Hera Roberts from The Burdekin House Exhibition of 1929 adds a nice touch. I enjoyed seeing visual evidence of the way Australian artists had adapted European and, to a lesser extent, American ideas to representations of the Australian landscape and abstract design. Roland Wakelin, Thea Proctor, Roy de Maistre, Ethel Spowers, Ralph Balson, Grace Crowley, Eric Wilson, Anne Dangar, and Frank Hinder are featured. The quirky efforts to connect art and music by Roland Wakelin and Roy de Maistre are awesome.

At the risk of seeming a touch parochial I should mention the South Australian artists (loosely termed) represented in the show. Dorrit Black features strongly in the exhibition, as does Margaret Preston. Horace Trennery is represented, and so are photographs by Harold Cazneaux, who spent a decade or so in Adelaide. I may be wrong but I felt a connection between the artists represented in the exhibition and the Fleurieu in the first two or three decades of the 20th Century.

Although much is made of the synergies between the artists and the coming of age of Sydney in the 1920s and 1930s, I thought the works, with a few notable exceptions (those featuring the Bridge, for instance), revealed rather less about the city than I was expecting. Sydney had just topped one million in population mark, rather smaller than present day Adelaide, but significant in the 1920s. It was beginning to flex its political and economic muscles, particularly in its rivalry with Melbourne.

It was well worth the early morning train trip (which we followed with a very good yum cha), before ambling across the city to the AGNSW. Afterwards a short stroll around the Museum of Contemporary Art failed to excite. Perhaps the Sydney Moderns had quenched the thirst. (7/7/13)


Although I have been a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) since 1994, I have had a passive role. In the last couple of years I have become more engaged. Professional societies rely on the unpaid input of the membership. The paid staff make a significant contribution to the ASSA, but they need the 500 or so ‘fellows’ to contribute to the professional presence and advocacy role for the social sciences.

The Academy was established in 1971, replacing the Social Sciences Research Council of Australia, itself founded in 1943. It is one of the four bodies of its kind. The others are the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. They come together through the Australian Council of Learned Academies.

I am on the Policy and Advocacy Committee (PAC) that met in Canberra last month to look at four proposals for Academy sponsored Roundtables and one for a public symposium. Each proposal picks up major current issues: national health funding, tertiary education, ageing, big data and better research access to Government data. Each needs to be refined and focused before we decide which are most deserving of Academy support. (3/7/13)


Books are important to me. Last year I made a rough count of my book collection. There were just over 3,000 in total. Half were in my office at Flinders so, shopping bag by shopping bag, I brought them home and piled them into two rooms. Slowly I am moving them on, hopefully to good homes. My future library will be about 100 books, I’m thinking - perhaps a little optimistically.

The problem is, of course, everyone I know likes books, but no one I know wants them. So I am gradually taking them along to Salvos on the Broadway in the expectation that their distribution system will get them to people who are willing to pay a dollar or so a book. The market mechanism at work.

I am finding it difficult, though, so it is taking some time. Initially I cherry picked books of fiction that I didn’t like. That was the easy part. It became harder as I found books and authors that I enjoyed or had had a big impact on me. It was an emotional separation.

So I thought I would write a blog as I transferred the fiction titles into the plastic bags destined for the Broadway. It took longer, but it meant I could identify the authors and honour some of the books before I recycled them. I felt more comfortable about the task; it was a last look at books that I had carted around with me, in some cases, since the late 1960s. So here is an annotated list of the books that had particular meaning for me.

Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim, seduced by the university setting);

Jessica Anderson (Tirra Lirra by the River);

Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending was brilliant, except, paradoxically, I thought the actual ending - the last few pages - was limp);

Malcolm Bradbury (The History Man and Rates of Exchange, the university setting, again);

Anthony Burgess (I read The Malayan Trilogy while on field work in Indonesia and sitting drinking coffee in a kedai);

Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s);

Peter Carey (Bliss had a huge impact on me. It was my favourite Carey book, and it encouraged me to read more Australian writers);  

Leonard Cohen (I didn’t think much of his two fictional works, but his poetry and music were something else);

Joseph Conrad (not just a great writer, but it was also his journeys through the ‘Far East’ that interested me);

Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss, one of many fine Indians writing in English);

Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby and just about all his other books);

Helen Garner (The Children’s Bach);

Graham Greene (one of my favourite authors - The Heart of the Matter, A Burnt-Out Case, Our Man in Havana, The Power and the Glory, and his non-fiction);

Shirley Hazzard (The Transit of Venus);

Frank Hardy (Power Without Glory);

Christopher Isherwood (Goodbye to Berlin);

Howard Jacobson (Coming from Behind);

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Heat and Dust);

George Johnston (My Brother Jack and Clean Straw for Nothing);

Patrick Kavanagh (The Green Fool);

P.J. Kavanagh (The Perfect Stranger);

Thomas Kenneally (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith);

Arthur Koestler (Arrival and Departure, and the nonfiction, especially The Act of Creation);

Laurie Lee (Cider with Rosie, of course, and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning);

David Lodge (Changing Places and Nice Work, both set in universities);

Bernard Malamud (The Natural; his books convey a great sense of life in New York);

W.Somerset Maugham (I adored his Collected Short Stories, and particularly those set in the ‘Far East’);

Timothy Mo (Sour Sweet, The Monkey King);

Shiva Naipaul (Fireflies);

V.S. Naipaul (I preferred his non-fiction);

Ruth Park (The Harp in the South);

Mario Puzo (The Godfather. I read it while working on the maintenance shift at the GMH car plant at Elizabeth during the university holidays. I credited it with getting me into serious reading of books; I was an avid reader of newspapers and magazines, but not books, and The Godfather changed that);

Henry Handel Richardson (The Getting of Wisdom, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney);

Mordecai Richler (Cocksure was brilliant);

Tom Sharpe (the Wilt books are hilarious);

Randolph Stow (The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea);

Evelyn Waugh (Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Black Mischief, and more);

Fay Weldon (I loaned my copy of Female Friends to many female friends and somewhere along the line it didn’t come back but there are several Weldon’s in the house);

Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities; I will say more about Wolfe in a later blog, as his ‘new journalism’ writings had a huge influence on me).

Despite the importance they have had in my life, the books still must go, but I feel better having acknowledged the writers of fiction and the books that I collected (or still have after loaning them out).

My preferred reading is biography and non-fiction (eg the new journalism) and there are all those academic publications I have accumulated. They account for two thirds of the books that I want to recycle. (7/6/13)


Adelaide’s ‘University City Project’ emerged almost a decade ago, but how strong is the current Government’s commitment?

An accelerated interest in international education grew in the 1990s with the formation of the Education Industry Development Council, which morphed into Education Adelaide. The University City Project was first publically mooted in 2004 with the Premier Mike Rann’s announcement of an agreement with Carnegie Mellon University to pursue accreditation as Australia’s first private university.

Since CMU’s arrival universities have come (notably UCL) and gone (Cranfield University), others have thought about it and decided no (Kaplan), and some are still planning to go ahead (Laureate).

The University City Project office has closed, and last year UCL’s Malcolm Grant said he thought the Government had ‘walked away’ from the University City vision. Premier Jay Weatherill responded saying it remains ‘a strong part of the vision for Adelaide’. The Opposition has not been supportive, with education spokesman David Pisoni saying the attention should be on the public universities, not the ‘experiments’.

Over the last few months I have been drafting a paper for the Global Policy Journal (an issue being edited by Brian Stoddart) about the ‘University City’ aspirations for Adelaide. I have long had a strong belief that Adelaide should position itself as a genuine ‘knowledge city’, and clearly universities are central to that. While we have made a lot of progress,  particularly in enhancing the city’s reputation as a destination for international students, I don’t believe we have tackled the development of the knowledge economy with either the enthusiasm or creativity that is needed. (1/6/13)


The Singapore to Ho Chi Min City flight was out of the ordinary. The interior of the A380 was lit-up by lightning on numerous occasions. About 30 minutes before HCM City it became spectacular. We flew alongside a massive, spiralling collection of black clouds that shot vertically into the stratosphere. Lightning flashed through it. The A380 wobbled in response, but continued on its approach to Tan Son Nhat

It was a relatively short ride, by the standards of some large cities, from the Airport to my hotel on Dong Khoi. I could feel the energy on the way in, with busy streets and bright lights. Numerous motorcycles, of course, but riders were wearing helmets, and most even had their chin-straps fastened.

I had a brief walk in mid-evening, remembering that it is six years since I was last in HCM City. I noticed changes. The Givral cafe, the site of much intrigue during the Vietnam War, has lost its seedy vibe and become glamour-chic. The Caravelle, the Continental and the Rex Hotels are still there, but have adapted to the modern city landscape.

This morning I headed to District 7 in the southwest of the city. New modern apartments are sprouting, along with cafes, restaurants and shops for the emerging Vietnamese middle class and foreigners. The prestige automobile showrooms, Audi included, of course, are all there. New university campuses are appearing, pitched to fee-paying Vietnamese students.

The city, however, is resilient. It is 30 years since my first visit to Ho Chi Minh City and for some reason, despite all the changes, it retains its same Vietnamese feel, and I like that. (17/5/13)


The Gosford Regional Gallery & Arts Centre is a gem. It has an idyllic location on parkland adjacent to Caroline Bay in East Gosford. The Gallery opens out to the striking, yet peaceful, Edogawa Commemorative Gardens. Edogawa being one of Gosford’s sister cities.

The Foyer Gallery has on show works by Andy Collis, a local Newcastle artist. I really like his ‘Daniel’. Galleries 1 and 2 have Emerging, a display of works of eight young artists (18-30, under the rules of the comp) selected from across NSW: Thomas Hadland, Kasane Low, William Maguire, Guy Martin, Caitlyn McIntosh, Todd Fuller, Gidon Sack and Luke Shelley. An exceptionally interesting selection of artworks on display. I particularly liked the bark and feather sailboats by, I think, Caitlyn McIntosh. They evoked memories for me of the Papuan art that you find along the southern coast of PNG.

The Gallery has a rather pleasant shop where I stock up on cards by local artists. Not a bad place to have a coffee, as well. (12/5/13) 


At a 2011 seminar held at Flinders jointly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences I presented an ambitious paper which I titled ‘China’s cities: Reflecting on the last 25 years’ (here is the conference presentation). It has now been published in a book titled Sustainable Development in China, edited by Curtis Andressen and Mubarak A.R. (both at Flinders University) and Wang Xiaoyi (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). It was released by Routledge on 23 April 2013. (2/5/13)


I have posted my presentation on ‘How to anticipate and respond to challenges and changes in regulation’ from the International Education

Strategy and Implementation Conference in Melbourne. (18/4/13)


Universities Australia (UA) has recently released  a Universities Plan to Reduce Red Tape, a study on regulation and the universities, and a  submission to the Coalition’s Deregulation Reform Discussion Paper. It is a good move.

Universities often complain about excessive regulation, but simultaneously implore government to do more to support universities. Too often, these go together, and the universities end up with another layer of regulatory process.

UA claims that $280 million is spent by universities annually on regulation compliance. It says that universities support the Coalition’s desire that government be ‘a respectful listener’ rather than a micro-manager, want the Productivity Commission to review TEQSA’s and other government regulatory measures, and channel the provision of regulatory data through a single national agency which it calls the National University Data Centre (NUDC).

The Plan has a little to say about international education, primarily in terms of the duplication between TEQSA and the ESOS Act, the Tuition Protection Scheme, and the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012. These are all well chosen.

Overall, though, I have mixed feelings about the Plan. It is well meaning, and identifies important issues, but it still has a heavy feel about it. I am unconvinced about the proposed NUDC because it could easily become another drain on resources.

The International Education Strategy and Implementation conference starts in Melbourne next week (the 16th and 17th of April).

I committed to two presentations. The major one is titled ‘How to anticipate and respond to changes in regulation’. I am also on a panel on ‘Challenges and opportunities in streamlined visa processing’.

My paper focuses on regulating international education, not universities overall. It follows on from the arguments I put to the Chaney inquiry into international education. Now the Universities Australia paper is available I need to make a few revisions to my presentation. (10/4/13)


Australia has been a leader in visa policies for international students and developing national strategies to grow student numbers. More lateral thinking is needed if we are to retain that strategic advantage. It will not be easy.

Streamline visa processes for international students attending universities were introduced in 2012. They potentially improve the speed of processing, but shift the decision-making risk to individuals and institutions. The Government is intending to spread the system more broadly to incorporate tertiary education institutions.

Visa reforms have included a reasonable framework for enabling students to acquire relevant work experience during their studies, and the post-study work rights have recently improved in the 485 visa sub class. There are also opportunities to become permanent residents.

However, Australia no longer has a sufficiently strong narrative to sustain our positioning as a destination for study. It is primarily because we lack a sufficiently vibrant and developed knowledge economy.

It is great to have one of the world’s few robust economies, but that is not enough. We will continue to struggle to provide exciting knowledge-based work-related opportunities for students in Australia, or for international graduates to kick-start their vocations and businesses.

Australia needs not just a vibrant economy, but an economy that stimulates a broad swathe of knowledge-intensive enterprises able to meet new demand locally and exports geared to Asia-Pacific needs. A significant proportion of the international students undertaking university courses study business. It’s a good start, but how do we build upon it? (27/3/13)


Mention regulation or quality assurance in a university and the response is either a deep groan or a glazed eyes. Some follow up with a diatribe. I have some sympathy.

However regulation is inevitable when significant (if declining) sums of public money are involved. The trick is how to make sure it benefits universities in general and minimizes the demand on resources.

The establishment of TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency) signaled a significant shift in the regulation of higher education in Australia. We are still coming to grips with what it means. A Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) drawn from the sector provides direction but is separate from TEQSA.

Both are a work in progress. The overall risk frameworks and the standards issues are still evolving, with many opportunities to comment advertised on the respective websites. How does one keep up?

At the same time serious regulatory processes are underway, including the re-accreditation of universities. Not a small matter, even though it is unlikely to seriously trouble public universities.

TEQSA has nominated third party arrangements and English language proficiency as the two specific areas it will pay attention to this year. Universities have been told what is initially required and it is not insubstantial.

I have been writing a presentation for the 3rd Annual International Education Strategy & Implementation Conference to be held in Melbourne on the 16-17th of April. I think the thrust of my presentation will be about how universities need to ensure the processes work to the advantage of the sector. The counter-productive response to the establishment of AUQA, TEQSAs predecessor, over a decade ago surely should have taught us a lesson.

I will post the paper when it is finished in mid-April. (21/3/13)


Surfing was my passion as a teenager. I was therefore moved to see two of South Australia’s best surf spots achieve national recognition.

Daly Head, on the southern tip of Yorke Peninsula, has recently been declared a National Surfing Reserve. The celebration event took place in mid-January at a farm on Corny Point. I missed it, but it sounded good. A book has been published titled, not surprisingly, Daly Head: A National Surfing Reserve.

Point Sinclair, adjacent to Cactus on South Australia’s desert coast, was also recognised as a National Surfing Reserve in January.

It brings me to another surf book, Christo Reid’s Cactus: Surfing Journals from Solitude (Strangelove Press, Forresters Beach, 2010). It is a standout in the literature about surfing. It is a history of the iconic surf beach and surf community at Cactus. He points out it has the same longitude and latitude as Liliput in Swift’s Gullivers Travels, and speculates a connection with the island paradise of Swift’s Houyhnms. 

My only surfing visit to Cactus was in 1967 or 1968. Three of us drove over in an old Holden ute. It was a long all-night drive from Adelaide. I distinctly remember the driver momentarily falling asleep and swerving off the road before recovering and narrowly missing a roadside post. Arriving at Cactus we bedded down in sleeping bags in the sand. One night a feral surfer threw a large fire cracker in among us, burning holes in my sleeping bag.

Cactus had a reputation for sharks, as does most of the SA coast, so I was wary of the two or three fishing boats active a kilometre or two offshore which might have attracted sharks to the area. However the waves were good and it was great to be there with a half dozen or so surfer friends.

Finally, I should also mention Tim Baker’s Surfari (Ebury Press, Sydney, 2011). It is a more conventional surfing travelogue. It is the story of his surf journey around Australia, beginning and ending on the Gold Coast. His coverage of South Australia is patchy, missing Yorke Peninsula altogether. However there is a whole chapter on Cactus, which he refers to as Desert Camp, deferring to the local surfers desire to keep public awareness to a minimum. More a gesture than a meaningful action, I suspect. (23/2/13)


My attention has shifted to analysis and writing after managing international higher education programs. The purpose is to turn 15 years of practice into stimulating reading embedded with practical and strategic insights for higher education. My track record, though, allows me little comfort. When I last tried something similar the results were below average.

In the mid 1980s I was a researcher at the Australian National University. After five of the most academically exciting years of my career I took advantage of the opportunity to spend six months at the Australian Institute of Urban Studies, followed later by almost two years at the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (or AusAID as it is now). Following on from both, I was responsible for a UN Population Fund project on Vietnamese cities. A number of consultancies in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China were scattered across the period.

All had a primary focus on urban policies and planning in East and Southeast Asia: population, migration, the labour force, transport and traffic, housing (particularly slums), industrial location, urban planning and regional development. Some of the work that I had done leached into my teaching and research. But when I look back at my academic writing since then it is glaringly evident that I made insufficient effort to leverage that experience and address the practical challenges of Asian cities. I wrote about strategies, reforms, and major challenges, but very little on the specifics that planners and policy makers needed to do and how to do it. There was more I could have said on praxis but didn’t.

So what can I do to be more effective in writing about higher education in a way that bridges the interests of the managers and the commentariat? And is useful to higher education.

Trying harder and being more focused is a given. More significantly there are two global trends that I think will help.

First, higher education is being challenged across the globe and international higher education is front and centre. Governments want better, more effective universities, but baulk at the cost. Students are worried about their potential levels of debt and whether they will get the jobs they want. Commentators throw around claims that the university systems are broken or that the MOOCs are going to obliterate current university business models. Right or wrong, the more higher education is challenged the more universities are becoming receptive to reform. That is a big call, and it does not apply uniformly.

Second, social media has created an appetite for short analytical works. It is also a mechanism for rapid dissemination and communication with peers. Twitter is my medium of choice, and a feeder to LinkedIn and facebook.  This website is to anchor and store my writings. There are mountains of information available on usage of social media, but rather less on its impact on praxis. Something to keep in mind. (20/2/13)


I have uploaded an infographic from Education News titled ‘The Most Educated Countries in the World’. Canada tops the list, the US is 4th, and the UK 7th.

Australia’s ranking of 9th (in an overall total of 34 countries) looks about right. As the final graph in the sequence shows, Australia has the second highest median household income, exceeded only by the US. However, it is ranked lower at 8th in terms of the proportion of GDP spent on education.

Global education rankings are, of course, notoriously misleading because of the complexity of meaningful education measures and the significant differences between countries.

It is implicit in the presentation that the greater the proportion of people educated at high school and tertiary level the better. But while that assumption still holds, it is not as robust as it once was.

The need, and demand, for post school (life-long) education is significant. As the MOOCs demonstrate, technology can provide access to certain kinds of learning, and can attract significant numbers of students. Who pays is yet to be resolved. But it is clear that not everyone needs, or wants, a formal tertiary or higher education qualification.

Currently, as far as I am aware, participation in the less formal education associated with innovation hub startups, university dropouts or MOOCs is not systematically captured in the statistics. It does, though, seem to be the way things are going. (5/2/13)


A paperback version of Planning Asian Cities: Risks and Resilience, which Stephen Hamnett and I edited, is due out this year. The hardback version was released in May 2011. An eBook version followed. The paperback has a stunning new cover which is featured with a brief promo on the Alexandrine Press site.

Reviews of the book by Fulong Wu, from the Bartlett School of Planning at University College London, in Environment and Planning B (vol 39, 2012) and David Edgington from the University of British Columbia, whose review is in Urban Policy and Research (December 2012), have been good.

On the Alexandrine Press page the other book mentioned is  Yasser Elsheshtawy’s Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle. It has been well received. Ann Rudkin, who edited Planning Asian Cities, also has editorial responsibility for Routledge’s Planning, History and Environment series, which includes Elshestawy’s volume. Having recently enjoyed Brian Stoddart’s book on Damascus, I thought I might have a look at it. (3/2/13)


I tense-up when I read a piece on MOOCs (aka Massive Open On-line Courses). Ever more frequently, they are pitched as part of an apocalyptic vision about the decline of universities.

Thomas Friedman’s op-ed piece ‘Revolution hits the universities’ in the New York Times is the most recent example. Though I like the piece, there is something missing.  What concerns me most is too frequently there are common assumptions about MOOCs that are off the beat.

1. On-line delivery is new.

On-line delivery at university level has been available internationally for some time. My first on-line teaching topic - Asian Regional Development - commenced in 1998.  There were a few on-line subjects being delivered at Flinders before mine. Admittedly, only enrolled students could take my topic. Most of my students attended the classes, but several took the topic without setting foot on the university campus. They were an important part of the on-line discussion board. We also tried to share on-line courses through the members of the International Network of Universities in the late 1990s, but didn’t succeed. We were too far ahead of our time and could not overcome the technological and organisational barriers. Teaching methods and technology have improved significantly but this is an evolutionary process, not a new experience.

2. MOOCs can be scaled up to provide a full higher education

MOOCs will provide an educational experience. And that may be sufficient for many students. However, as currently structured, they deny students a number of opportunities available on campus. The chance to immerse themselves in campus life, for a start. Moreover, those committed to international education believe there are numerous benefits for students in being immersed in an education and living experience internationally. Currently MOOCs cannot replicate the benefits of either the university campus or study abroad.

3. All students would be best served by taking MOOCs delivered by academics from prestigious American universities.

International education is continuing to grow, and the US is the most sought after destination, but international students settle for courses in a wide range of countries. MOOCs will be the same, capable of being effectively sourced from numerous universities and other institutions globally. Surely nobody seriously wants all knowledge to be channelled only through the reigning academic superstar. And MOOCs are not a means to facilitate American domination of global higher education, or an extension of American soft power, as is occasionally implied.

4. Universities are incapable of radical change and hence will become redundant.

The demise of traditional book and music retailers is cited as evidence of the disruptive impact of Amazon and iTunes. Universities, it is therefore asserted, will disappear with the growth of MOOCs the same as inflexible high street book and music stores. Universities face many challenges apart from MOOCs, not least the escalating costs of research-based education, and the insistence of governments that students pay larger shares of the increasing cost. MOOCs and for-profit higher education will affect universities. But many university managers are experienced in responding to competition, and are open to new ideas about positioning universities in a different environment. University systems will be impacted, but MOOCs are not the only driver of systems-wide change.

5. MOOCs are free

They are free to students, but they cost a lot to devise and maintain. And it will cost even more if providers put in place rigorous systems for assessment. It begs the question: how long will universities be prepared to provide a comprehensive on-line education without recovering at least some of the costs?

So much for the gripes. What is new and important about MOOCs is they are open. They provide access to intellectual property that might have been available in books and journals, but was expensive and in formats suitable for researchers but not for student access.

The rise of MOOCs parallels the increasing demand within universities and the community to make freely available the results of publicly funded research projects and the jottings of publicly funded academics. Social media, especially Twitter, has helped to push this along by creating new, fast communication networks among peers.

Australian universities already sustain fee-based programs with MOOC characteristics, apart from the free access. I am thinking in particular of Transnational education (TNE) programs that are built around core curricula available on-line, hosted by existing on-line student courseware, and managed by academics who travel to where the students are clustered in order to provide face-to-face support. The supported on-line TNE model has worked effectively for Australian universities in the Pacific Asian countries. The model offers scope for further nuanced development to meet the needs of particular cohorts of students.

The MOOCs don’t have it all their own way. (28/1/13)


A multi-authored paper on 'Slum upgrading and urban governance: Case studies in three South East Asian cities' has just been published in Habitat International (vol 39, pp 162-169). The organiser of the research project was Dr Basil van Horen, a young academic and family man located at the University of Queensland. Tragically, Basil passed away in early 2006, just a year into the research.

The project received Australian Research Council funding for 2005-2008. After Basil’s passing, we re-grouped at a dedicated seminar in Singapore in 2008, and again in Brisbane a year or two later. It was not easy pulling the threads of the project together. It was difficult to replace Basil’s input.

The published paper’s lead author is John Minnery; other authors include Teti Argo and Haryo Wisono (both from the Institute of Technology, Bandung), Do Hau (Hanoi Architectural University), Cynthia Veneracion (Ateneo de Manila University), me, and Iraphne Childs, like John, at the University of Queensland.

The formal Abstract follows:

Whilst slum upgrading is often seen as one of the more effective ways of tackling urban poverty, the approaches taken by slum upgrading policies vary considerably, as do their degrees of success. This article reports on a comparative study of slum upgrading experiences in Bandung, Indonesia; Quezon City, Philippines; and Hanoi, Vietnam. It was carried out using a modification of the sustainable livelihoods framework that considered upgrading policies in a hierarchy of levels. The study demonstrated the importance of some form of security of tenure (the definition of which varied across the case studies), a need for sustainable economic activities to be incorporated into the upgrading, the critical importance of governance and institutions and the significance of the contributions of the community and elements of civil society. (25/1/13)


I downloaded Brian Stoddart’s eBook, A House in Damascus, to read over the New Year break. It was a good choice. I knew very little about Damascus, and I became intrigued by its extraordinary history and the richness of life within the city. My one visit to the Gulf encompassed Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat, long enough only to know how much I didn’t know.

On arriving in Syria to undertake consultancy work in higher education, Brian signaled his intentions to explore by finding accommodation near the ‘Old City’. The book is an affectionate account of Damascus, its rich past revealed through the extraordinary architecture. It is also a personal story of the people he met. He reveled in its ancientness and the diversity of its communities, Syrians, Palestinians, Muslims, Jews and Christians.

As a historian he provides an engaged overview of the mosques, churches and souks. He enjoys trying different food and eating in his favourite restaurants (especially Brokar). And he uncovers a personal connection between his life in Australia and in Damascus through a story about Arabian horses.

He is critical of the negative depiction of Syria in American film and television. He disagreed with its portrayal as lawless and dangerous.

Brian’s account is mainly up until his departure from Damascus in early 2011, shortly before the commencement of the present conflict. The troubles in Syria have escalated and the shocking destruction of areas of Damascus and other cities continues. Some 60,000 people may have died in the conflict. The final chapter reflects on the personal impact of the destruction on the human and architectural fabric of Damascus. It will be some time before the streets of Damascus will again be walkable for visitors, and the riches of the city accessible to those curious about life in this ancient place.

The eBook is available on iBooks, and it was free when I downloaded it.

Brian Stoddart 2012 A House in Damascus, ePublishing Works (Shrewsbury, PA) ISBN 978-1-61417-356-4  (15/1/13)


The 2nd day of January already! Time to think about the writing commitments I made while staring at a blank calendar in the latter days of 2012.

High on the list are an essay on cities and international students for the Global Policy Journal, and a presentation on standards and quality assurance in international education for a Criterion conference in Melbourne in April. Both will draw on themes I have been interested in for some time.

The 140 character message delivered through social media is another main component. I will continue to focus on my twitter posts, which flow on to my website, as well as my Facebook Page and LinkedIn Page.

The first bog I posted on this website was in April 2008. Over the last five years I have posted 177 blogs in total. I managed 47 in 2008, followed by 38 in 2009, 31 in each of 2010 and 2011, and 30 in 2012. I will aim for around 50 this year. One a week is do-able. (2/1/13)

Making a Difference: Australian International Education

Edited by Dorothy Davis and Bruce Mackintosh (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2011)

MEDIA commentary 2013

SBS Radio interview on PM’s speech on aid and trade (10/12/13)



2015 2014 2013 and  DC Blog

2012 2011 2010 2009 2008

Planning Asian Cities: Risks and Resilience

Edited by Stephen Hamnett and Dean Forbes (Routledge, London,  2011)


eBook version

Sustainable Development in China edited by Curtis Andressen, Mubarak A.R., and Wang Xiaoyi (Routledge, London,  2013)


  1. Bullet Books

  2. Bullet Long Jetty’s grunge precinct

  3. Bullet The long drive

  4. Bullet New movie ‘Yezore Demer’

  5. Bullet DC TwentyThree

  6. Bullet DC TwentyTwo

  7. Bullet DC TwentyOne

  8. Bullet DC Twenty

  9. Bullet DC Nineteen

  10. Bullet DC Eighteen

  11. Bullet DC Seventeen

  12. Bullet DC Sixteen

  13. Bullet DC Fifteen

  14. Bullet DC Fourteen

  15. Bullet Creative placemaking

  16. Bullet DC Thirteen

  17. Bullet DC Twelve

  18. Bullet DC Eleven

  19. Bullet DC Ten

  20. Bullet DC Nine

  21. Bullet DC Eight

  22. Bullet DC Seven

  23. Bullet The election

  24. Bullet DC Six

  25. Bullet DC Five

  26. Bullet DC Four

  27. Bullet DC Three

  28. Bullet DC Two

  29. Bullet Threats to the social sciences

  30. Bullet Markets and the environment

  31. Bullet DC One

  32. Bullet Sydney moderns

  33. Bullet The ASSA

  34. Bullet The book removalist

  35. Bullet Does Adelaide’s ‘university city’ have a future?

  36. Bullet Revisiting Ho Chi Minh City

  37. Bullet Art on the Central Coast

  38. Bullet Reflections on China’s cities

  39. Bullet Regulation and quality

  40. Bullet Regulating universities

  41. Bullet Knowledge economy and international education

  42. Bullet Regulation matters

  43. Bullet Daly Head and Cactus

  44. Bullet Praxis in higher ed

  45. Bullet The Most Educated Countries

  46. Bullet Planning Asian Cities

  47. Bullet MOOCs

  48. Bullet On slums in Southeast Asia

  49. Bullet A House in Damascus

  50. Bullet First post