Mark Considine: The Enterprise University & New Governance Dynamics

Mark Considine: The Enterprise University & New Governance Dynamics
A Public Interest Perspective

Australian universities are currently being "enterprised" by a powerful logic of managed performance, executive centralisation and a new code of corporate governance (Marginson & Considine, 2000). These changes appear as part of a systematic restructure taking place in a number of advanced systems, yet the Australian version is recognised as especially vigorous (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997; Clark, 1998; Meek and Wood, 1997).

We see these management changes all around us in the ordinary life of the academy and our carefully learned, habitual insulation from the administrative practices of the university tend to mean that, for the most part, we find all these manoeuvrings no more interesting than news of bad weather. A certain scepticism is worth preserving. We have seen this posturing and mimicry elsewhere in the public sector and noticed that the leader of this or that chicken meat empire soon departs his public role when the complexities of public service stubbornly refuse to yield to power-point technology. But the enterprising spirit is only partly about the model corporation and the copy-cat business management agenda. Like other public institutions, we are now being taught a lesson about the price of public goods and the changing cost structure of organisations facing the new global realm. This is not a story about the contest over university hardware, since the core pursuits of teaching and research are not much in doubt. But it is certainly a struggle over the software to drive the new university and this includes at its centre a new form of governance, the subject of this address and of the research which underpins it.

It is difficult to be precise about the exact starting point for the recent transformations. But somewhere around the early 1990s the mood changed and the earth moved, university management became a conscious act of self-invention. You must have noticed this yourself. Administrators started tugging nervously at their bottom lines, pushing the envelope, thinking outside the square, getting all their ducks in a row, and giving plaintiff homilies about the gnostic importance of transparency and the solemn virtue of contestability. Mission statements started appearing on walls and advertisements for Discovery Day could be heard on rock stations.

The new oracle speaking truth to this power was now to be found in the display shelves at airports book shops. Here management texts reduce complex questions to dot-points and summarise strategies into sudden-death epithets such as 'steering not rowing', 'management by walking around' and 'managing by measuring'. These unmistakable signs of transformation involved both normative and structural moves of a common and compelling kind (du Gay and Salaman,1992).

New parables of the old collegial order, redefined now as a time of lethargy, make a parody of certain forms of academic work as based on the idea of leisure as the root of culture, and culture itself as no more than the measured output of competitive effort. Under this assault the future has been shortened from the length of a career to the shortest distance between two publications. It was as if Flaubert's (1964: 334) conclusion in Sentimental Education had waited all these years to be translated; 'public reason was deranged as if by some great natural upheaval. Intelligent men lost their sanity for the rest of their lives'.

At the structural level these new norms buttressed the most rapid expansion of executive power in the history of the academy. Serious talk about class sizes and course content was attacked as "too obsessed with inputs and not focused enough on outputs". The made-up science of management which had so recently ploughed a firebreak though the rest of the public sector was now preparing the university for the storm of globalisation. The strategy as we will see, was remarkably consistent across different institutions, but the predicament of these different universities was not the same. In other words by attacking an imagined past full of standard mistakes, the new enterprising logic created a fantastic future based on quasi-markets which produced not diversity but a new conformity.

The philosopher, Raimond Gaita, (1998:13) was not alone in arguing that the new regime had issued a threat not only to the "old fogies" but also to "young academics, in the best universities, flourishing in their research."

in nearly all aspects of their academic lives they encounter the corruption of their deepest ideals as their institutions become ever more servile in their compliance to the economic imperatives of successive governments - a servility rationalised in Managerial Newspeak.

While it is easy to exaggerate and even demonize the malevolence of the new order, it is certainly true that some universities now seek to discipline their staff in a manner unheard of even ten years ago. Just before Christmas in 1998 La Trobe academic Gideon Polya received a letter from that university's administration. It read, "We're reading your comments , we're reading the transcript of what you said on the ABC and we'll get back to you." The comments were in regard to concerns about an agreement between La Trobe and corporate developers of new gene technology. The agreement prohibited competing research being undertaken by academics at that university. Alive to the dynamics of the new university governance, Polya expressed his sympathy for heads of departments who he said "are frozen into silence" by new structures and norms. In the same issue that reported this sinister moment, the Education editor (Cervini,1999) of The Age also reported an interview with a retired academic who was unhappy that his retirement agreement had included a clause which read, "if you accept this package you must be careful about what you say publicly."

Dr Miles Lewis at the University of Melbourne felt the same pressure early in 1999 when he began to publicly criticise the development of Melbourne University Private. And of course political scientist Allan Patience at Victoria University of Technology had his email suspended and was threatened with defamation when he criticised that university's plan to buy corporate boxes at the new Colonial Stadium. Like all transformations this one obviously has its perversions. And these are not only located in the potential for greater control over individual freedom.

The management performance culture now being promoted is prone to a type of generic simplification which is the enemy of subtle and careful calibration. Better perhaps to be fourth best at something measured and valued by the regime such as the hewing of wood than to be the world's best and only exponent of the new but unfashionable science of drawing water. This new performance culture is apparently driven by the quantification of outputs, yet its organisational effect is to engender a new pressure on the 'throughput' or process side of academic work. Counting things too easily becomes a compulsion.

But the calibration of this new power is a political and cultural project of the highest order. The difference between a management system which supports academic excellence and one which threatens it is precisely how and why this new calibrating power is deployed. Nothing should be taken for granted. And standing between the management rationalisers and the solitary scholar lie only one body worth speaking about ñ the disciplines. Older gestures such as outraged letters to the editor and valedictory protests merely confirm the distance between the individual and the system. Only the stronger disciplines prove competent to influence the new value code which shapes their common future. Collective efforts bend institutional systems, personal declarations only punctuate the sentences written by their new leaders.

Research centres cannot shift the value base, nor can ARC committees. Schools and faculties are incapable of defining such norms, although they may make space for others to do so. Academic Boards have surrendered this role or had it wrenched unceremoniously from their professorial fingers. The new flotilla of centres, institutes and special programs are typically so concerned with catching the new waves of funding and soft money that they have neither time nor incentive to build alternatives.

That leaves the disciplines, traumatised, tendentious but in practice and in value terms, the only point of leverage left to enhance the best scholarly practice and the ideal of scholarship as a vocation. Only within a framework of disciplinary standards and recognised norms can managers and other interests be trained to acknowledge the different value of say, a research monograph as against several published articles; a review essay in relation to a book review; or a joint publication versus a single authored work.

Only through an active engagement with the disciplines can university leaders and funding authorities be expected to distinguish between the value of winning a large ARC grant and the benefit of an industry subsidy or consultancy. Where the disciplines are silent or preoccupied, others will calibrate the new future. To think about both the new challenge and possible responses we must first be very clear about the current transformation. What is this process of reinvention? Does it actually signal a new kind of university governance? What does this mean for political science, or indeed for other disciplines, and I use the term disciplines advisedly.

To answer these questions Simon Marginson and I examined 17 Australian universities, read their plans, studied the performance data and then went and interviewed a selection of staff involved in university governance (Marginson & Considine, 2000).

The Challenge of University Management

It is too easy to dismiss all these challenges as the catastrophe of managerialism. Universities themselves have given reformers just cause for their assault. In political terms, and looked at over the long term, universities have usually been recessive, standing at arm's length from commerce and never doing all that well in the race to pucker-up to power. Traditional to a fault, they fail however to live comfortably in the past. The idea of the university, together with its realisation as a place of work, is about as far removed from conventional, modern ideas about power, control and management as it is possible to travel. Or is it?

To a significant extent universities have been self-organising institutions. In Luhmann's (1996) terms they organise the boundary between themselves and other institutions according to a simple binary code ñ the known versus the unknown. The laws of commerce, government and religion may intersect with this form of "openness through closure" but they cannot substitute. Universities can be profit-making as well as knowledeable but they cannot be profit-making instead of knowledegeable.

Until now the governance of the universities has been allowed to tumble along according to its own logic. Rules of conduct, methods of steering and forms of goal-setting inside universities and between them have been riddled with paradoxes and occasional contradictions which together confound every sensible explanation of how modern organisations ought to work. There is no single, unified chain of command. Basic questions about the purpose of the work, the nature of tasks and the use of technology are decided differently by each local initiative.

Most contributors accept central directives only very reluctantly and will side with students, colleagues in other institutions, or with abstract principle rather than with their own managers, most of whom are regarded as 'meeting-hounds', accountants and obstacles to true science or good poetry. And nor should we be surprised by the strength of the entrepreneurial spirit now sweeping the cloisters. We live in the age of business where corporations see themselves as a social movement not just a social interest. What we found in the research is both interesting and often surprising. We found a revolution in full flight. Strong, increasingly independent forms of executive control give expression to the contemporary university's idea of itself as an 'academic enterprise'. I have developed the theoretical dimensions of this enterprising dynamic at greater length elsewhere (Considine, 2001).

Derivative Ideas of "the good"

Over and again we found those in positions of greatest influence fixed on simplistic, derivative norms of good governance. This was more than mere striving for excellence or a search for new ideas. Being useful to business is being widely interpreted as being like business. Having a good reputation in the international field is subsumed under the rubric of being a "Harvard of the West", or a "Stanford of the South". In other words the desire to excel is being defined as a struggle to compete and as a rush to imitate. This might be of less consequence in a university system with solid and robust internal resources. In such a world the urgings of an administrator class with a sharp eye for new methodologies would be balanced within a matrix of strong disciplines and independent community interests. But in organisations already depleted by over-enrolment, under-investment and declining career opportunities, the imitate-or-perish imperative meets weak resistance.

This then is our central finding and core argument: Universities now seem less sure of themselves, less able to self-organise than ever before. Constantly being reinvented, they are less capable of genuine acts of self-production. The decline in robust, indigenous cultures and inventive forms of self-governance suggest a brash but brittle lurch into the world of enterprise. This has less to do with questions of private ownership, fees and exports than might be supposed. Private participation is hardly new to the education system. One could imagine its greater expansion taking place without direct threat to norms of equity and excellence.

But the decline of stronger sources of intellectual coherence inside the universities and their replacement by derivative forms of private organisation suggest that new private relationships might be based more on pandering and procuring, rather than upon strategic collaboration. What we found in 17 of the Australian universities was an emerging corps of new executive managers spearheading the internal transformation of the universities. Educational and scholarly goals were being challenged and often displaced by new institutional and financial goals. Older participative governing structures were losing authority. Collaborative ('collegial') networks in teaching and research were being hedged by budget systems and crowded-out by more centralised modes of decision-making and performance control.

Growth In Undergraduate Numbers

What we saw as 'executive centred governance' had emerged during a time of immense change in higher education. Between 1986 and 1996 the total number of enrolled higher education students grew from 389,968 to 631,025, while the Government provided strong inducements for merger and the number of government-funded institutions fell from 60 to 36. It was also a period of straitened resources in Australian universities, as in the universities of many other countries (World Bank, 1994).

(3) New Management Functions

Novel institutional functions in such areas as international education, fundraising, corporate relations and intellectual property, fostered by the new generation of manager-leaders, were partly spurred by the scarcity of government funding.

(4) Drop in Public Funding

In Australia the proportion of total institutional funding deriving from government fell from 86 per cent in 1986 to 57 per cent in 1996. The rise of executive power had coincided with - and was mutually constitutive of - the growing role of market exchange and economic competition (Marginson, 1997).

(5) Rise of Soft Money Economy

'Soft money' derived from limited-life projects or client-based funding was playing an increasing role in universities, even to the extent of supporting what were seen as core educational activities. We found that the new systems of executive governance were focused almost exclusively upon the office of the Vice-Chancellor. The more decentralised posts in faculties, schools, departments and research centres tended increasingly to reflect the agendas of this executive core.The more contingent the public funding base becomes, the more powerful this group becomes in shaping our shared future.

While there is variation in the histories and activities of universities in Australia, and in the manner in which they configure their organisational systems, in many respects the changes in systems of power, authority and resources are changes in common. This is what was common to most;

  • new and more mobile forms of executive power,
  • the growth of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) and Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) positions and
  • the creation of executive Deans,
  • a new role for Vice-Chancellor's "informal" executive groups at the operational hub of the universities,
  • the role for budget systems as the primary value system
  • a declining role for Academic Boards
  • a changing character of Councils, with their representative role now abused
  • the running of research as a system of centrally measured performance,
  • the emergence of 'shadow' corporations to by-pass traditional 'legislative' systems.

In all cases these changes pointed to a decline in the role of academic disciplines and the collegial networks which once supported them. The evident breakdown in the authority of the disciplines is often accomplished using new structures such as schools and research centres, and systems of funding and performance measurement that 'flatten' the specificities of the different fields of knowledge.


Without exception the university leaders in our sample saw collegial forms of decision-making as an obstacle to managerial rationalities. Some also put a case against disciplinary organisation, though others were more circumspect. The point at which the departmental-disciplinary tradition was hinged to the older collegial ideals was in the republican authority of disciplinary departments. As the one as succumbed to pressure from above, the other has lost much of its claim on academic decision making.

The Governance Model

Governmental pressures on universities have increased and become more critical of local traditions and differences, so too Vice Chancellors have adopted a 'mirror' strategy to increase their own common controls over otherwise diverse internal traditions. Beginning with the Dawkins reforms, governments have provided explicit and implicit incentives for Vice Chancellors to centralise authority and capture internal resources. An example of an explicit incentive was the Dawkins Green Paper's sarcastic remarks about the practice of electing key office bearers such as Deans. Once officially ridiculed as a naive and inappropriate means for selecting university leaders, every institution quickly moved to abandon the practice.

An equally common instance of implicit incentives is provided by the government's practice during the late 1980s and early 1990s of funding some higher education reforms by retaining a percentage of annual budget allocations as a "strategic fund" to which universities might apply. Even small "hold backs" of two to five percent quickly impact at the margins of all major programs, multiplying the points of dependency upon central policy makers. And finally university leaders have emulated the agendas of their Canberra referees by seeking to use internal reorganisation as a means to loosen traditions and break up established alliances. In their discussions of their own power they return again and again to the winds of change blowing through the 1980s and 1990s. Far from wanting to stand firm against the storms, they almost always bend forward, pulling their institutions behind. The larger the external threat, the greater their internal room to manoeuvre.

The strategic choices themselves, associated with the building of new institutions after the Dawkins reforms, and the very existence of such choice, were a novel experience for university leaders and a major source of their new identity as "system builders". Trade-offs between smaller versus larger, higher cut-off scores or lower, geographically dispersed or concentrated campuses had to be calculated quickly and often without extensive consultation. Senior executives faced their key constituencies - staff, Council and students - with momentous decisions already made. Once decided, these new institutions had to be tamed, structured and administered. This has created a more imperial power.

The new VCs now regularly go abroad to sign agreements with foreign governments, to open new campuses and to visit their equivalent of the ex-patriot minorities - the foreign alumni. In sober newspaper reflections they speak of new lands of opportunity in Asia, of competition for foreign gold, and of this or that country already being "fished out". Increasingly power at home is furthered and established as a direct consequence of potency abroad.

Without being melodramatic. I don't think the institution will survive unless it internationalises..

This new strategic power places the VC at the centre of new definitions of the university role in a changed world. They are less the representatives of their institutions than they are the measure of its new role. They speak on behalf of the whole institution when they say there must be fees, there must be special relationships with industry, and so on. In the past this power was confined to decisions concerning new buildings and senior appointments.

This older type was above all an administrative power. Universities were once settled institutions with certain purposes. The new breed are critical of this old world in which leaders had 'tremendous authority and no power...Everything (was) achieved by negotiation or persuasion or cunning, or whatever you've got'. The new VC's role is both more overtly political than it once might have been, and at the same time more brittle.

I think universities are driven by myths...once you get a reputation for being a hard worker, once you establish that you can take two off two days a week and no one will ever (notice)..

If you don't use your honeymoon period to differentiate your period .. you're never going to be a change agent...

Within this field they then take one of four recognisable paths ñ to focus on the domestic and excel as a localist, to become a rationaliser, an entrepreneur or to concentrate on administrative process.

For the rationalisers the arguments put forward are those of the private sector CEO intent upon lifting the company performance by dint of management improvement.

The performance plan has to have real solid practical consequences. If you get that system in place, you do find there is real coherence.. that stretches from the top of the university right down to the departments.

This vision is just as distinctive in regard to what it excludes. Not only are federal structures seen as too open to diversity and alternate sources of loyalty and authority, but collegiality is also roundly condemned.

... collegiality in Australian universities... has been essentially a negative force.

A common strategy they define is to two-fold. First, Deans are being drawn upwards to sit on executive, budget and planning bodies responsible for the university's overall strategy. This is viewed as a means to curb the powers of 'independent fiefdoms' and "robber baron" empires. The new central planning committees typically require Deans and other budget holders to submit to a process of 'performance-against-plan' in which faculty priorities are subsumed under a set of priorities established by the VC and his or her executive. In many cases we also see a more exacting system of performance evaluation of Deans in which individuals are measured against their progress towards meeting central targets and objectives.

So you've got to somehow bring the deans home again... obliging the deans to come in and be the central managers of planning and management resource in the university... they're ready to be corporatised.

A second set of reforms is aimed at changing the line of responsibility within faculties by breaking-up disciplinary constituencies. Deans now no longer enjoy an authority derived from a wide base in the traditional disciplines of engineering, arts or law, but instead become "executive deans" appointed to manage a diverse collection of programs and priorities. In some cases the faculty nomenclature is replaced by the less independent vocabulary of "schools";

there are seven schools ... run by the executive deans and the ordinances which they run make it clear that, whereas the Faculty is an Athenian type entity in which every academic in the coordinating departments bonds (sic), a school is not like that... They are in line management to the dean, the dean is their supervisor so everyone in the university has a supervisor.

the beauty of that (school executive) is that it's a small group of people and it's people who do actually have management authority and budget control.

Tradition, purpose and academic culture are now subservient to a far more simple and direct set of incentives based almost exclusively on the power of the budget;

that really does change the culture pretty fast. The only way to change culture in the university is to link budget in with it... then you get a reaction the first year it's introduced.

So you start off simply allocating to schools exactly what they would have got next year if this year's proportion is obtained...Then we take five percent off the top.. and it goes to strategic planning fund. ..We then make determinations about their capacity to add value to where the university is going ...

Perhaps no single style so well encompasses the new mood than the buccaneer virtue of the entrepreneurial VCs. Queensland, La Trobe, Deakin and Monash, each had travelling potentates more often away than home, and more comfortable in Canberra than in committee. Unlike the rationalisers, this group remain sceptical of the role of comprehensive internal systems which they fear might actually limit their own options.

A lot of things you just let happen and a bit of freewheeling is not necessarily a bad thing.

High on the list of attributes favoured by such leaders is executive discretion. Far less weight is given to plans and formal structures. Sharing power with Deans and DVCs is apt to lead to counter claims or the need for lengthy negotiation.

We devolved an awful lot to Deans of Faculties and I've tried to claw back some of that responsibility.

The entrepreneurs define structures as good and bad according to how flexible they are in allowing new projects to be defined and enacted from the top.

Q. What are the strengths and weakness of your senior management structure?

A. It's a model I feel comfortable with and that's probably important.

My job would be to convince them (deans) of the correctness of this university wide policy. Rather than get them too heavily involved in questioning the wisdom of that.

Q. On the international side?:

A. We decided to put the international stuff in a separate company where I chair the Board and in that context, the overall policy is never really questioned.

The success of the university led by this kind of VC is entirely linked to the personal power of the incumbent rather than the elegance of the process or the comprehensive sweep of the resource management system.

Its not for me to invent a role for the academic board, it's for the academic board to find a role in the system

While playful, the style is confidently and openly coercive;

My style has been one of putting the toe in the water. When we first started the (Asian) campus ... , but the way I acted was just to indicate to the Academic Board that this is something that was in the wind....

and in due course I kept informing them and so on. I did the same with the Council so they all got used to the idea. I could say to them when the deal came to fruition a bit: we started talking about this 12 months ago and none of you raised any objection at the time. We've been able to deliver it.

I do it that way. Its terribly important in an academic community quite early in the process letting people know what's on your mind... But you don't invite debate: You say this is on our agenda.

The Disciplines

We must take these observations as evidence of the uneven emergence of newer forms of executive authority. From the perspective of those inside the institutions this new form appears to be both more concentrated and more strategic than before. The disciplines figure in this drama mainly as targets of rationalisation. Their traditional sources of power within Academic Boards and Departments has been substantially eroded. Deans and heads have been recruited as agents of a central plan and a new mode of entrepreneurial action.

Schools, institutes and centres may express disciplinary goals but they do not empower discipline groups to direct that authority. Instead they typically act within a regime of soft money and temporary purposes. They also divide the successful members of discipline groups from the rest, often in a framework of inter-disciplinarity which has no foundation in the older habits of collegial and departmental decision making. As a result there are now very few places in which an authoritative debate can occur in regard to the way majors, honours programs and post graduate work should link to larger traditions and purposes. Of course there are exceptions.

Some discipline groups have retained leverage by virtue of their access to another kind of authority, the power of the professions. But here too we saw lawyers, social workers and engineers being forced to concede ground to the new regime of temporary, flexible arrangements. In our own field of political science the pattern is for departments to disappear and our work to be submerged within the new schools where distinctions and priorities must be balanced, mediated and traded-off. The gap between ourselves and the stronger social sciences of psychology and economics meanwhile has grown larger. More often than not these sibling sciences are now found in other schools or faculties.

Our pluralistic approach to internal differences in what constitutes political science, so well defined in Crozier's (2001) new study of the intellectual history of the discipline, could previously often be balanced within a common departmental debate. They are now fragmented according to program priorities and management's vision of what constitutes the appropriate future for our field. The idea that disciplinary strength might offer a path to counter some of the unwanted consequences of the new governance should not be taken to mean that inter-disciplinary work, the work of centres and new programs is of itself unhelpful. Only by maintaining a distinctive training and authority over time do such groups manage to attract their best scholars to maintain their role in their home disciplines. It is this base commitment which guarantees a longer term replenishment of skills and a feedback loop whereby the new learning found in cross-border projects is passed back to others in the discipline.

How might this broader, bi-focal strategy work? Let me sketch a few obvious starting points.

Where measurement is central to academic governance it should be tied more firmly to agreed, published criteria developed within the discipline.

Departments and programs in politics and political science should take a lead in benchmarking the values and requirements of success. By collecting data on what constitutes a good major and a good honours program we can help one another to set appropriate standards by which university managers will judge us.

By entering the debate about what should be counted as good performance for new, established and senior scholars we can take back some of the authority currently ceded to others.

And by recruiting our international colleagues to this task we might hope to use internationalisation as a support for disciplinary strength, not a means to erode it.

Rather than letting competition between institutions create a perpetual dumbing-down of standards, we might consider collaborating on shared protocols and published standards of entry.

This is no simple matter. Our own disciplinary institutions are not as strong as they might be. Only the journal stands between us and a dangerous anonymity. Thankfully the growing ranks of enthusiastic post-graduates attending annual conferences signals a different attitude among the next generation of scholars. Our gift to them should be to leave the discipline stronger when we leave it and not ever more enfeebled by old differences about this or that theory or some self-limiting idea that things might be better in some overseas alma mater.

APSA itself could do with a clearer performance mandate. Is it so hard to imagine the annual meeting of Heads seeking funds for a joint benchmarking exercise, or a published statement of objectives?

Could we not overhaul and extend our own academic prizes and awards to reflect the standards we share and the broad, common future we desire? Would it not be possible to empower a committee of our own senior colleagues to inquire into the state of the discipline and its future options? Might their conclusions not be useful support for Heads seeking to protect the discipline in those institutions bent upon merging several groups into single schools?

And in the end, are not the things we might agree upon as values and priorities not be significantly greater than the differences between our own commitments, and those of the new executive authority which daily draws us nearer to Flaubert's fate of an intelligent class made half-wits for the rest of our lives?

The new university governance we observed in the study of the 17 Australian cases is an unfinished process with some significant local variations. Executive power is both exaggerated and incomplete. The next wave will almost certainly have to begin to engage seriously with the re-building of internal learning cultures. Let's hope the disciplines prove ready to take their place as a point of engagement and scholarly renewal. Otherwise the tragedy of the commons will certainly soon become the tragedy of the common rooms (Hardin, 1968).


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