A History of the Modern Australian University

A History of the Modern Australian University

A History of the Modern Australian University

by Hannah Forsyth

NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 281 pp, 9781742234120

Hannah Forsyth, a lecturer in history at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, begins her first chapter with the words: ‘In 1857 all of the Arts students at the University of Sydney could fit into a single photograph.’ Some neo-liberal critics of universities would argue that it has been downhill ever since. By World War II, Forsyth estimates that there were still only about 10,000 university students in Australia. Forsyth succinctly highlights the historical changes from a small élite higher education system, dominated by white male ‘god’ professors, to the current complex system, where more than one million students face major changes in higher education funding and settings.

Forsyth’s book, written in an accessible and occasionally anecdotal style, fills a gap for those looking for a readable perspective of how we came to be where we are in higher education. The book, however, does need to be counterpoised with books that drill down in more detail into various historical aspects of the Australian university system, such as Stuart Macintyre’s politically judicious The Poor Relation: A History of Social Sciences in Australia (2010). Margaret Thornton’s Privatising the Public University: The Case of Law (2012), surprisingly not cited in Forsyth’s bibliography, demonstrates, like Forsyth’s book, how changes in funding régimes have altered the ways in which students approach higher education, as well as the way in which universities are governed. 

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in December 2014, no. 367
Colin Steele

Colin Steele

Colin Steele is Emeritus Fellow of the Australian National University. A former University Librarian at ANU (1980–2002), he is the Convenor of the National Scholarly Communications Forum.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.