Paul Giles reviews 'No End of a Lesson: Australia’s unified national system of higher education' by Stuart Macintyre, André Brett, and Gwilym Croucher

Ever since Henry VIII plundered the monasteries, relations between those in seats of power and learning have tended to be fraught, since political administrators do not take kindly to scholars thinking they know best how to run their own affairs, and vice versa. No End of a Lesson chronicles, in a relatively neutral and detached manner, events leading to the unification of Australia’s higher education institutions into a national system under the direction of John Dawkins, who was appointed Minister of Employment, Education and Training after Bob Hawke won the federal election in 1987.

Dawkins saw his mission as to make this system more efficient by consolidating colleges into larger university groupings, while aligning the research agendas of higher education more with government priorities. The rationale was to increase the rates of student participation while making universities more accountable for the public funds they were receiving. The obvious problem, though, was that such reforms meant that universities became more liable to centralised control, with Peter Karmel, then vice-chancellor of Flinders University, protesting that in ‘a free society’, universities should not become ‘an arm of government policy’. Eminent economist Max Corden, who worked in the United States during the 1990s before returning to Australia, was more graphic in his criticism, describing the Australian higher education system in 2005 as ‘Moscow on the Molonglo’.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

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 We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.