Universities matter – most of us can agree on that. They remain a vital, indispensable part of our society. What happens to them as a result of government policies, changing values and altered governance arrangements matters greatly, too. Over the past few decades, universities have changed beyond recognition.
The theme for this issue, ‘It’s Time: The re-form of Australian public universities’, is timely for the forthcoming federal elections in Australia, particularly as the higher education system is crucial to Australia’s path forward at any time. While the university sector has gone through constant changes historically, the themed articles in this issue express significant concern about recent reforms where: managers, administrators, academic staff and students now function under a commercial, transactional system of hierarchical power relations informed by ‘managerialism’ and ‘new public management’ principles (Hil et al 2022: 3). While the articles go beyond critique and propose alternatives to the ‘corporate university’, this cover design specifically aimed to visually capture their quite complex concerns. A list of ideas developed by the guest editors of this issue provided the initial inspiration for the cover design.
A central feature of this design is a single chair in an empty room, signifying the exodus of academics in recent years, particularly during the pandemic, and as a result of the recent reforms. Another significant feature is the graduate caps, embellished with dollar signs, tumbling through the air. It is a convention at many universities that upon completion of the graduation ceremony the new graduates throw their caps into the air. The dollar signs signify the commercialisation of universities which are now being run by a ‘corporate order based on radically different priorities and concerns’ (Hill et al. 2022). Further, the textural ‘grainy’ quality over the image signifies the deterioration of the university system under these reforms.