Institutional reform in Australian higher education

Yours truly with John Dawkins, 11 November 2016. Up to this point, my research had been on nineteenth-century New Zealand, so it was unusual to meet a research subject!

Australian higher education is what it is today as a result of the sweeping reforms initiated by federal minister for education John Dawkins in 1988.

I completed my PhD in 2014, and one of my first research jobs was to assist Prof. Stuart Macintyre and Dr Gwilym Croucher on an Australian Research Council-funded project examining the origins and effects of the Unified National System (UNS) of higher education. This was a large project, with chief investigators also at the University of Sydney, University of South Australia, and Griffith University. The largest outputs were histories of all four universities in the Dawkins era, and an overall history of the UNS.

What began as seemingly very dry research became increasingly intriguing to me. Like many of my contemporaries who entered university in the second half of the 2000s, I had little idea about the former colleges of advanced education or single-purpose institutes for agriculture, pharmacy, and other fields. I already had an interest in how institutions are created, how they evolve, and why they might fail (see my page on New Zealand’s provincial system of government). The means by which the UNS came together and how small institutions found partners to meet thresholds for UNS membership and funding was right up my alley.

I soon found myself taking a larger role in this project than that of a conventional research assistant. I began writing content, and in recognition of my enlarged role I became a research associate and then a research fellow. I am the lead author for one book, second author for another, and sole author of a journal article.

Gwil also invited me to participate in a related project on the past and future of Australian higher ed as seen by its leaders, a project based on interviews that William B. Lacy (University of California, Davis) undertook while in Australia. I was one of the authors of a published report from this project.

I remain interested in higher education’s past, present, and future, especially for Australia and New Zealand. I am especially concerned about casualisation within the university sector and its effects on research and researchers. I have, therefore, also listed some of my writing on these topics. I hope, one day, to write more on higher education reform.

Cover page of the document that set out the reforms.

My publications on higher education history


Stuart Macintyre, André Brett, and Gwilym Croucher. No End of a Lesson: Australia’s Unified National System of Higher Education. Melbourne University Publishing, 2017. Buy here.

André Brett, Gwilym Croucher, and Stuart Macintyre. Life After Dawkins: The University of Melbourne in the Unified National System of Higher Education, 1988–1996. Melbourne University Publishing, 2016. Buy here.


William B. Lacy, Gwilym Croucher, André Brett, and Romina Mueller. Australian Universities at a Crossroads: Insights from Their Leaders and Implications for the Future. Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, 2018. Read online (open access).

Journal article

‘The Victorian College of Pharmacy: A Case Study of Amalgamation Failure and Success in Australian Higher Education’, History of Education, 47:5 (2018), 644–62. Read online (paywalled).

Other outputs

‘A Conversation About Casualisation, Part One’, Australian Historical Association Early Career Researchers Blog, 26 April 2019, read online (open access); see also parts two and three, which are by other authors.

‘André Brett’s Submission on the Proposal to Rename Victoria University’, Arathi: Professor Geoff McLay’s Law Blog, 30 August 2018, read online (open access).

‘Why Deleting Victoria from the Name of Wellington’s University Is a Terrible Idea’, The Spinoff, 6 August 2018, read online (open access).

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