The weakening of Australian universities through the casualisation of employment

Year: 2012

Author: Kimber, Megan, Ehrich, Lisa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed



Over the past twenty years managerial changes to Australian universities have had a significant impact on employees, those in the ever-growing tenuous periphery in particular. In this paper we consider some of these changes and apply a theory known as the democratic deficit to them. This theory was developed from the democratic critique of managerialism as it has been applied in the public sector in countries with Westminster-type political systems. It has also been applied to school-based management in Australia. This deficit covers the weakening of accountability through politicisation, the denial of public values through the use of private sector performance practices, and the hollowing out of the state through the contracting out and privatisation of public goods and services and the redefinition of citizens as customers and clients. Here we concentrate on one element of this deficit-the weakening of accountability. It is argued that trends such as the power of managers as opposed to the power of academics and the extensive use of contract employment are weakening universities. We begin by briefly considering the role of universities, before discussing how managerialism and the democratic deficit are understood, and then applying the first component of the democratic deficit to contemporary Australian universities. In the paper we will cover the role of universities in promoting the public good, managerialism and the democratic deficit, and analyse whether a trend towards the first component of the democratic deficit is evident in Australian universities by focusing on the casualisation of employment and the power of managers.


In this conceptual paper a qualitative approach has been taken. It applies the first component of the theory of the democratic deficit-weakening accountability-to some of the changes to Australian universities over the past two decades. There is a focus on the casualisation of employment through the growth of casual and short-term positions. The paper will also touch on the role and power of university managers.


It is argued that there has been a trend towards the first component of the democratic deficit in Australian universities.


The results of this research will contribute to a larger study examining the democratic deficit in Australian universities.